This week in the world of MBA 647 Organizational Change & Leadership, we’re reading John Kotter’s “Our Iceberg is Melting.” For this book, Kotter has taken winning principles from his Leading Change and Heart of Change, two books that focus on leading teams to success through periods of inevitable change. “Our Iceberg is Melting” synthesizes these ideas in the form of a fable, where one ingenious penguin named Fred goes for a swim. When he does, he sees fissures, bubbles, and a water-filled cave: signs that the colony’s indestructible iceberg is dissolving from the inside out.
When Fred shares this news with the colony, is he well-received? Of course not. People, penguins – any social group – seem to hate change that threatens a comfortable way of life. And when bad news breaks, shooting the messenger is the easiest solution – sorry Fred.
Have you ever been the Fred? It’s rough. I’ll say that right now. It’s difficult to be the first person in your group who recognizes a coming change. When Freds speak out, they might be criticized as fear-mongers or wackos. It doesn’t matter the situation – a melting iceberg, changing consumption trends, or the signs of a pending plummet in profits. Being the first to notice change is a lonely position.
After reading Kotter’s fable, though, I realize that shouldn’t be the case. Freds, and those who embrace change in any organization, are a huge asset to any group. Why? They’re thinking critically. They’re analyzing the situation. They’re not satisfied with the status quo. They’re willing to stick they’re necks out (do penguins have necks?) to keep the organization on track.
Like Fred, those of us who embrace and pursue change in our organizations are sometimes perceived as the problem people. I think that boils down to a general fear of change, and a dislike for those who try to force us into it before we’re ready. But if we wait, as organizations or individuals or penguins (this is an equal opportunity blog), to embrace change until we’re ready for it, we’ll eventually be left behind.
To stay ahead, to lead the pack, to be innovative makers not safe followers, we have to learn to love change. How does that happen? For me, by learning more and more about the change process in organizations like Google and Apple, who are insanely successful because they caused change, instead of followed it. And by realizing that if I don’t hop off this comfortable iceberg, it will eventually melt all around me. And who wants that?
Photo courtesy of National Geographic.