Good Bedtime Reads: Review of Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Condition

Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions
John Kotter

Review by Nicholas Cormier, MD, Current CA3 and Chief Resident, Yale Anesthesiology

When my family first came to meet my now seven-month-old son, Charlie, they brought him a singing and dancing penguin. Flipper, as the penguin would come to be named, became a source of endless entertainment as he sang about Charlie’s favorite foods and animals. When I began reading “Our Iceberg is Melting,” by John Kotter, the penguins on the front cover and illustrations throughout made it obvious that Charlie and Flipper needed to join in. I was drawn to the book’s clever advice on how to create a culture of change in my institution. Charlie was drawn to the cartoons throughout detailing the journey of a whole colony of “Flippers.”

Kotter weaves an intricate allegory in which a colony of penguins navigate an impending crisis and learn how to affect change in the group. The allegory makes for an engaging storyline, and I found myself regularly drawing parallels between the characters in the book and similar promoters (and obstacles to) change at my institution. I found myself asking several questions. What elements of my current institution needed change? Which could remain the same? What strategies have been used in my institution previously to implement change? What changes have been implemented smoothly? Which have been met with resistance? Why? Kotter provides a step-by-step guide beginning with identifying the first signs that a change is needed through the process of forming a new culture of change. He explores methods to transform a community’s mentality toward an issue and explains what qualities to seek out when assembling a team of visionaries. He then outlines a strategy that a reader can apply to any context to build momentum around change among both supporters and opponents alike.

By the end of the text, I began to broaden my focus from trying to identify which single change, new program, or alteration in workflow I wanted to enact using the steps described, and instead began to consider how, as a leader, I could institutionalize a culture of change in my residency program. I considered how, as a chief resident, I could create an environment among my co-residents that would foster constant evolution and normalize the process of change. Beyond this, the text changed my perception of what makes a good leader as I grappled with the tension between keeping order and creating change. This book made me strive to be a leader poised at the intersection of both.

As you look for your next “Bedtime Read,” I encourage you to pick up “Our Iceberg is Melting” for a deep dive into institutionalizing a culture of change. And if you have an infant with a favorite toy penguin, I recommend inviting both along for the ride as you flip through this well illustrated and engaging allegory.

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