This is a children's book, and I read it in thirty minutes. The "lessons" are so simple that you won't need any extra time digesting them. The funny thing is, this book is aimed at adults, and not just any adults, but the kind of adults who want to be leaders or agents of change. Ha!
Yes, it's a problem solving fable, but not ordinary problems: Catastrophic, life-threatening problems. I suppose that you could modify the eight steps to solve ordinary problems, but even then it's too elementary to be useful.
Step number one is to create a sense of urgency in other people. In this fable, one penguin had to convince the other penguins that their home was doomed to destruction and many of them, especially the old and the young, would die if they didn't heed his warnings and take drastic action immediately. You see, these penguins had been living on an iceberg for many generations; indeed, it was the only homeland that any of them had ever known or heard about. But one curious penguin had discovered evidence that their iceberg was cracking and melting. The evidence was on the underside of the iceberg, easy enough to see if any penguin cared to look. The curious penguin was convinced that their home would break into little pieces within a couple of months, right in the middle of the dark and stormy winter season. Once the first step is accomplished (i.e. everyone is now convinced of doom and feeling panic), the next seven steps follow simple logic, such as building teamwork, coming up with possible solutions, etc. Yes, as with any decent children's story, this one has a happy ending. The penguins solve their problem by becoming nomads, moving from one healthy iceberg to the next.
Well, what can we take from this fable, then? If the iceberg is a metaphor for the Earth, shall the human race consider becoming galactic nomads and move from one good planet to another? These penguins didn't have to fix anything, or learn how to get along with each other, or learn how to share and use resources, or how to create a sustainable existence. All they had to do was move to another place (which, by the way, is precisely what the Europeans did when they came to the "New World"). And there was an endless supply of great places to move to, without the conflict of moving to a place that was already occupied by other penguins. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the human race could just pack up and, after a day or two of travel, arrive on another unspoiled Earth that had no other humans?
And how does this fable work for more ordinary problems? Let's say that you, a junior employee, think your company is going in the wrong direction. Okay, so you are first supposed to create a sense of urgency within your company: You try to convince fellow key employees that the company will fail under its present leadership. I can just hear The Donald yelling, "You're Fired!"
But really, how can this story help with the serious problems we are facing today? Did the Bush administration read this book, and did they tell us about WMD in Iraq in order to create a sense of urgency, so we could "solve" the problem of terrorism? Or, did Al Gore read this book, and is he right about the catastrophic consequences of man-made climate change? Ah, but if only the evidence was as clear, and the solution as easy, as in this fable! That is where this fable fails to deliver: Defining complex problems is tremendously more difficult than this fable implies, and creating and implementing solutions is more difficult still. OF COURSE we have to define the problem, find solutions, and have good leadership and teamwork to implement it! But in the real world, it's easier said than done, and this fable doesn't help at all with how to do it. In fact, I think that this fable hurts more than it helps, encouraging people, whatever their beliefs, to try to create a sense of urgency in other people, and to take quick, drastic action. That kind of thinking can get us involved in unnecessary wars and using "enhanced interrogation techniques." It can even create suicide bombers. Think about it.
Bottom line: I think that a 5-year-old kid, and an adult, would learn more about business, leadership, and group dynamics from Sesame Street.
P.S. This book has now been out for 4 years and is still available only in the more expensive hardback edition. I'd like to convince the author of the URGENT! need to publish a less expensive paperback edition, because young kids don't have so much money to spend on books. Suggestion: Make a manga edition! :-)