The Frog In Boiling Water Myth

Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump out. Put a frog in room temperature water, slowly raise the temperature, and it’ll cook to death before it notices. You’ve probably heard this fable before. It’s a metaphor to be wary of small changes that lead towards massively negative outcomes. It’s also false.

It turns out frogs will pretty reliably jump out of a pot once the temperature gets uncomfortable. They’re actually quite good at this because, well, thermoregulation, evolution, basic survival instincts, etc. The real lesson is not in the frog’s inability to re-evaluate its surroundings, it’s in our inability to not re-evaluate good sounding stories that get stuck on our heads.

Once an idea gets lodged in our brains, like a cautionary tale of frogs in boiling water, it’s hard to get it out. It just seems to make so much sense. I’ve been using this specific frog fable as a mental metaphor for a long time. And then Adam Grant comes along this weekend and tells me that it’s false.* It was on Wikipedia too (but who looks up this stuff to fact check?).

It’s a reminder to be like the frog. Re-think. Re-question. Re-evaluate. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, there’s only a problem in staying wrong. Don’t be like the person who talks about boiling frogs in water. Do be like the frog who knows when it’s time to jump out and live to fight another day.

Want more? Check out Adam Grant’s latest book, “Think Again.”

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