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Innovation and Lessons from "The Fable of the Boiling Frog"

Posted by Joe Antle on October 18, 2020 9:55 AM EDT
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Years ago I remember hearing the story of why water temperature changes can be so unsetting for creatures that require water as a foundational element in their....

...lives and survival.

The "Fable of the Boiling Frog" seems to me to be a good example of why it is so dangerous for organizations of all types and sizes to ignore moderate and gradual adverse changes in their competitive landscapes.  And for industries such as traditional local media, especially newspapers, such a fable is particularly notable as being applicable.

As the story, or fable, goes, a happy and prosperous frog discovers a large pot of clean, clear and cool water sitting atop a stove in the kitchen of the house the frog sometimes visits when the screened door is left open.  The frog decides to jump into the pot of water since it seems such an inviting and comfortable environment compared to the pond the frog calls home.

Before long the frog begins to feel very comfortable as the water temperature begins to change and the water becomes gradually warmer.  In fact, at one point the frog thinks to itself that it has discovered a truly remarkable circumstance.  How lucky can I be, the frog begins to think.  In time, the water becomes increasingly warmer and the frog finds itself almost too relaxed to even consider leaving the pot of water.

Then the heat gets stronger and the frog finds it cannot leave the now hot water pot.  In fact, the frog's resources are so depleted it cannot leave at all, and increasingly wants to leave urgently.

Well, as they say in the movies, "The End".

While a bit dramatic and simplistic, the "Fable of the Boiling Frog" has several key lessons to consider for organizations embarking on innovations and change.  Here are some that stand out for me:

1. The water is always getting warmer so one most always be taking account of the environment that surrounds the organization.

2. Some innovations initially appear to be very comfortable and even seem like a remarkable turn for the better

3. Always be willing to make bold changes, especially when the organization is feeling the most comfortable

4. The paranoid survive....but the schizophrenic thrive.  Look for better waters, but don't relax and always be willing to keep moving.

5.  Look carefully before you leap to the next big thing!  And when you do lead to the next big thing be willing to leap again another big thing....

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