What Do Icebergs Have to Do with Startups?

Great question. Of course, an iceberg has to be included in any book about the Titanic. More importantly, we recognize that startups have to make decisions under uncertainty. Choosing one path can incur hidden debts because of the path not taken. We call those hidden debts icebergs. Well, we actually call them “debtbergs” in The Titanic Effect.

Once we selected on the concept of decisions having “debtbergs” attached to them, we then realized we needed to learn more about icebergs. What we discovered is that icebergs themselves are both interesting and diverse. In our research, we have to thank Professor Grant Bigg, University of Sheffield who literally wrote the book on icebergs - Icebergs: Their Science and Links to Global Change, published in 2016. Icebergs come in two categories: 1) tabular - have steep sides and a flat top, and 2) non-tabular - more interesting and exotic profiles, such as domes, pinnacles, and wedges. To get you started, here’s a picture of a tabular iceberg.

Tabular Iceberg by Darrell A. Swift, University of Sheffield

Tabular Iceberg by Darrell A. Swift, University of Sheffield

Some key facts about icebergs:

·     Over 80% of the icebergs in the Atlantic originate in the massive ice cap of Greenland

·     The iceberg season in the Atlantic lasts from about February 1 to July 31

·     The tallest iceberg recorded peaked at over 550 feet, taller than a 55-story building[1]

·     Given the relative density of ice versus seawater, about 90% of the iceberg mass hides underwater. As the iceberg moves into warmer waters, the submerged portion melts faster than the exposed part. The iceberg may even “roll” when it becomes top-heavy

What many people don’t realize is that icebergs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. And actually, an ice formation must be at least five meters or about sixteen feet, to achieve the title of “iceberg.”[2] Smaller subcategories of icebergs have colorful names such as:

-     “Brash”: bicycle size

-     “Growlers” or “Pancakes”: small car or truck size

-     “Bergy bits” and “Ice cakes”: storage-unit or train-car size 

-      “Iceberg islands”: just like it sounds 

We think of icebergs as silent and majestic denizens of the ocean. Apparently though, icebergs make a variety of noises[3]. When trapped gasses escape as icebergs melt, they make a crackling or fizzing sound known affectionately as “bergy seltzer.” German scientists have also discovered that water from melting ice running through icebergs can make a high-pitched tune that, with slight modification, is audible to the human ear—not unlike the sounds created by volcanic tremors and akin to an orchestra warming up.

So, what do we know about the Titanic iceberg? It was birthed in 1909. It took two-to-three years to reach the point of impact. Survivors estimated the iceberg to be 50 to 100 feet tall. It was traveling a leisurely eight miles per day around the time of impact. The early snow pack forming the glacier would have fallen about 15,000 years earlier. So, it had been around a long time. There were only 30 seconds between the crew observing it and the “Titanic” colliding with it. It’s still hard to believe something this slow-moving could create such a big disaster.

Yes, icebergs are interesting and enigmatic. They take thousands of years to form, and days or weeks to disappear. And, that’s part of why we wrote this book. Our goal is to help startups understand the kinds of debtbergs they are taking on. We want to help them navigate from icebergs in their potential path or figure out how to mitigate them away. If you like this blog post and want to stay connected to us, make sure you subscribe below. 

In case you missed it, National Geographic had some great photos of a new iceberg that broke off Antarctica last week— it’s three times the size of Manhattan:  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/exclusive-first-pictures-of-iceberg-three-times-the-size-of-manhattan

[1]“Iceberg Facts” Canadian Geographic, March 1 2016 accessed August 20, 2017 https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/iceberg-facts.

[2]See the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s website at https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/icebergs.htmlfor “Quick Facts on Icebergs

[3]Christopher Mason, “Singing Icebergs,” March 1, 2006 accessed August 20, 2017, https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/singing-icebergs.