Reviewed by Irina Binder
Award-winning author and Harvard Business School professor John Kotter teams up with Holger Rathgeber to redefine the way business concepts are taught. Instead of focusing on statistics and research, the book is written as a children’s fable. The simplicity of the story makes it an easy read for a child yet relevant enough for a business professional, which is why I would recommend it to all public relations students.
The central focus of the book is change. The story is set in Antarctica, where one inquisitive penguin, Fred, discovers that the iceberg he is living on is melting. He goes through a series of eight steps that help motivate the colony into a change that is beneficial for everyone. When he first presents his idea no one seems to believe him. Fred builds a replica of the iceberg as an innovative way to convince the members of the Leadership Committee the accuracy of his beliefs. He even performs an experiment to prove the concept of water expanding when frozen. Fred fills a glass bottle with water and explains that if it breaks in the cold it explains why there are canals full of water in the iceberg. When his experiment works and the bottle breaks, the group starts to believe him.
The iceberg in the fable can be compared to any crisis or problem occurring in anyone’s life. The writers divide the eight steps into four categories: set the stage, decide what to do, make it happen and make it stick.
The first step is to create a sense of urgency. When the Leadership Committee realized that Fred was correct in his assumption, the head penguin Louis called for a general assembly to inform the colony of the risk the iceberg could cause. Louis stressed the need to act and although he was not sure how, he was confident they would find a solution. The next step is to put together the guiding team, which was comprised of five penguins all with different strengths, personalities and outlooks. The third step is to create a vision which occurred when the penguins spoke with the seagulls and learned about their nomadic lifestyle. This led to their idea of moving to a different iceberg. Step four is communicating the vision so everyone understands. The entire colony came together to spread the message of a nomadic lifestyle through posters, and Louis even gave a speech on the iceberg not defining who they were, only where they live. The fifth step is to empower others to act, which was achieved when a kindergarten student organized a “Tribute to our Hero Day.” This was to thank the scouts who were searching for other icebergs that met the colony’s criteria such as a safe home with no evidence of melting, close to fishing sites and located on a route with smaller icebergs so older and younger penguins could make it to the new site with resting spots. Step six, producing a short-term win was achieved when the scouts came back with positive feedback on their search. The journey to the new iceberg was successful because of the great leadership. The next season the scouts found an even better place to live. Even though it was inconvenient to move yet again, they did not let up, which is step seven. The move was easier this season since they had done it before. The final step is creating a new culture which was achieved when the penguins became less afraid of change, learned to work together and realized the value of moving to better icebergs in the future.
Vision, passion, integrity, trust and curiosity or daring were five ingredients of leadership discussed in class. The penguin colony used these ingredients when handling their crisis of the melting iceberg. It was Fred’s curiosity that led to everyone realizing the threat of the iceberg. Although he was not a leader in his community, he was daring enough to approach the leaders. His passion for what he believed to be true led him to inspire others to help. The honesty and integrity Louis showed was evident when he was straightforward with the colony about the problem and how he was not sure of the solution yet. This lead to trust within the entire group enabling them to work together. Most importantly, the encounter with the seagulls developed the teams vision of moving to a new iceberg.
I would recommend this book because it is inspirational. Readers can relate to the different characters that make up the team in the story. It is encouraging for the reader to see how someone like Fred, who was not on the Leadership Committee, ended up being the hero who saved his colony because of his observation skills. John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber have created a story that a variety of readers will enjoy, which later can be turned into a discussion. An organization could even use this story and the eight steps as a reference when discussing problems that are effecting them. Writing the book as a fable is an innovative approach to teaching business professionals important concepts that will be remembered easier than just facts and figures. Who knew something so simple could be so informative