Egypt's iceberg is melting

Alex Dziadosz
5 Min Read

CAIRO: The idea that a seminar based on penguins and institutional reform could play well in a desert nation whose ruling party symbolizes longevity almost as much as the pyramids may ring counterintuitive, but Bill Palladino will assure you it is not.

Last week saw Grand Hyatt hotel host the “Leading Bold Change Initiative, two days of motivational seminars and lectures led by Palladino and based on Harvard professor John Kotter’s managerial parable about a colony of penguins struggling to deal with their eroding homeland. The Zad group, an Egyptian consultancy, sponsored the visit.

The lectures’ goal – apart, of course, from moving books – was to whisk away the crust of institutional stagnation, molding businesspeople into vital agents of change through a brightly-illustrated, eight-step method.

Change is happening and it s happening faster and faster and faster, said Palladino. If we don t find methods to deal with it and constantly stay in front of it, it s going to overtake us.

“Our Iceberg is Melting, the book on which the seminars are based, was itself inspired by Kotter’s earlier, lengthier text “Leading Change – “very much a textbook, in Palladino’s words. “It’s a long read, he said.

Through colleagues’ urgings, Kotter was eventually convinced to distill the book into its large-print, best-selling format.

“The story starts with one penguin who doesn’t have much power in the organization – just a common penguin, if you will – who discovers the iceberg is about to crack, said Palladino.

Throughout the 147-page narrative, a cast of neatly archetypal characters, including “The Head Penguin, “The Professor and the dashing but dim “Buddy grapple with the quandary sparked by the briefcase-toting protagonist’s discovery.

“Rather than through a textbook that’s really meant for higher-level educated people that is sometimes difficult to read and difficult to extract things from, he created this parable, said Palladino. “It pares down the core concepts in that big book into a little, funny book with pictures of penguins.

ISB Worldwide, the management training firm that ran the seminars, has worked with Kotter for 10 years, in this program for the last two. Zad brought them to Cairo largely to inform their partners.

“Zad is designed to help businesses, but it became very clear to Greg and I that the vision of Dr Amr Fass, [Zad’s general manger], in bringing us here is not to change one business at a time, it’s to change Egypt, Palladino said.

Although the ISB teams alter their routine even across regions in the US, Palladino said they were worried about cultural barriers before they arrived. After a few days, he said, he saw that the client’s zeal overwhelmed any issues they might have had.

“We didn’t have to get to know the culture, the culture got to know us, said Greg Kaisar, an ISB representative. “They were impassioned by the content.

Change is a perennial source of speculation in this nation where the president has held office for nearly three decades and the word “reform pervades much economic rhetoric.

“Everyone we’ve run into sees a definitive need for the country to change, said Palladino. “And it sounds like a lot of that need for change is about the culture of just laying back. And it’s encouraging to see so many people here recognizing that and wanting to play a role in it.

Part of their sell is the idea of a sense of urgency – in fact step one in the eight-step process – something Egypt has in abundance as it reels from weeks of staple food shortages and the worst civil unrest in decades.

“Urgency is the key, said Palladino. He said what’s happening around Egypt, like the Iraq War and the breakneck ascent of the United Arab Emirates, has fostered this. “Egypt looks over at Dubai and says, ‘why weren’t we the ones to do that?’

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