Review: Our Iceberg Is Melting

51QmFyDmo1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kotter, John, and Holger Rathgeber. Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Circumstances. New York: St. Martin’s, 2005. 160 pp. $15.38.

The power of a story! Our Iceberg Is Melting teaches corporate change principles by means of a fable, using dialogue, humor, and interactive illustrations. The assertion that “Feeling differently can change behavior MORE and lead to even better results” (132) finds support through the passion, frustration, and excitement of penguins on a mission. I found myself identifying with observant Fred, assertive Alice, wise Louis, and obstinate NoNo. The investigation, Q&A, and conflict management and resolution engaged both head and heart, mind and emotion. Instead of plowing through a list of eight steps for successful change, the reader experiences and empathizes with the penguins’ difficult life transitions, while looking for parallel answers to his own iceberg.

The penguin-interactions are refreshing and instructive. Even though Fred socializes less than average and may be an odd bird, who carries a briefcase (9), he is not ignored by Alice. In fact, he carefully selected her because he trusted her as someone who would both listen and get things done (13). After swimming with Fred to view the weaknesses within their iceberg, she invites him to “help others see and feel the problem” (18). Alice gets things done by empowering, trusting, and engaging others in the process of change, and by recognizing the impact from both seeing and feeling the need for change. She also works within the social and political system of the Leadership Council. The Council’s head, Louis, knows how to handle difficult members, like NoNo, and displays wisdom in team development. The team he selects to get the job done is not only diverse and talented (cf. 48-49) but also limited to five (47), which I assume is a wise size for tackling this task. While “forming a committee” is a stall tactic (34), the Head Penguin still establishes a team to guide the colony through change.

The use of illustrations and models opens my eyes to effective communication before a wide audience. As Fred prepares to address the Group of Ten, he researches his listeners and changes his approach from presenting a speech to constructing a model iceberg. Freezing water in a glass bottle serves as another powerful illustration. While Fred comes up with the idea, Louis hands it over to Buddy, someone “everybody seemed to like and trust” (40). While I’ve used two dimensional charts and drawings before, I had never considered a 3D version. However, when our church in Maryland was undergoing significant landscaping and building changes, the people appreciated photos of behind-the-scene improvements, and a video might have been even more effective. Louis exhibits a better example of people skills by inviting Buddy to make the presentation.

In our current ministry, I am seeing a melting iceberg, but I have been frustrated by not knowing solutions. While Taking Your Church to the Next Level (Gary L. McIntosh, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009.) has greatly impacted my need and desire to pray more effectively (73, 198), Iceberg calms my blood pressure from assuming I have to have answers before sharing and articulating the problem (19). I was surprised that Alice wants to convene a general assembly “and convince as many as possible that there is a big problem” (36). The Leadership Council’s ensuing panic, on the other hand, better reflects my experience. Usually a leadership group wants to solve a problem before involving the entire fellowship. However, the broken glass bottle experiment convinces the leaders that time is of the essence, and they call an assembly. As a result, it is more important to clearly and passionately delineate the problem “by reducing complacency and increasing urgency” (43 underline original) before having all the answers.

Penguin NoNo is a troubled soul. Nothing satisfies or is good enough or very convincing. He doesn’t even offer a YesMaybe: “And NoNo predicted doom until the very end” (117). In spite of his stodgy belligerence, the Leadership Council and the team of five refuse to write him off or shut him down. Each member of the five-squad knows his or her role in moving through the bumpy opposition, and leader-Louis not only has a heart-to-heart, face-to-face conversation with NoNo, but the Professor also agrees to follow the nay-sayer everywhere he goes (90 italics original). While Louis uses a direct approach with NoNo, Buddy reassures a distraught kindergarten teacher with a sympathetic ear, repeated patience, and sincerity (92). I really appreciate the team interaction for handling people problems, which are inevitable.

Fable characters bring life, emotion, and solutions to complex problems. While I may not remember eight steps for successful change, a good story like Iceberg sticks around and simmers. It’s not as threatening or intimidating as an academic approach, and how could anyone dislike talking penguins who get things done? While I enjoyed the light reading and illustrations, the subtle dialogue and problem solving scenarios challenge me to read it again with a few strategically chosen friends, so we can articulate and address our own melting berg.

David Kelly is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Wellston, Ohio. He is a graduate of Lock Haven State in Pennsylvania (BS) and Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM).

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