Boiled Frogs

I work in a corporate culture where resistance to change is omnipresent. Incessant reading has led me to believe over the years that most folks don’t change because they’re comfortable doing what they’re doing. This old story illustrates that the myopia of that sort of thinking. Jalal ad-Din Rumi, a Persian poet and mystic once said, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” I think that fellow was on to something. How much of what we’re sold each day is mere cleverness? How much of this cleverness actually undermines our happiness?

Maladaptation to gradually building threats to survival is so pervasive in systems studies of corporate failure that it has given rise to the parable of the “boiled frog.” If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately try to scramble out. But if you place the frog in room temperature water, and don’t scare him, he’ll stay put. Now, if the pot sits on a heat source, and if you gradually turn up the temperature, something very interesting happens. AS the temperature rises from 70 to 80 degrees F., the frog will do nothing. In fact, he will show every sign of enjoying himself. As the temperature gradually increases, the frog will become groggier and groggier, until he is unable to climb out of the pot. Though there is nothing restraining him, the frog will sit there and boil. Why? Because the frog’s internal apparatus for sensing threats to survival is geared to sudden changes in his environment, not to slow, gradual changes.