What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business

The identity iceberg, your customer service, your brand and you

In a recent post Build authority and trust with your customers by talking about your industry ‘Warts and all’, I talked about how being open and transparent, particularly about the ‘warts’ or fears that exist in most industries, can be a great way of building trust, confidence and authority in your brand and in the eyes of your customers.

In the comments part of the post, Bill Park of mpoweru added that trust and confidence in others is a subjective thing when he said:

People observe the world through their vantage point: they select data (could be anything) that appeals to them, they add meaning to that data, they make assumptions about the data, they draw conclusions, and filter all that through their belief system.

I replied that his comment reminded me of a concept called the identity iceberg. He replied that he was not familiar with this idea so I said that I’d write something about it. Hence this post.

The idea of an identity iceberg is a metaphor for our identities, whether they be personal or business. Our identities are like icebergs floating on the sea, where they only have their tip ‘exposed’. As individuals or organisations we are complex beings and like the iceberg we only have a little ‘exposed’ to observation by others (see diagram below).

Understanding this can help us understand or, at least give us clues, to how we and others see and react to the world around us. Why some people trust more than others, why others are willing to lead, why others are better with people than others, for example.

Taking the metaphor further, if we imagine the iceberg floating on the sea then what happens is that part of the iceberg is immediately visible (our behaviour, appearance and actions), part of it emerges and submerges with the tides (our attitude, skills and motivations), and its foundations go deep beneath the surface and are mostly hidden (our prejudices, beliefs, principles, values and DNA).

The identity iceberg, your customer service, your brand and youThe deeper it is the harder it is to change.

What has all this got to do with business growth, customers and people? Well, if we want to create change in ourselves or our businesses that is sustainable and not just skin deep then it’s not good enough to just try and motivate or train for better skills or attitude we have to think deeper than that and address what we really believe in and value.

Don’t get me wrong, to motivate and train yourself and your team to improve skills and help build a better attitude are good things to do. But, don’t be deluded into thinking that just because you motivate or train someone to be better that that automatically means that they will stay better forever. There’s no guarantee that that will happen. To make lasting change you will have to go deeper than that.

Why don’t more people and businesses do this? Because, it’s hard and takes time and commitment.

However, it is worth it.

Most high performing people, teams and businesses are very clear on what they value, believe in and stand for because they know that that is their core and shared foundation and that is the thing that stands them apart, binds them together and makes them stronger.

Bill, I hope this answers your question and helps.

Thanks to helveticaneue for the image.

19 comments On What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business

  • What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business http://bit.ly/gNeYiO

  • RT @adrianswinscoe: What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business http://bit.ly/gNeYiO

  • RT @adrianswinscoe: What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business http://bit.ly/gNeYiO

  • RT @adrianswinscoe: What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business http://bit.ly/gNeYiO

  • Don’t forget about the pain of change Adrian — We would rather avoid pain than pursue pleasure. This leads to some interesting notions of motivation and stubbornness.


  • RT @adrianswinscoe: What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business http://bit.ly/e8pKtU

  • Adrian,
    Well done and thank you! I really like the metaphor, it creates a great visual and “deeper” understanding of the principles of change.

    Thanks again!

  • RT @adrianswinscoe: What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business http://bit.ly/gNeYiO

  • Adrian,

    All you say in this post resonates well AND…there is a paradox inherent to our sense of identity: What makes each one of us the individual we are is tied up with the groups that we choose to affiliate with. I may not see it at the outset, but as I increase activity and affiliation with any particular group, I begin to think of myself as a member of this group. Who I am is partially the sum of those membership, although I may move some to the forefront of consciousness at different times.

    This ties into customers and business growth directly when you create opportunities for brand engagement and community building around the brand. Think of Harley Davidson Motorcycle clubs as a great example of this. Becoming a ‘mac head’ as some Apple devotees refer to themselves is another good example.

    Strong customer identification with the brand surely raises the bar for any competitor hoping to capture away your share of market.

    • Hi Marc,
      What a great insight about the paradox. I guess that our level of individuality is linked to the ‘tribes’ that we associate with. Even though Mac users and Harley owners are big tribes, they feel ‘individual’ due to their numbers relative to the larger population.

      Finding, defining and nurturing your customers into your own ‘tribe’ is a great way of defining, protecting and growing your market position.

      Great insight, Marc. Thank you.


  • Thanks for this. I hadn’t heard of this concept before either. What’s also interesting is how we might join groups that are ‘out of character’ with what we would normally do. The idea of association is an interesting one. I guess with all of us we could go deeper and deeper. It would be interesting to apply this to organisations out there and see the disconnect that might exist. But I guess it is only when you find a common language/level that everyone buys in to, that you can truly start to come together.

    • Hi Guy,
      Apart from use in creating associations with customers I think there is huge potential here for this type of model to be applied to situations when departments merge or work together or when companies merge or acquire one another or even in partnerships. Going deeper in our understanding of who were are, our values and what we hold dear is bound to pay dividends in terms of building longer lasting and more valuable relationships.


  • Hey Adrian.

    I think mostly everything has been said here in the comment area, but very interesting post and method at looking at the human psyche.
    Thanks a lot for sharing it.

    • Hi Daniel,
      I’m not sure that I’m going to let you off that lightly 😉

      When you said ‘mostly’ everything has been said in the comment, was there something that occurred to you that you wanted to add?

      If not and it was a turn of phrase then that’s ok.

      Don’t think me pushy for a Friday afternoon, it’s just that I’m really interested in your perspective 🙂


      • A true business man Adrian, you see any opportunity 😉
        Really I meant to say that everything had been said.

        But since you ask I’ll add something.
        Looking at the iceberg (if I have understood it right) the further down on the iceberg you go the harder it is to change, all the way down to the impossible DNA.

        But I would like to say that it is a lo easier to change your skills and motivation than your habits and actions.

        Habits are deeply routed and hard to brake, whilst a skill is easily learned and motivation easy to find by the proper learning of goals.

        Other than that I completely agree with your picture and I will probably use it myself in the future 🙂

        • Hi Daniel,
          Thank you that. I knew there was an extra comment in you somewhere 😉

          I think that we need to understand that habits and values can be learnt but take time and commitment to change. Motivation and skills can be a route to longer lasting change but we just need to be mindful that if we only focus at that level then the change may be only skin deep and that we may resort back to old habits when under pressure. Something to consider for all of us when we are making longer lasting change, I think.

          Thanks for your comment and adding to the conversation,


Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer