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Managing Change: The Penguin way!

March 30, 2008

In a Starbucks outlet, when I went to pay for my latte, my bill turned out to be $2.80. I apologised to the petite blonde on the counter saying, all I have is change, and pulled out a handful of nickels and dimes.

She said with a deadpan face, “Its okay, its the change which keeps us moving ahead”

Readers Digest


Believe it or not, there is a certain truth in those words of the blonde. The seemingly pun on the word ‘change’ makes it all the while hilarious, but its a fact of life: Change keeps us moving. I mean the verb one, not the noun. 😉
I just now closed this amazing book by two authorities of business management change, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber.The name is: Our Iceberg is Melting. Its a fable of a colony of penguins who discover that their home which they were so much comfortable with is going to change. And their story of how they manage and cope up with it.

Its a pretty good book, I tell you. Partly the reason being I found a strong resonance with the existing opinions, strategies and modus operandi to tackle change in an organisation.And those being from people who were there in the trenches. And to be more precise, I found it very strongly reverberating with the message put across by Intel(c) ex-Chairman and change guru, Andrew ’10X’ Grove in his phenomenal book, ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’. Frankly, I have immense ‘fan-like-devotion’ for Intel, however predatory or anti-competitive its policies may be, but for the fact that it has tided over not one,not two but almost three business changing crisis in its history of 4 decades. And all this because Andrew S.Grove rightly understood the meaning and implications of change, and he imbibed this in the DNA of the organization.

I clearly happen to remember, in his book Only the…, Andy mentions that when Intel’s memory business was under heavy threat from Japanese semi companies, they had only one option left, change the business… altogether. But in spite of this clear signal, they bickered, jabbered, engaged in holy wars, took sides and waged crusades. After all Intel means memory and memory means Intel.
But ultimately they changed and they changed for a better turn of course. Remind you: This was a recall from who had been in those trenches all those times.

Now take a step back and see how Kotter and Rathgeber have recreated the same situation in their fable.

When it becomes apparent that the dwelling of the penguins, the iceberg, is going to shatter in dangerously small pieces and that too in the period of just 2 months, the first reaction was denial. Passionate and dogmatic. Unwavering and fanatic. Led by an impractical and irrational critic, named (in a very tongue-in-cheek way) NoNo, there is a small group of penguins who refuse to believe the situation.

This very nature is not uncommon. In fact, its so common that we often tend to overlook it. Remember when Internet was first shown to you, how you said, ‘So what?‘. Remember when PC was first shown to your manager, he would have said, ‘Whats the deal?’ . I am sure, we would have let out an amused smile at times when we see something new. This is denial and this is lack of thinking what can be possible that what is possible. (So when you are turned down (read: denied) by that girl, you should convince her to think beyond her box 😉 ).

Ironically, this is far more pronounced in people up the experience chain, perhaps because they have this feeling working overtime that, all thats new isn’t news. That’s their experience working against them.

In a business today, perhaps the biggest challenge is not technology,competition or sales. Its managing change.

Jumping the boat will perhaps never be the same.

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