17 August 2009 • 12:18 pm

Latent Demand for Change

What seems like many hundreds of years ago, I got my start in information technology working with mainframe computers. It was then that I first learned of a concept called ‘latent demand.’ As utilization of those giant computers (whose power back then was approximately equal to that of a modern cell phone) increased over time, companies would plan to upgrade to larger, faster machines. In the months and weeks leading up to the upgrade, demand for computer power would approach the theoretical capacity of the old machine, and processing would become painfully slow. But the surplus power provided by the upgrade would very quickly disappear – consumed by the pent-up demand for processing power that hadn’t been met before. And then the cycle of slowdown and upgrade would be repeated. The demand for more computing power in the enterprise is insatiable. But this phenomenon is not just seen in the realm of information technology – it applies to change in organizations as well.


6 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Poached Frogs and the Capacity for Change

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.

So goes the often cited and vividly unfortunate metaphor of the poached frog, which is used so often in business settings that it has become a tired cliché. James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly has even devoted an entire series of blog posts devoted to the worthy cause of banishing its use, and the myth has been busted by scientists and journalists alike, notably in Issue 1 of Fast Company. I confess to having succumbed to the lure of using the poached frog story myself, but I have since foresworn using it, and encourage you to do the same.