Boiling Frog: The Silent Deterioration - A Critical Decision


If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out. But if the frog is put into lukewarm water, which is then boil slowly, the frog will not perceive the danger and will keep floating quietly. As water gradually heats up the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor and will be cooked to death with smiling face. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of creeping threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly, where they eventually suffer undesirable consequences.


Since the frog is only slightly uncomfortable with its warm surroundings, it keeps trying to adjust and get accustomed, making itself believe that the slow, gradual change in temperature is normal. Only when the slow change suddenly starts accelerating, the frog realize that it just signed its own death warrant. It has already lost its strength to jump out. The problem is that the human equivalent of the “Boiling Frog Syndrome” is observed more commonly than anyone would like to admit.


Real Life Case & Situations of the Boiling Frog:

Ø Case - Family: You keep himself busy with business, work and corporate life and ignore his health and family and one day he realize that he has accumulated some unwanted diseases and your family has no meaning of his presence or absence. This is a situation which has left you psychologically exhausted. You lived and worked for all like your company, your boss and earned for your family.

Ø Case - Health: One who sees you on a daily basis does not realize that you've been putting on weight, but your distant relative who see you once in a blue moon will be quickly notice about the added fat around your belly. Same also happens when you ignore small symptoms and avoid going to doctor.

Ø Case - Investment: When it comes to investment, most of us are confused over the vehicle of the investment like to go for fixed deposit or mutual funds or stock market. Further option to go for short term trading or long term value investing. The 'Boiling Frog' syndrome is made in favour of long-term value investing over short-term trading - the slow, gradual increments that suddenly accelerate are seen as compounding of value. This is what the value investors like Radhakishan Damani, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett describes as their secret of their successful investing and wealth creation.

Ø Case - Innovation Ignorance: Businesses who failed to acknowledge the innovative competitors that offered substitute to their products. Like Kodak lost to Digital Cameras, Polaroid lost to Digital Cameras, General Motors lost to other players, Xerox lost to player in printing, Yohoo lost to Google, Nokia lost to others, Orkut/Myspace lost to Facebook, and many more names and stories are there. If any of these businesses had continued to innovate, stay ahead of the competition, do some course-correction and not becoming “boiling frogs”...the story would have been very different.

Ø Case - Stock Market of 2007-2009: Credit Crisis aroused out of the housing bubble burst - People lost crores in the stock market crash because they failed to identify and observe negative signs in the economy until the changes started accelerating and led to capital erosion and kept on believing that this is a temporary phenomenon and will pass away.


The Silent Deterioration:

Case-1: The Frog has no idea that it is boiling

When we put a frog in a normal water and start heating it slowly, the frog will gradually adjust its temperature to the water at the same time. Just when the water reaches boiling point, the frog can no longer adjust its temperature and tries to jump out. While tolerating the temperature of the water, it did not consider when it should come out and be safe. Unfortunately, when frog realise that he has to jump out, it is not strong enough to get out of it, as it has lost all its energy in adjusting to the water temperature. The result is frog dies due to boiling without any jump and save itself.

Case-2: Suicide - Silent Deterioration

In our lives, there are many situations that we live in and where have to adjust to the relationships and situations. We have to learn to decide when to go on and when it is time to jump out. The problem start when the people consciously or unconsciously adapt to deteriorating situations by not leaving their comfort zone. In such case, we avoid responsibility and blames the circumstances or other persons, while painting us as victim.

By nature human is fearful for changes. So, when it comes to opt which situation is good for us or our business, out of the situation like (A) trying to adapt and survive the heat and not to jump out or (B) jump out of the pot/heating and change the environment? General choice is not to jump out and try to survive with the heat, hoping that the heat will eventually go away. There are situations where adaptation is necessary. But on the other hand where heat is not going to settle, not to jump is inappropriate decision and will end up only delaying the predictable like cooked frog, with smiling face.


Humans and Frogs are genetically geared to react to sudden threats and changes in their environment, not to slow gradual changes. This is known as creeping normality or sensory adaptation. As per concept of survival of the fittest, ability to adapt to the slowly increasing temperature is definitely not conducive for the long-term survival, either it is a frog or human or society or business. The concept of “survival of the fittest” depends on the “Boiling Frog Syndrome’’. Those who do not notice and respond to the gradual changes in the environment are the first to die, either it is a frog or human or society or business.


Many of us become used to and comfortable with our current situation (equivalent to the lukewarm water) that we even don't recognize the feel the need to escape from such situation (gradually increasing heat). Don't put up with the rising temperatures, never settle, and act sooner rather than later! Not holding on the hope that things will change. Accept reality as it is, without creating expectations or assuming that you can change people/situations because you can’t change yourself.


The Frog was not killed by the water, it was killed because it didn’t react in time.


As a human and a business owner, only you can make the changes. The environment around you is output and result of only your decisions and it can only be changed and controlled by you.


This concept is also used in business to reinforce that change needs to be gradual to be accepted. This metaphor is frequently used in economics, marketing, business and society to point out that change has to be introduced gradually if it has to be successful. It also illustrates an aspect of human psychology: we tend to accept things that creep-up on us slowly but steadily, even when they take control of our lives.


Most the time, we ourselves do not realize our situations, an external perspective like call2CFO can alert the business owner to the danger they and their business are in or might have. The challenge is helping them to taking the required critical decisions, on time to jump out of the water and relive the fear of ending up in the fire or cooked alive.

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