Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing And Succeeding Under Any Conditions, by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber, read by Oliver Wyman
If you are fond of penguins (I am) and are interested in the difficulties of change management and how it can be successfully managed, this short audiobook containing an amusing fable has a lot to offer. To be sure, fables are generally contrived and this book certainly is contrived in a way that reality is more complex, but all the same this is an enjoyable fable in large part because even though the agenda of the authors is obvious it is not unappealing. There is a certain degree of tolerance that people often have in thinking about chance as it applies to animals (like mice wondering about who moved their cheese) that they do not have when it comes to thinking about change that others want to push on them. To be sure, successfully handling change, including the fable’s desire to push for a massive change in cultural lifestyle for the penguins, is not an easy task, but in the case of the fable, there is a genuine threat, while in the case of a lot of change there is a lot less of a case to be made and a great deal less finesse in how the change is managed.
This particular fable takes up only two cds, and a great deal of the second cd consists of the two authors answering questions and talking about the way that the fable has been put into practice at various unnamed companies. As for the story itself, we begin with Fred, a young but intelligent and curious penguin who finds evidence that the iceberg is melting and seeks to help the penguin colony avoid disaster. He goes to Alice, a somewhat bold and radical member of the ruling council, manages to convince Louis, the head of the colony, who then mobilizes support to include Buddy, a friendly but not very bright penguin, and the Professor, a very intelligent and well-respected older penguin, to manage the change. NoNo, who is in sharp opposition to change, seeks to derail the change effort, and the penguin colony has to deal with seagulls, the problem of feeding scouts, and elementary school teachers who are giving their children nightmares, but ultimately the colony is successful and decides upon a life of wandering from iceberg to iceberg without putting down permanent roots, which shows the way the writers tend to think about the contemporary business world.
How is this book to be best appreciated? For one, the book is very clearly a beast fable, where penguins are given anthropomorphic tendencies in order to make them more relatable. How you feel about this book will depend in large part on how you feel about business fables that seek to promote some sort of message about being flexible and appreciating the need for change in general. The authors are certainly able at what they do within their genre, and the details are certainly very amusing and add a lot of flavor to the material as a whole. But again, this book has an agenda to push positive attitudes towards change and to delegitimize those who tend to be resistant or hostile to change. To the extent that one is temperamentally conservative, and has a low degree of belief in the sort of environmental panic that undergirds this fable, one will be at least a little bit skeptical or withhold one’s full approval from the book. I found myself to be amused by the book and the way it is constructed, but not really on board with the authors’ approach at the same time. The old ways are often the best ways, after all, even in times like these.