Stop Boiling Frogs

In Leadership by Stephen Zakur0 Comments

frogI’ve recently taken to backpacking with my youngest son. He read a book about the Appalachian Trail and expressed interest in doing a thru-hike at some point so we’re seeing if he likes this sort of thing. The AT passes through Connecticut so we’ve spent some time this summer doing overnight hikes. Carrying thirty pounds on your back over twenty miles makes for a full weekend.

Last Saturday we hiked in torrential rain. Sam noted that it’s surprising how quickly you get used to discomfort on the trail. At first your joints and feet ache but you get used to it. Before long you’re hot and tired but you pass through that too. Even the pounding rain just becomes part of the background as you put one foot in front of the other scrambling over rough terrain.

Sam’s observation reminded me of the boiling frog metaphor that you’ve surely heard from consultants. That old chestnut has been thoroughly debunked. While the metaphor may not be a true reflection of animal behavior we humans do in fact behave that way. It’s amazing what we’ll put up with.

At work you see this often. You examine a process that has been followed since the beginning of time and when you ask “Why?” no one seems to know. The practice, no matter how tedious or convoluted, goes on and on.

Recently I was on a call questioning a complex workflow and was told that they had assembled a group of subject matter experts the year before to review the process. The experts had determined the current process didn’t need to be changed; it was fine as is.

Really? Nothing? What drives this complacency? Are we lazy? Tired? Has the organization’s climate or culture ground out of us any curiosity about a possible future that is different from today?

Regardless, such a situation illustrates that the organization is not making the changes that any healthy organization, heck, any healthy organism, needs to make in order to grow.

As we put one foot in front of the other in our career journey we need to take time out to stop and assess what we’ve done, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Just pounding out the miles is not sufficient. We have to tread those miles efficiently and effectively and the gear that served us last season will not be the gear that gets us to the next waypoint.

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