Three common cognitive biases can affect both our personal and professional lives. These biases are the boiled frog syndrome, the tall poppy syndrome, and the Pollyanna effect. They can hinder our individual sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in life and our relationships with others. These biases are prevalent in various aspects of our lives. They can pose challenges in our private relationships and at work.
Three syndromes common in the modern world
Let's examine the Boiled Frog, Tall Poppy, and Pollyanna Syndrome. Learn to recognize and deal with them in everyday life. In the first place, let's put a frog in cold, tepid water and start a gradual heating process.
Boiled Frog Syndrome - when persistence becomes toxic
The frog is a remarkable creature that can regulate its body temperature in response to its surroundings. If a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, it will acclimate to the temperature of the water. Therefore, if the water in the container is gradually heated, the frog will also react and raise its body temperature, although it may be barely noticeable. However, each time the frog adjusts to the new temperature, it expends energy. Moreover, raising the frog's body temperature generates another dose of heat.
When the water's temperature starts getting dangerously close to the boiling point, which is deadly for the frog - the frog will no longer have the strength to jump out of the vessel and will be boiled to death. It will not jump out of the water because it has expended too much energy to constantly adapt to changing external conditions.
So the frog dies, not so much because of the temperature of boiling water, but because of postponing the decision to free itself from an uncomfortable situation.
Doesn't that sound familiar? Both about private relationships and situations often encountered in the business environment.
The Boiling Frog Syndrome is prevalent in business environments, particularly in large corporations undergoing fashionable transformations. Unprepared and hasty transformation processes, immense pressure to achieve quick results, overloading with duties, and a focus on quantity over quality can make the work environment temperature very high.
Employees try to adapt to the self-reinforcing changes, not realizing how much they are changing and how much they allow the corporate world to interfere in their lives. The cost of such adaptation is fatigue, apathy, sleep problems, physical health problems, anxiety, depression, professional burnout, or nervous breakdown.
Paradoxically, diligent, committed, straightforward, and responsible people are most at risk of being overwhelmed. They believe, try hard, and do not want to give up easily. Unfortunately, they often give too much, completely draining their energy and collapsing. They act like a frog in boiling water and cannot perceive the danger properly. Moreover, they often feel guilty when they go on sick leave and blame themselves for the failure.
As Wikipedia says:
The boiling frog story is generally offered as a metaphor cautioning people to be aware of even gradual change lest they suffer eventual undesirable consequences. It may be invoked in support of a slippery slope argument as a caution against creeping normality. It is also used in business to reinforce that change needs to be gradual to be accepted.
In the 1996 novel "The Story of B", environmentalist author Daniel Quinn spent a chapter on the metaphor of the boiling frog, using it to describe the human history, population growth, and food surplus. Ex-Vice President of USA, Al Gore used a version of the story in a New York Times op-ed, in his presentations and the 2006 movie "An Inconvenient Truth" to describe ignorance about global warming.
How to Avoid Boiled Frog Syndrome
The boiling frog story is often used to teach us about the dangers of unrealistic thinking. If you want to know how to identify, prevent, and eliminate such syndromes, head over to the Empowerment Coaching website. In addition, check out tips on the boiling frog phenomenon in the column published by McKinsey company.
Annie Duke, a former professional poker player and now an expert in strategy and decision-making, explains precisely what to look out for to know when to back off. These practical tips may be very helpful in preventing the Boiling Frog Effect. They are based on both the theory of games and neuroscience.
Tall Poppy Syndrome - a problem of a person standing out above others
Tall Poppy Syndrome is a phenomenon where an exceptional flower stands out among others in a garden and is perceived as an anomaly that destroys the balance in the group. Rather than appreciating the beauty of the exceptional flower, the group tends to cut it down to maintain harmony and balance within the group.
In the workplace, Tall Poppy Syndrome is characterized by the rejection or hostility that an individual with exceptional skills and talent experiences from the group. This can manifest in various forms, such as passive-aggressive behavior, gossip, and sabotage. It can even come from the management team members who may perceive the individual as a threat - to their position or authority.
This negative attitude towards an exceptional person can be toxic. It can lead to the individual adapting to the mediocre group, negating themselves, and not drawing attention to themselves - all to avoid conflicts and gain acceptance. Unfortunately, this behavior can cause individuals to wither and lose their exceptional abilities and talents. It is a harmful situation that needs to be addressed to foster a positive and productive work environment.
What lies at the root of the Tall Poppy Syndrome - fear of change, low self-esteem, jealousy
In the Tall Poppy Syndrome, as in a lens, you can see the dark side of human nature.
Willingness to maintain the "status quo" and unwillingness to change, fear of the unknown, hidden low self-esteem, distrust, jealousy, envy, hypocrisy, often laziness, and mediocrity. These shadows resonate within the people surrounding the outstanding person.
In turn, an outstanding person is alone and lonely with this. One against all. Such a situation affects the most fundamental human needs - the need for security and the need for belonging. To fight for yourself, you need great courage, strength of character, and wise support of other people looking at the situation as objectively as possible. If one remains in such a situation for a long time and is constantly bombarded with biased messages, one begins to forget their own self-identity.
Unfortunately, research by Dr. Norman Feather of the Australian Psychological Association shows that the Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs in most companies, reducing their productivity by up to 20 percent.
The Pollyanna effect - naive positive thinking
The Pollyanna Effect, also known as the Pollyanna Syndrome or the Pollyanna Rule, refers to the tendency to see only the positive aspects of every situation while ignoring the negative or warning signs.
The term is derived from the name of the protagonist in the novel "Pollyanna" and "Pollyanna Grows Up". Pollyanna's father taught her to "play joy", which means finding the good in every situation, even the difficult ones. This helped her cope with her father's death.
On the surface, this attitude may seem beneficial, but it can have negative consequences. Ignorance may be bliss, but it only provides temporary relief, and in the long run, the losses can be significant.
Focusing only on the positive aspects of a situation and being overly optimistic can lead to serious problems due to a lack of objective evaluation. Life involves making choices, and making the right ones requires a thorough assessment of all available information.
In personal life, the Pollyanna Effect can lead people to ignore negative aspects of a situation, such as staying in toxic relationships. In extreme cases, this can even lead to domestic violence.
In the business world, the Pollyanna Effect can manifest as excessive optimism when starting new ventures, particularly in project management. Failing to assess risks, ignoring red flags, and failing to understand the project's context can all lead to failure.
Dr. Steven Novella, a neuroscientist at Yale University, conducted a study on the brains of incorrigible optimists. He found that optimists tend to forget negative events and focus on positive emotions, such as joy and happiness. As a result, they may not accurately remember negative events, which can lead to poor decision-making.
Human Cognitive Biases - how to identify and eliminate them
All three syndromes described above are examples of our cognitive biases. Cognitive bias is an irrational, distorted way of perceiving reality. Cognitive biases occur in everyone's reasoning process and affect our judgment, behavior, and decisions.
On the Empowerment Coaching website, we write more about it in a dedicated section entitled
There you will find e.g. a library of the 50 most common cognitive biases, as well as comprehensive information on how to identify and eliminate them.