Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review. Is our existence threatened? Are we ready to change?

Published in TISA Feb 2013 Issue

John Kotter, Holger Rathgeber.
OUR ICEBERG IS MELTING. Changing and succeeding under any conditions.
Pan MacMillan India Pvt. Ltd. London, 2006. pp. 147, Rs. 248 (Flipkart)

This is an amazing book by Harvard’s John Kotter written in association with Holger Rathgeber who is a modern global manager. Though written in 2006, the book’s content and message is extremely relevant today for individuals and companies existing in these turbulent times.
The appeal of the book lies in its message delivery in the form of a fable. The book talks about the devastating and life threatening challenges faced by a colony of emperor penguins in Antartica and how they overcome them and continue to flourish by altering their culture.
As you read the book, you will be able to identify with the penguin characters. You will realize that many such individuals exist in your company (including yourself) who can determine the direction of your company with their sheer efforts – good or bad. The book will persuade you to sit back and think where you are going, what you are doing, whether you are missing out on potential opportunities or overlooking threats to your existence. How are you gearing up to tackle your issues? The prescriptive nature of the book will let you create your own change management plan and enjoy the fruits.
The authors intelligently use the fable and penguins to explain Kotter’s Eight Step Process for Successful Change that was first introduced in his path-breaking book Leading Change.
The eight step process talked about in the book starts from a sense of urgency created by a young penguin Fred who discovers that the very existence of their iceberg is at stake (which is melting and leave the penguins looking at a bleak future) and when disaster strikes they will be at a disadvantage and ill-equipped to face it. He approached the most “open” person in the council of leaders to share his findings.
Once this leader Alice is convinced that Fred has a strong case, she gathers support from other leaders and creates a core team to find a lasting solution. Penguins with complementing skill-sets like communication, data analysis and pattern formation, negotiator are brought into the team. 
This core team sees an opportunity while observing a seagull and decides on altering their very culture of how they live to tackle the issue of survival. They share this vision of change and how they are going to achieve it with their fellow colony members. As predicted, there are skeptics amongst the penguins who constantly question the validity of data or seriousness of the issue.
The book finely brings out the fears and motivation possessed by individuals, the nuances of group behavior and need for strong communication, the stress that is caused by the need to change and how to overcome the resistance of people and create a brand new culture.
The turning point of the book is when one of the penguin’s Buddy gives a heart rendering speech to the colony members and tells them “This iceberg is not who we are. It is only where we now live. We will find other places to live that are safer. WE WILL PREVAIL.
As the guiding team sees positive response, they start disseminating proactive information and posters to keep reinforcing the knowledge to the fellow penguins lest their memory becomes dim. This communication is essential for buy-in as the authors suggest. But resistance continues though slowly dwindling.
When the team faces the challenge to look for scouts to identify newer icebergs, they understand the need to empower others to act in whatever capacity they can to bring about the larger change. A little penguin Sally Ann plays a dramatic role here. This shows that when survival is at stake everyone should be pulled in to do their bit for the greater cause.
But with the best of the vision and strategy or team nothing sways support like small verifiable wins which assures people that the vision is real and achievable; parts of which have been achieved. It creates hope and motivates more people to join the mission.
The initial success is little hard to come by but once that happens, there should be a steady push to keep on achieving and doing better. Complacency is the greatest obstacle to all things good. The penguins which have now started living a nomadic life slowly gets used to it and starts enjoying it. This is the birth of a newer sustainable culture given the circumstances.
The actual book is only 125 pages of lucid text and lot of illustrations. An average reader will be able to read the book completely in one hour. However, once you read it, it will hook you on with its message and set alight your thinking process. It will not be surprising if you go back to the book many more times.
Owing to its generic message about the need to change and how to go about it; the book is appealing for a cross section of readers comprising of various age group (18 – 60 years) and gender engaged in diverse occupation and roles from business owners, company CEOs, middle managers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, shopkeepers and politicians to housewives and upcoming entrepreneurs.
Everyday there is an innovation which might make our products obsolete or a new policy that threatens our cash flow, liquidity, investments. In a business, such surprises can spring from any quarter. The more prepared we are to face these changes the greater chances of our succeeding under any condition.
This book is worth investing a short time to read and see what remarkable value it has to offer. Go ahead, read it and share it with your employees, colleagues, friends and family. This book offers something for everyone.

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