Years ago, my very wise son made a comment that sticks with me even today. He said, “Things won’t change unless there is a cataclysmic event that jolts us out of our ennui.” Or something like that. Yes, he is a student of philosophy.
The question I have today, looking back on the past few years, is whether the cataclysm will occur visibly and intentionally (e.g., a war, a shut-down, a walk-out) or whether we will see the “drip method,” shoving tidbits of change at us until we look back and say, “Wow, something is different.”
That is a lot like the Boiled Frog Syndrome that is a staple metaphor in the field of organization development (OD). It goes like this:
“The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, 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 sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.” Wikipedia
As I look back on the past few years, I see us (organizations, the country, the world?) sitting in a pot of water that is starting to swirl around us. We look around and ask ourselves, “What’s going on?” It is increasingly uncomfortable but not sufficiently so that we take action.
We rationalize and justify our actions and behaviors, even when we see a glimmer that they might not be serving us well. We resist ideas because they don’t fit our narrative – the comfortable narrative that we grew up with.
As I look at the burnout and employee issues we are seeing in our recovering country today, I wonder if the temperature is starting to overwhelm us. These employee issues aren’t new. They’ve been with us since the days that Frederick Taylor measured everyone into numbness. Then through Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y. And on to Edgar Schein’s awakening to the importance of corporate culture. To Gallup’s research that said employee engagement is good for business.
All of these are research-based, yet evolutionary. Each is seeking the holy grail for business and employment. Each idea has been “best practiced” to death, yet here we are. Still seeing burnout, exodus, and frustration.
At what point do organizations look inside themselves for answers? At what point do they realize that the answers lie in themselves if they ask the right questions.
Or do they wait until the water hits 212 degrees F?
Is it too late? Are we being boiled to death?