July 17, 2007
News & Opinion: What is it about fables?
The New York Times interviewed John Kotter yesterday and reported on his business fable Our Iceberg Is Melting. These numbers set the stage:
Since its release last September, "Iceberg" has sold some 224,000 copies in hardcover (Leading Change [his prior book] has sold more than a million copies in 10 years), and been translated into 10 languages, with 10 more foreign editions in the works.
When I reported on the Publisher Weekly best-seller numbers, Our Iceberg Is Melting was the surprise on the list. I had no idea the book was doing so well.
The idea for the fable version came from reader Holger Rathgeber. In preparing for a presentation, Rathgeber became inspired by the drawing on the cover of Leading Change. The picture shows penguins jumping from one iceberg to another, so Rathgeber had everyone create penguin masks from construction paper during the workshop. Rathgeber sent Kotter a sample of the materials and Kotter was immediately taken.
So, Kotter rewrote Leading Change as a fable with the penguins and sent a draft out to friends in 2004. Requests started to roll in for copies of the book. Kotter decided to self-publish and went on to sell 15,000 copies. Publisher St. Martin bought the rights and published it in 2006.
I have to tell you I don't understand the popularity of fables like this. They are meant to appeal to a large audience, and that is the trouble for me. The messages these book convey are too simplistic. I guess this leaves me in the minority given the success that many of these books have.
My only solace lies in the fact that since the mainstream release of "Iceberg", we have sold twice as many copies of Leading Change as we have the fable. I guess our customers want the full version as well.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.