How to Keep Your Business Afloat: Be Non-Complacent

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Our Iceberg Is Melting" by John P. Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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In an ever-changing and fast moving world, how can you keep your organization alive? Is it bad for your company to always be changing?

In their fable about leading change, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber talk about the importance of being non-complacent. The authors stress that leading one successful change doesn’t mean that your organization is safe—you need to be sure that your changes stick and that you’re ready to change again if need be.

Continue reading to learn what John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber had to say about being non-complacent in their fable Our Iceberg Is Melting.

Adopt Non-Complacency

In the fable Our Iceberg Is Melting, a penguin named Fred noticed that the iceberg in which the colony lives was riddled with cracks. He first called together a meeting to initialize change, then another penguin named Louis worked to put together a team. The third step was to put together a plan, which was to leave the iceberg. The fourth step was to convince the rest of the colony that the idea was the best option for them, and the fifth was to learn to overcome setbacks in their plan and to become resilient to failure. This article will discuss the sixth step, which is to develop a non-complacent mindset.

In the last two chapters of the fable, we’ll see both the short-term and long-term outcomes of the penguin colony’s vision. In the short term, the colony successfully moves to a new iceberg and settles on it, which could have been the end of the story. 

However, we’ll also see that the colony doesn’t settle back into its old way of life. Scouts keep exploring, looking for new icebergs, and the penguins make sure they’re always ready to move again. In other words, the colony doesn’t slip back into dangerous complacency. 

Looking to the future and identifying potential threats is part of the commonly used SWOT analysis: Before making any major change at your company, evaluate its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Blockbuster Video is a prime example of the dangers of complacency and underestimating potential threats. In 2000, the video rental giant had a chance to buy Netflix for only $50 million. However, Blockbuster’s CEO was complacent—he thought that Netflix was a harmless novelty, rather than the future of the industry. He turned down the offer.

In 2010, just 10 years later, Blockbuster declared bankruptcy. They’d been forced out of the market by delivery and streaming services, most notably Netflix itself.

The New Iceberg

The scouts found a new iceberg that would be suitable for the colony and, with winter just starting to set in, the penguins finally made their move. 

There were some issues with the new iceberg: The fishing grounds were unfamiliar, and the wind in some places was colder than expected. However, those problems weren’t as terrible as some of the penguins—particularly the older ones—had feared. The difficulties were completely manageable; and, more importantly, this new iceberg wasn’t in danger of breaking up. 

The penguins had realized their vision.

Manage Your Fear Response

For people (and penguins), fear is a survival instinct—it’s hardwired into us because it saved our ancestors from deadly dangers. Even though most situations we face nowadays probably aren’t matters of life and death, the fear response doesn’t know that. That’s why we tend to jump to worst-case scenarios and blow our worries out of proportion; because we’re trying to protect ourselves from dangers that don’t exist anymore.

Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles suggests a two-step process to examine your fears, and recognize that they’re coming from you, rather than any external danger:

1. Write down your fear. Be sure to focus on what you’re afraid of doing, rather than just what you’re afraid of. For example, instead of saying “I’m afraid of phone calls,” write “I’m afraid of talking on the phone.”

2. Reframe your fear. Complete the following sentence using the fear that you wrote down in step 1: I want to _______, but I scare myself by imagining ______. The wording is important, because it emphasizes that you’re the one stopping yourself. Continuing the previous example, you might write, “I want to call my friend, but I scare myself by imagining an awkward conversation.”

The New Way of Life

That could be the end of the story, but the penguins have one more important lesson to teach: Don’t get complacent. 

Instead of just settling in on their new iceberg to continue life as usual, the penguins fully embraced their new, nomadic lifestyle—the scouts went out again and found an even bigger, better iceberg. The colony didn’t have nearly as much trouble moving a second time, because they’d grown used to change. 

In the long run, the colony worked their new nomadic lifestyle into every aspect of their society. For example, the school started teaching scouting as a subject. Furthermore, the penguins decided that scouts should get extra fish as a sign of appreciation for their hard work—and, as a result, they had more volunteers than they knew what to do with. 

However, as far as Louis was concerned, the single most remarkable change was how much the penguins had embraced the idea of change—they all understood that change was sometimes necessary, and they knew how to make it happen. 

The lesson from this final section is simple: Your job isn’t done just because you accomplished your goal. You have two things left to do:

1. Make sure that the changes you’ve made are going to stick, like how the penguins reworked their society to include scouting education and incentives for future generations.
2. Be ready to undergo this whole process again.

The world is constantly changing; you must be ready to change along with it.
How to Keep Your Business Afloat: Be Non-Complacent

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of John P. Kotter and Holger Rathgeber's "Our Iceberg Is Melting" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Our Iceberg Is Melting summary:

  • A fable about the necessary steps in making major changes
  • Dr. John Kotter’s eight-step process for change
  • Why your job isn’t done just because you accomplished your goal

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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