The Iceberg Challenge

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

April 23, 2012

Dear SAISD Staff,

Today I want to talk about a book that I enjoyed for its powerful message. It’s John Kotter’s “Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions.” In it, the author writes a fable about a penguin colony in Antarctica and about the penguin who discovers a potentially devastating problem threatening their home…and no one listens to him.

There are characters in the story that we would recognize in any organization or community. Their tale is one of denial, comfort with the status quo, resistance to change and about how they dealt with obstacles keeping them from their own success. Though published some years ago, theirs is a story that is playing out in different forms all around us today. Whether it’s politics, demographics, technologies, or personal changes in our lives, we could learn a lot from these penguins (remember, it’s a fable).

As I said, many of the characters could easily be people we know. I’m sure we can all identify with at least one. There was a leadership council, a professor, a female penguin who always seemed to get things done, the elder, the head penguin, and several others. The one that stood out for me was the penguin named NoNo. The theory was that his first words as a baby were not “Ma” or “Pa,” but were “No, No.” He was a skeptic, oppositional and a fault-finder. He was also a know-it-all. NoNo had been doing the same things for about 30 years and did not see the need to improve or change.

The gist of the fable is that the iceberg that the colony had lived on forever was melting from below the surface. The cracks were not visible above the water, so most of the penguins did not know it was melting. When they were first informed they did not believe it, and, of course, NoNo led the opposition. At first, he was an alarmist, and later he felt that any change would lead to low morale and the ultimate demise of the island. After all, this was the way “they had always done things.”

Now, you may be thinking that somehow NoNo was ultimately convinced that there was a solution to their problem that involved a new way of doing things. After all, we generally think, “if we can only tell our story, we can convince anyone.” Not really. NoNo was never convinced, but the momentum to create another culture, to become what they had never been (nomadic penguins) finally overtook NoNo, and he had to either get on board – or be left on a melting iceberg.

The methods and steps the collective leadership took ultimately created a whole new culture, one that understood that “a rising tide floats all boats, not just yachts.” The penguins became a culture that realized that they had to work together if each one was to survive. Remember, there is a difference between routine and commitment.

With that in mind, here are the Eight Steps for Successful Change, as outlined by the author:

Set the Stage

  1. Create a sense of urgency: Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.
  1. Pull together the guiding team: Make sure there is a powerful team guiding the change.

Decide what to do

  1. Develop the change vision and strategy: Clarify how the future will be different from the past.

Make it happen

  1. Communicate for Understanding and Buy In
  1. Empower others to act, for those who want to make the visions a reality.
  1. Produce short-term wins: Recognize and create some visible successes.
  1. Don’t let up: Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.

Make it stick

  1. Create a new culture: Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed.

There is no doubt that there are people in our organization who are open to change and ready to move from a past culture. And then there are the NoNos, despite the fact that technologies, federal and state mandates, demographics and an ever-changing world are happening all around us.

To succeed, organizations cannot remain stagnant. They must continually evolve. Each and every one of us can be involved in that progression, changing the historical culture into one that is vibrant, successful and exciting for all. But it takes courage.

Our iceberg is melting, and the only culture in which we can succeed is one of knowing and caring for each and every one of our students. And one in which we practice unselfish teamwork and continually work to tear down the walls that isolate us.

Best regards,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Interim Superintendent

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either IN or you’re OUT. There is no such thing as life in-between.” – Pat Riley