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Hi All!

Right now, I am reading a book titled ‘The Fifth Discipline’ by Peter Senge. It’s an excellent book on organizational learning based on systems thinking.

In chapter 2 of the book, there is an interesting parable described by the author which suggests that we as organizations do not feel the slow gradual changes taking place to our environment whereas we react only to the sudden changes. He goes on to say that in order to be successful, we need to sense even the slow changes and be prepared to deal with them.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

THE PARABLE OF THE BOILED FROG

“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.

Something similar happened to the American automobile industry. In the 1960s, it
dominated North American production. That began to change very gradually. Certainly,
Detroit’s Big Three did not see Japan as a threat to their survival in 1962, when the
Japanese share of the U.S. market was below 4 percent. Nor in 1967, when it was less
than 10 percent. Nor in 1974, when it was under 15 percent. By the time the Big Three
began to look critically at its own practices and core assumptions, it was the early
1980s, and the Japanese share of the American market had risen to 21.3 percent. By
1989, the Japanese share was approaching 30 percent, and the American auto industry
could account for only about 60 percent of the cars sold in the U.S.2 It is still not clear
whether this particular frog will have the strength to pull itself out of the hot water.

Learning to see slow, gradual processes requires slowing down our frenetic pace and
paying attention to the subtle as well as the dramatic. If you sit and look into a
tidepool, initially you won’t see much of anything going on. However, if you watch long
enough, after about ten minutes the tidepool will suddenly come to life. The world of
beautiful creatures is always there, but moving a bit too slowly to be seen at first. The
problem is our minds are so locked in one frequency, it’s as if we can only see at 78
rpm; we can’t see anything at 33 l/3. We will not avoid the fate of the frog until we
learn to slow down and see the gradual processes that often pose the greatest threats.”

Can we learn to see the slow gradual changes? I welcome your comments and thoughts on this parable.

Avinit Singh

ENABLERS & ENHANCERS



  1. rakesh on Sunday 27, 2011

    very true

    one must spare time to pay attention to the subtle as well as the dramatic changes happening around

  2. rajeev chawla on Sunday 27, 2011

    VERY NICE AND GIVES AN INSIDE OF OUR NATURE.

    THANKS

  3. stop snoring on Sunday 27, 2011

    I am an student and i am willing to write some part of this post to my university blog,can i do so.Also just require your permit just mail me if you are happy about it. i believe this post will be helpful for the info i am wanting to publish

  4. admin on Sunday 27, 2011

    I feel this metaphor on boiled frog is used in many literature to illustrate the need to sense gradual changes in our environment. You may also use it for your university blog.

  5. Anup Wadhwa on Sunday 27, 2011

    Very insightful article. For us humans, catching the subtle aspects require the mind to slowdown or be quiet. A similar phenomena occurs with machines and other physical entities. Intelligent machines, production plants and public utilities possess ‘active listening’ systems built around industrial automation components,

  6. Monika Gautam on Sunday 27, 2011

    This wonderful article remind me of one another book titled “Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson (where the author explain the essence of “adapting with changes” with the help of a simple fable). In this article I liked the way you related the things with practicality of the present scenario. Commendable job! Keep it up!

  7. momochii on Sunday 27, 2011

    found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  8. A topic near to my heart thanks, do you have a Facebook page for your site?

  9. xiaorr456 on Sunday 27, 2011

    Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2012



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