How many frogs have you boiled?

The boiling frog is an anecdote describing a frog that is slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that occur gradually.

When do you let this happen to you?  Why aren’t we taking on the management of our frogs? I think it happens all the time.  In my house in the past couple of weeks we have had a dripping faucet and “just a little tiny noise” from one of the cars.  We ignored them at first. We hoped they would “fix themselves” automatically, like maybe the elves would come out at night and take care of business.  But of course, the dripping became more severe, and the noise in the car became much louder.

In the case of the leaky faucet – the fix was easy and was completed quickly.  We took corrective action, which was available to us the whole time and the nuisance disappeared.  Of course we thought “why didn’t we do that sooner?” (How many times have you asked yourself that question?)

But with the car, the problem was a little more dramatic. We did finally take the car in to be checked out. The cause was a faulty vacuum pump. In that particular case, had we not had the pump repaired, we could have had catastrophic engine failure.  So the financial difference was a couple hundred bucks if we fixed it now, versus the thousands of dollars we could have paid had we not “saved the frog.”

Where are your frogs?

Customers.  We have all kept bad customers (or vendors) because we needed the revenue, or they were there for us early on.  Sometimes we have that feeling in our gut that maybe we should not have done business with them in the first place.  We knew something was not right.  Unfortunately, you keep the customer even though they cause problems for you and your employees.  They might be unreasonably demanding, stretch out their payments or a number of other things.  It doesn’t matter exactly what they do – but the reality is they cost you and your business time and money.

Employees.   Every company has them.  The employee who is ineffective, difficult to deal with or short on productivity.  The may be a cultural misfit.   They might be the one that creates a toxic, unpleasant work environment.  We keep them too long which is unfair to you, your company, your employees and even the problem employee.

Yourself.   We all have room for improvement.  Think of the things that you know you should do to make yourself better.  Focus on the important things.  Stop micromanaging.  Eat better.  Stick to your diet and exercise plan. All of these “failures” take their toll on you, your family, and your environment.

Identify your frogs and save them.

In your business, a boiling frog is a preventable problem that is costly and could be and should be solved earlier rather than delaying.   Pay attention to the warning signs.  What actions do you need to take to fix a small problem now before it gets bigger, costlier or out of control?   Schedule the task to save your frog. Then do it.

Category : Leadership

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About the Author: Michael Malone

Michael Malone has spent more than 41 years in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve. He has been a CEO and senior executive in several technology companies, and has been a Vistage Chair since 2005. You can learn more about becoming …

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