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A space by Acadal about business culture and people.

A blog by Acadal

The secrets within the Iceberg of Ignorance (and how to access them).

The simple storytelling in the Iceberg of Ignorance might be the single most potent tool for people-led growth. If you look at it the right way and involve your people to find solutions instead of problems.

Søren Vasø
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The Iceberg of Ignorance was formed all the way back in 1989 by Sidney Yoshida. He was a consultant who worked for a Japanese car manufacturer and discovered a lack of knowledge within the classic hierarchy.

The higher up in the organization you lived, the fewer problems were known to you.

Divided into 4 groups, these were his numbers:

  • Executives see 4% of the problems
  • Team Managers see 9% of the problems
  • Team Leaders see 74% of the problems
  • Staff see 100% of the problems

And it became known as the Iceberg of Ignorance.

Forget the research; remember the idea.

Now, I don’t think you should spend more time analyzing this research. It’s without any insights in organizational form, leadership style, strategy type, and it’s grossly outdated.

But you should think about the idea of it.

The farther away you are from operations and the customers, the fewer insights you have to navigate from. Meaning you have to rely on your organization forwarding information to you.

And this is why The Iceberg of Ignorance is still relevant, now 30+ years later: We are still battling the same problem.

It's not about problems but solutions.

The original idea of the Iceberg of Ignorance is that executives only access 4% of available insights into problems. It’s just the tip of the Iceberg that breaks the surface while most are hidden below the surface.

But that’s a reactive mindset. Sure, your people can tell you about more problems than you see day-to-day. But they can also tell you what they think is the solutions to those problems. You wanna look at it with a proactive mindset. It’s not about problems; it’s about solutions.

The Iceberg symbolizes all your people’s brainpower, perspective, skills, knowledge, and experience. Not just the problems they see.

You want to figure out how to tap into that Iceberg and find solutions rather than problems.

A straightforward method to tapping into the Iceberg

Instead of waiting for your people to report a problem, use the Iceberg to uncover future solutions.

Involve your people in what you are doing:

“We wanna do this because it fixes X and Y.”

Then trust them by asking questions to uncover problems and solutions:

  • What do you see that would prevent success?
  • What processes should we change?
  • What do you expect from leadership?
  • What new skills do you need to operate like this?
  • What are your feelings about this?
  • How should we do this?
  • What is the best way forward?
  • What innovative solutions do we have?

Because you now involve people, they will let you know what you need to take care of before it can succeed. Now you can navigate growth better than just looking at problems.

That’s the real strength of The Iceberg of Ignorance — and the core object of the People-Led Growth methodology.

Søren Vasø
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