That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise and Fall–and Can Rise Again

cover90684-mediumABOUT THE BOOK: 

What’s the worst thing you can hear when you have a good idea at work?
“That’s not how we do it here!”

In their iconic bestseller Our Iceberg Is Melting, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber used a simple fable about penguins to explain the process of lead­ing people through major changes. Now, ten years later, they’re back with another must-read story that will help any team or organization cope with their biggest challenges and turn them into exciting opportunities.

Once upon a time a clan of meerkats lived in the Kalahari, a region in southern Africa. After years of steady growth, a drought has sharply reduced the clan’s resources, and deadly vulture attacks have increased. As things keep getting worse, the har­mony of the clan is shattered. The executive team quarrels about possible solutions, and sugges­tions from frontline workers face a soul-crushing response: “That’s not how we do it here!”

So Nadia, a bright and adventurous meerkat, hits the road in search of new ideas to help her trou­bled clan. She discovers a much smaller group that operates very differently, with much more teamwork and agility. These meerkats have developed innova­tive solutions to find food and evade the vultures. But not everything in this small clan is as perfect as it seems at first.

Can Nadia figure out how to combine the best of both worlds—a large, disciplined, well-managed clan and a small, informal, inspiring clan—before it’s too late?

This book distills Kotter’s decades of experience and award-winning research to reveal why organizations rise and fall, and how they can rise again in the face of adversity.


I really enjoyed this short book and would definitely recommend it to others. This book offers a lot of practical application for leadership both in business sectors and church leadership as well which is the aspect that I currently focus within.

Perhaps all of us at some point have heard the expression voiced, “That’s not how we do it here” or at least in some way or another it is said when ideas are expressed. This mentality kills creativity. Personally I lean more toward creative engagement and structures that are more decentralized and “free-thinking”. I feel controlled and limited in high-control organizations and engage less creatively than in roles where I am given more autonomy. The high-control environments feel like “management” and for a long time this is a style of leading people that I do not respond well to or even enjoy. The more creative, free-thinking form is often called “leadership” and is highly visionary and more open to ideas but lacks structure and control which is often a good thing until faced with complexity.

Most books I have read focus on one function or the other. Management through it’s deadlines, agendas, organization and structure or leadership through it’s vision, creativity, risk-taking, etc. Kotter does well to present a view that shows how these two styles of leading an organization can function together rather than competing against each other while showing the strengths of each. In a whimsical way by using Meerkats as an example in this book, Kotter does well to show how each of these styles of leading people has their weaknesses, while pointing toward a way that these functions can work together. It is a “both/and” scenario for how management and leadership can function together to provide the strengths of each while overcoming the weaknesses of each. I believe this is a concept that we will learn more about and see more information created on in the coming years.

The matrix below shows a basic understanding of these two functions and how each operate. An organization without leadership or management is Doomed. An organization high in management and low in leadership is “well ran” but…(bureaucratic and unable to change quickly). An organization that is high in leadership is Innovative, adaptive and energetic but…Chaotic. An organization that meshes leadership and management functions together well is Well run AND Innovative, adaptive, and energetic.


We are just now learning what it means to move into and remain in the upper right quadrant of our leadership/management matrix. Many people are trying intuitively to do just that. In mature organizations, they are using leadership development education on far larger groups than in the past and making sure that the education is about leadership, not just management. They are adding new network-like groups (beyond traditional interdepartmental task forces) more aggressively and more creatively to their management systems. They are trying to engage the workforce more than in the past. They talk more about leadership and try explicitly to grow people as leaders. As we write this, we do not know the ideal way to move into the upper right quadrant of the matrix if you are a mature organization operating somewhere in the lower right quadrant. But we do know one way that can work, and it is what our Meerkat friends did. (Kotter- p.83)

About the Author

John Kotter, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, is often called the world’s fore­most authority on leadership and change. His many previous books, including Leading Change and Our Iceberg Is Melting, have been translated into more than two hundred foreign-language editions and have been bestsellers around the world. He is a founder of Kotter International, a consulting firm that specializes in helping leaders transform their organizations.

Holger Rathgeber is the coauthor of Our Iceberg Is Melting, a former executive at a medical products firm, and a principal at Kotter International.


NOTE: I received a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. The opinions expressed here are my own.