What is wrong with Icebergs?
And why are icebergs so problematic for innovation?
Iceberg Models get us to fixate on one thing. The assumption is that if you can dig down through all the distinct layers you will come to the singular hidden source.
The first issue is that nothing has a single source.
As Evan Thompson puts it: “nature does not consist of basic particulars, but fields and processes… There is no bottom level of base particulars with intrinsic properties that upwardly determines everything else. Everything is process all the way “down” and all the way “up”...
“…these processes are “irreducibly relational — they exist only in patterns, networks, organizations, configurations or webs… Phenomena at all scales are not entities or substances but relatively stable [relational] processes…”
“...since processes achieve stability at different levels of complexity, while still interacting with processes at other levels, all are equally real and none has absolute ontological primacy" (Evan Thompson, Mind in Life, p. 440)
This brings us to the second major problem with Iceberg models: they ask us to ignore all of the levels, patterns, networks, and configurations that in their irreducible relationality actually matter profoundly.
It is easy to claim “underlying everything is (fill in the blank – mindsets, human nature, capital etc.)” but the work of innovation involves experimentally playing with the multiple fields and processes via skillful perturbations and reconfigurations at many levels.
And while the iceberg model gets at an important point -- that not everything that is happening or matters is directly visible, that does not mean that there is a hidden or deep essence. The metaphor leads us astray in thinking in terms of “far below” and “singular essence”. We need to work experimentally in a multiscalar and multimodal manner with what is above, below, and beside.