Boiling the Frog – Human Factors around Sharing

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.

Knowledge Driven

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..  



(COHEN) Trust GONE VIRAL! (SUTTON) My point is this: Trust is a violent act.

You think that we should have a conversation about TRUST?   I talk about trust and leadership a lot and I believe that you need both but as pointed out to me by my good friend Matt Sutton, we are diluting the value of these words.  In a paper put out by Harvard Business Review they talk about leadership and of course all of us collaboration types run to the well.

You know what the truth is though?   The truth is that leadership is mostly dead.   It is like that Pixar movie Wall-e trying to find trust and leadership in an environment that we consume and kill everything in our path.   A few years ago I asked leadership in my organization how many Industrial Psychologists we have on staff in order to help teach leadership how to understand and work with people better, the answer was none.   Not one, because while people are the most important asset, they are only important when the organization is lacking in some capacity.  It is like air, you aren’t missing it until you have none.   Leaders today are more than not politicians that say things they don’t mean or can’t support and trust is the word they use to make it sound as-if.

In my years of working I have seen great leaders and they are few and when I worked for them or worked with them, I knew because trust was an activity, more than just a word.

Have you ever had your life in someones hands?   Have you even had someones life if your hands?  We all have but we have forgotten because it is easy to forget who and what we are.   It is easy to put out the list of 5 things you need to know to be a great leader.  It is hard to do the work and lead from where you are.

Sutton Says

If you’re a worker in the trenches trust means two things that are important to both leadership and to environments were you work with people remotely.

1. Knowing Right from Wrong.  In the absence of religion, corporations establish “Core Values”, “Morality Clauses”, “Codes of Conduct”.  You get the idea.  Something to provide a pseudo moral compass.  Ironically I have never seen the number one core value (or whatever you want to call them) on corporate literature.  Making money.

We know the business needs to make money so the real question a person working has to ask, “Will meeting the profit goals of the company come at my expense?”  In order for workers to even begin having trust in their leadership they need to know that the powers that be aren’t going to be the ones lighting our final cigarette in front of the firing squad of profit.

2. Gauging whether our coworkers or leadership know right from wrong is tricky.  Historically that kind of insight usually comes from life-n-death situations where self-preservation strips away all of our pretenses.  In the corporate world it usually comes from an equally scary dice roll of putting ones self out there to be judged by your peers and see who steps to support you. But isn’t that the whole point of trust?  To know whether your peers and leadership has your back when you do take risks or get in tight spots?  Few are the people who take such risks and fewer are the ones who survive it.

Finally,  if you are at all interested here is the discussion that ended with more discussion.  Don’t look for correct grammar it is a chat but the conversation was interesting.


can I comment on how much I detest blogs and articles where the

writer begins by commenting on how smart they are?

The Four I’s of Leadership Communication

this link is a great example


I didn’t have a chance to blog yesterday and I need to… maybe this

should inspire me


And I need to express this: I want to punch the next person who talks

about “Building Trust” in terms of Leadership and Communication


You would punch me then, when I see you, you can punch me.


My thing with “trust” is that it is a nebulous and vague attribute.

people know it’s essential, but no one knows really how to do it

Howie: Integrity, intent, capability, results (trust) we can break it down more (M.R.COVEY)

who are we? what do we believe?

what do we want?

What tasks are associated with that?

What have we done? What are the results of our past interactions?

Do we bad mouth others?

Are we honest?

Are we too honest?

Are we enablers for us or enablers for me?

Does this dress make me fat?

the answer.. is.. not the answer itself but your response (overall)

in other words.. I trust you because I know that you will tell me what

I need to know from your perspective even if it hurts a little

but the pain of my self-consciousness is less important than knowing

what I can / should do to right myself.

You have my trust and that is important. It is number 1 important.

If you call me and you need my help, I will be there for you no matter

what time and what circumstance.

That is trust.. it is clear and to the point and detailed not vague.

Trust is not something you give away like candy, it has to be earned

or give via a token.

It has to be nurtured like a flower.

If you leave it without water it will die, if you don’t tend to your

relationships trust diminishes over time.

Matt: I am calling you and talking to your wife right now.

Howie: UH OH!