Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Our Iceberg Is Melting

This post is dedicated to Melody for she loves penguins!

This is not just a story about cute emperor penguins in Antartica but much more is packed into this short tale. The penguins fable drew on the frameworks found in Leading Change (by John Kotter in 1996) and The Heart of Change (also by Dr Kotter and co-written with Dan Cohen in 2002). At first glance, the book may look silly but Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber draws the power of good stories to influence behaviour and compel actions.

Discover in this book, how to use the "Eight Steps Process of Successful Change" (as the penguins did, without knowing them) to enjoy even more success in these changing times. This book is not only applicable to people in the business world, but for everybody. We are all affected by changes whether we like it or not. How we respond to those changes determines the outcome, whether we thrive or we suffer.

Here's a glimpse of the Eight Steps:


#1: The penguins in the change committee creates a sense of urgency in the colony to deal with a difficult problem, i.e. their iceberg is melting and if they do not find a substitute iceberg to live, they will all perish in the winter which is approaching in two months' time.

#2: The change committee puts together a carefully selected group in charge of guiding the change. The committee consists of Louis who is the head penguin and one with great leadership skills and authority, the Professor for credibility, Buddy for his excellent communications ability (he's well-liked by the colony of penguins), Fred for his analytical skills (he's the one who through his observation over time, discovers that the iceberg condition has 'changed' and alerts the Leadership Council, also called the Group of Ten), and finally Alice who has a great sense of urgency (an important member of the Council, she is carefully approached by Fred for he knows that him being a 'nobody', Alice will most likely listen to him because she does not judge by status).


#3: The change committee then finds a sensible vision of a better future and crafts a strategy in line with that vision. It is important to be able to see how the future will be different from the past, and how to make that future a reality.


#4: They also communicate for understanding and buy in. In getting the message out, Louis calls for a meeting involving the entire colony. He gives a speech on top of the PowerPoint presentation (it's a fable so...) prepared by the Professor, of which will be presented by the eloquent Buddy. Louis understands the difficulty of talking to birds who are anxious, preoccupied, skeptical, tradition bound, and unimaginative (sounds a lot like us humans, no?). As a follow up to strengthen the message, Alice comes up with the idea to put out iceposters with slogans as a constant reminder to the birds of what they have heard. They involve the other penguins in coming up with the new slogans and even found innovative locations to put up the posters, such as underwater next to the most popular fishing grounds.

#5: They empower others to act by removing as many obstacles to action as possible. Even the children have a role to play in the mammoth endeavour. Case in point is Sally Ann who is just a kindergarten student. She approaches Alice and enquires how she could become a hero as well. She has many friends and her influence has birth forth the idea called "Tribute to Our Heroes Day". Very heartwarming.

#6: The committee is aware of the need to create some sort of success quickly (like what one MBA-sounding bird says so well, "a short-term win"). Louis calls upon Fred to create a team of scouts who would search for the potential new homes. Meanwhile, a practical solution is being carried out in relation to the "Tribute to Our Heroes Day" where fishes are gathered to feed the tired and hungry scouts upon their return.

#7: Don't let up until the new way of life is firmly established. It is tempting to declare that the colony has been subjected to enough change and should settle down, but they know it is important not to be complacent. So they keep on looking for better icebergs.


#8: Finally, a new culture is created to ensure that the changes would not be overcome by tradition. The story of The Great Change is repeated again and again to younger generations of penguins.

There you have it - the eight-step process. Before I forget, in any change endeavour, there would be people who will oppose and create resistance to the effort. In this story, it is NoNo, the weather forecaster. The characters in the story are people we are able to recognize and even see in ourselves.

It's an important and fun book to read (more fun when I'm one of the characters in the story *GRIN*). Here's what the Professor thought of Alice when he is asked by Louis to deduce their strength:

Alice. Practical. Aggressive. Makes things happen. Doesn't care about status and treats everyone the same. Impossible to intimidate, so don't even try. Smart (but not an intellectual heavyweight).

I can relate to what the Professor thinks but aggressive? I don't I'm all that aggressive...

This is a great book and you can definitely finish it in one sitting. It's very easy to read and has lots of nice colourful illustrations. If you love penguins, you'll love this book (as a bonus!).

NOTES: I would like to thank my colleague Lucy for lending me the book. I will get a copy for my personal library because it is definitely worth keeping one for future re-reads.

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