The Parable of the Boiling Frog

By David Debenham

The premise of this parable 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, step by step, over time rather than immediate obvious dangers. I see it differently. I see it as an example of the chasm of comfortable complacency.  One author calls it “The peculiar longevity of things ‘not so bad’.[1] The idea is that people stay in these zones of complacency, or “not so bad”, called “beta regions” because things are not so bad as to motivate them to leave, and also the alternative is not so good as to motivate them to leave.  They are stuck in a beta region of inertia or complacency.  Society pushes conformity, mediocrity and normality because it is both safe, and “not that bad”.  Over time grooves become ruts, and patterns become habits. One day we waking up with a bucket list of things we wished we had done, when at one point or another they were achievable with a little effort and imagination.

 Ironically, a nagging injury, a mild cold, or a less than ideal relationship – if they were slightly worse, we might get the injury checked out, take cold medicine, or break up with that person. Once it is severe enough, we take it seriously and are able to resolve it faster.

Why is this important to the field of fraud investigation?   Too often fraud victims are in the beta zone, where they are not so bad off that they have no “felt need for change”— no desire to go to the police or recover the monies wrongfully taken from them.  Those victims need to see (1) the discrepancy between where they are and where they could be by taking action, (2) assurance that the desired state is achievable, (3) that the desired state is more in keeping with their core values, (4) a path to getting to the desired state, and (5) a support team to accompany them to the desired state.  While you may not be the person to lead the transition team from where the victim is and where they could be, you may want to advise and support that leader.