The Iceberg of Ignorance Revisited

Many will be familiar with the concept of the “iceberg of ignorance”. It was popularized in 1989 by a consultant named Sidney Yoshida. Yoshida conducted a study that concluded that top management was only aware of 4% of the problems in a company… only the tip of the iceberg.

It was a popular concept that fueled things like suggestion boxes, quality circles, and other forms of engagement in continuous improvement programs.

(In fact, the conventional approach to continuous improvement in white collar organizations is largely a big ‘fail’ but that’s the subject of another post.)

I don’t really know if the 4% number is accurate or how much of it even matters. After all, does the CEO need to know the specifics of every factory floor problem? Or the process difficulties in accounts payable? Or the problems with the approval process for a new package?

I can say, however, the iceberg still exists. Based on the 2015 ThinkPoints® Transformation survey, the knowledge gap for leaders is pretty large in a couple areas that a CEO or executive should care about.

61% of respondents who identified as Executive or General Management (20% of all respondents) agreed their organization had “efficient, effective processes with minimal waste and bureaucracy”.  But only 27% of all other respondents agreed with that statement.

Here’s another result. While 65% of Executive or General Management respondents say their organization “works seamlessly across departmental lines to achieve common goals”, only 29% of everyone else in their organization agrees with that.

And while 79% of Executive or General Management respondents say their organization is “very collaborative… so the best ideas are surfaced, made better, and acted on quickly” only 41% of the rest of the organization agrees with that.

Those large gaps should be a concern to anyone in executive or general management. It reveals an important disconnect between a leader and his or her organization that can lead to employee disengagement, organizational frustration and poor business performance.

But the conventional approaches to closing these gaps –restructuring, reorganizing, process redesigns, transformations, or continuous improvement programs–  have largely failed to make a difference. In fact, conventional approaches fail over 70% of the time.

So, a different approach is needed. One that addresses the real issues holding back better performance. Here are three topics coming up in future posts that should challenge us to a more successful, albeit unconventional, approach to better, healthier organizations.

  • Virtuous leadership
  • Engaging in Work
  • Everyone Innovates

I hope you’ll join me with your comments, experiences and critiques starting with your experience regarding the Iceberg of Ignorance.