The Parable Of The Boiled Frog – A Change Management Strategy

by Dr Jacob Lee

You’ve probably heard of this fable.

How do you boil a live frog?  Well, if you throw a live frog into hot, boiling water, what do you expect will happen?  The frog will jump out of the pot…so the story goes.

A better way is to first determine the level of temperature the frog is acclimatized to.  Then we make the first small increase from there.

The frog might sense this increase in temperature but will not jump out of the pot because it is not a drastic change.  Instead, after a while, the frog acclimatizes to this slightly higher temperature.


Then we raise the temperature again, doing this in small increments each time.  We do this until the frog gets cooked without even realizing it!  The best way to eliminate resistance to change is to do it in such a way that people (and frogs) do not realize there is change!

If you have children, you probably experienced this as well.  Say a friend visits you and sees your young child.  The she visits you again a year later.  On seeing you child again, your friend notices how much you child has grown since she last visited.  And yet from your point of view, not much has changed with regards to your child.  Why?  It is the Boiled Frog effect.  Your child grows in small incremental steps each day.  And as an insider you see your child everyday.  So you may not notice the large cumulative change over time.  The more often you see, the more you do not see!

In his book Good To Great, author Jim Collins describes the effect of this strategy:

“From the outside, they (i.e. transitions) look like dramatic, almost revolutionary breakthroughs.  But from the inside, they feel completely different, more like an organic development process.”

How do you implement such a change strategy?  What are the factors that human beings need to acclimatize to in order to effect such a change?  When is such a strategy appropriate and when is it not?

These are some of the questions that we discuss in the Basic Systems Workshop.

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