Boiling Frogs

20 September 2013

“The truth is that the first changes are so slow they pass almost unnoticed, and you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside.” ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water it will understandably scramble out pretty quickly. However, if you place it in a pot of water at room temperature and don’t scare it too much, it will stay put. If you then set the pot on a stove and gradually turn up the temperature, something very interesting happens.

As the temperature gradually increases, the frog will do nothing. In fact, it will show every sign of enjoying itself. As the temperature continues to increase it will start becoming groggier until it no longer has the strength to climb out of the pot. Though there is nothing physically restraining it, it will sit there and boil.

The frog’s psychological apparatus for sensing threats is geared to sudden changes in its environment, not to slow gradual changes. In psychology, this phenomenon is called sensory adaptation. The frog’s ability to adapt to the slowly increasing temperature is definitely not a good thing for it in the long run. But is this not how a lot of change creeps up to us in life? Change is, in fact, more often than not slow and gradual rather than sudden.

In helping businesses deal with change, I have discovered this phenomenon repeated – we get accustomed to terrible situations and don’t realize how hot the water is getting. If we were to describe our current situation to a 10 years younger self, our younger self would probably be shocked beyond belief. Why do we stay in water that is approaching the boiling point? Is it because it is a lot more difficult to look inside and self evaluate? Quite often it takes someone from the outside to see the gradual change building up and awaken the slumbering entrepreneur. Sometimes, however, we fear that any attempt to jump out of the water will land us straight into the fire.

We are paralyzed by the prospect of change. So, instead of jumping, we tread water hoping that the heat will soon stop. Is it risky to try to change the environment or jump out of the pot? Or is it riskier to continue to adapt to the increasingly unpleasant environment? We will not avoid the fate of the boiled frog until we learn to slow down and see the gradual processes that often pose the greatest threats. We need to constantly question how comfortable we are and whether the situation is good for us and our business.

What kills the frog is not the boiling water but its own inability to decide when it had to jump out. We all need to adjust with people and situations, but we need to rethink when to adjust and when to change the situation. There are times when we need to face the situation and take the appropriate action. We have to decide when to jump. Deciding not to jump is also a choice. Blaming the water for changing around you is pointless.

If you would like to discuss any of the points covered here, please feel free to request a free call below.

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