The Cooling Frog Syndrome: Missing When Things Are Getting Better

You’ve probably heard of the boiling frog syndrome: the reality that a frog placed into a vat of water and then placed over heat will not adjust to the rising temperatures quickly enough and will literally boil to death. While a bit grotesque, it is an apt metaphor for our own propensity for getting ourselves into stressful situations and failing to recognize the conditions and their affects quickly enough to adjust.

This metaphor holds true both for individuals as well as organizations. It’s why those of us working in organizational development are probably aware of the tale. Our work in organizations is to find the causes of the increasing heat and strive to reverse that course. In fact, the merits of our efforts are almost entirely encapsulated in those falling temperatures

I’ve noticed lately however, that there is also a reverse truism to this metaphor. It seems that while those temperatures are falling, sometimes by almost imperceptible degrees, we seem to fail to recognize the falling temperature in the same fashion we don’t notice it rising.

Due most likely to that wonderful human condition that allows us to forget pain, there are so many times when I see organizations that we work with improving in ways drastic and subtle. It’s in that subtlety that we sometimes don’t recognize that that the temps are falling. A transformed state toward the positive is often overlooked. Sadly, this denies organizations (and the people within them) the tremendous pleasure of deeply experiencing transformed states of being.

I’m not suggesting that we hold too tightly our “dark times,” but I do think it is imperative that we are reflective enough to note that the waters in which we swim might not be as warm as they used to be. Do we pause and celebrate? Do we sit still long enough to recognize our growth? I don’t think enough of us do.

For those of working in education, a new year is upon us. A year in which we will toil and strive and labor joyfully towards the highest of our ideals. As we do, I implore you to note your experience closely enough to identify all the areas of your life, work, and organization where the temperatures are dropping. Sit still long enough to feel it and enjoy it.

And above all, enjoy your swim.