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Letters to a Young Manager

The Frog and the Train, #288
LTYM > Strategy

Dear Sophie,
Sometimes a story creates the thinking and imagination needed to make a major change. I created the following fable to spark a nonprofit audience to buy-in to the change we will need to make as the economy and technology opportunities change.

Some people have suggested that I’ve often been five steps ahead of everyone else. That’s short of chess masters who claim to see a dozen moves ahead, so there’s always room for improvement. Though it’s often been a lot of change to handle, I’ve always felt that if you stand still, you get hit by the train.

Let me tell you a story of the Frog and the Train to illustrate the point:

Imagine a bullfrog sitting on an old train rail. It is a strong frog. It is a fast frog. It is a wise and noble frog. One could even say it’s a prince of a frog!

In the far distance, from the south, is a faint whistle.

"It is nothing," thinks the frog. "I can stay put."

Ever so slowly the whistle grows louder. "Ah, the sun is warm," sighs the frog, "It is nothing."

Louder still gets the whistle. "There is time," says the frog, "the wind whistles too."

Then the whistle becomes a roar.

"I feel a rumble," the frog says out loud, "perhaps I should pay attention."

He turns too late and is flattened by a roaring bullet train, barreling to the north.

"But wait," you say, "It is a wise frog!"

“Rewind the story.”

“The frog would jump in time, wouldn’t it?”

"OK," I say, "the frog jumps to neighboring rail, a familiar stretch of iron."

And he's hit by a different train, an old freight train, barreling to the south.

Right now, in our IT departments in nonprofit organizations, we are the frog. The whistle that grows steadily louder, the northbound train, is the call to move north, to be a more mission-moving force in our organizations. The freight train lumbering south, is the recession, hard times, and the retrenchment to familiar, lights-on operations.

Now imagine you are the frog. What do you do? In many ways, we have been a team that’s moved forward. And this is our call anew today.




If you don't move, you get hit by the train

Discussion Questions:

1) What would you do: Call a train a train? Look before you leap? Stand still and get run over? Hop strong and fast?
2) If you were the frog, what is your job? To pay attention to whistles? To see the direction things are heading? 3) Which train would you hitch a ride on: the tried-and-true south-bound train or the new world north-bound bullet train?

For Further Reading:

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