Brighton Leadership Group

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Destroy the Iceberg

At the Ultimate Culture Conference Dr. Schein said that the iceberg analogy so many people equate with his three levels of culture is a very poor metaphor. Unlike an iceberg, culture is not in a frozen, solid state.
Instead he used a Lily Pond as an example of culture.
Lessons from the Lily Pond:

  • Culture is an ecosystem that is living and changing constantly.   There are leaders who believe that they can make radical culture transformation without understanding the essence of their Lily Pond. They decide that they are going to change from a Lily Pond to a Koi Pond. The lily pads are removed and fish get added to the pond. They don’t take the time to understand the chemistry, the interdependencies or the environmental resistance to the change. Instead of radical change, they could build on the strength of the Lily Pond and create a beautiful pond that has fish and lilies!


  • You see things above the surface that are nurtured from below. You cannot create true change without impacting the whole system. For example, you cannot decide you want red lilies and paint the flowers. You have to understand what makes the flowers white.
  • Leaders, when you look in the pond, what do you see staring back at you? Culture is a shadow of the leader. While it’s true that culture comes from human behavior and experience, it all starts at the top. Leaders have a disproportionate level of influence on the shape of culture.

Dr. Schein says that culture is dynamic not static. It’s constantly evolving yet stable and strong. It can be shaped not changed and should only be addressed when you’re tackling a problem or you are making a change to strategy, structure or process.

2 thoughts on “Destroy the Iceberg”

  1. Interesting. I’m a world language teacher and I ran across this article while looking for good examples of the cultural iceberg. I think I’ll ask my students what they think and it will lead to a thought provoking discussion. Thank you!

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