The parable of the boiled frog is told to create a shared understanding around the key challenges in coping with change.
Frog in Hot Water
The story as told by many over the years is that if you put a frog in hot boiling water that it will immediately jump out as a natural response to the environmental conditions. If you put a frog in a comfortable temperature and slowly heat the water, the frog won’t notice the changes over time and won’t respond to the temperature change until it is too late.
The frog tale has been debunked but the science behind it was never the point behind the story. That is the focus of my thinking today.
When Facts Matter or Not
When I worked for a consulting firm, it was often stated that we should “focus on facts” or “facts are friends” but not unlike the tale of the boiling frog, the facts are not really facts, they are facts of convenience. The personal and political agendas get in the way of sharing and the focus on self-centered and selfish behaviors is highly prevalent. These behaviors make it very difficult at best to build trusted relationships. The lack of trust makes it difficult to share information and knowledge. People wind up feeling like they are in survival mode. All the while information and knowledge does change hands but it seems to be a lot of noise and little signal.
More often than not, organizational sharing appears to have increased over time but has mostly decreased in effective or relevant content. The fact is that content generation has dramatically increased but one has to question the sheer amount of content usefulness.
Why it Matters
If you throw the frog in the boiling water, there is a really good chance it won’t get out. We have an expectation that we can place people in high intensity, high velocity and high stress conditions with an expectation that they can manage it or get out in a reasonable time. Frankly, that is non-sense. We want these people to learn fast and suck the knowledge through a technical straw and become an expert within moments. News flash, this isn’t the Matrix and Neo isn’t working for you. We also are looking in many organizations to find ways to share information, data, and knowledge in an open and transparent way but not really. For the past 5+ years all I have heard about is crew change concerns and subject matter expertise worries but they sort of equate to the boiling frog in the sense that we are watching the temperature rise a degree at a time. Ultimately, it really “boils down to” the same things we recognize as true over human history. You can fill your desk with the greatest books of all time but without the mastery of language and an understanding of the subject, you will still know nothing. It doesn’t matter how smart you are either because you are dealing with unknowns. If there is no trust, you cannot transfer knowledge. If someone thinks you have an agenda, they won’t teach you and they won’t listen. All of the content and sharing that may come from you the learner or the teacher would be for nothing, just a number or artifact but potentially useless.
One must recognize that if we do not consider how we treat people who at the end of the day whether the frog was thrown into a boiling pot or it was trapped in the pot because the heat snuck up on it, both instances result in something bad for the frog. Companies will spend millions of dollars on technologies to solve the problem of sharing but few will spend the time <– the time in understanding the behaviors. If you don’t understand the behaviors and the human factors and they are left unattended, the result will be very bad.
A trust driven organization will tell us that the frog story is a parable to help us think about the dangers of rapid change and our lack of awareness in change. It would also say that the frog story is just a story. It is that simple difference of being open and transparent that creates an environment that allows people to share. If there isn’t a trust driven organization, there will never be a knowledge driven organization.
What we know is the frog story is told to help us understand and be careful in many situations, ultimately it is about awareness. Gaining awareness is gaining knowledge. We can only gain knowledge with trust. Finally, just because we have content generated and information sharing occurring as an activity doesn’t mean that the information or knowledge is useful. It can only be found useful from an authoritative source, authoritative meaning “trusted.” Additionally, if we don’t have trusted relationships, we may not even understand what we are looking at.
The answer.. start and lead with honesty, truth as you understand and clear intent. All other roads will see someone boiled.
This post was written for my friends in consulting..