don’t be a copyfrog

April 16, 2005

As I hoped, Inspire! What Great Leaders Do has been a very good read. There were many thoughts I marked for ongoing thinking, and I will likely post several on the blog, but in different entries, because I think each is worth separate consideration.

One of the initial thoughts he writes about in the first chapter is the idea of the copyfrog syndrome. The frog part comes from the old frog in the kettle concept. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out and save its life. If you put it in cold water, and slowly heat it, supposedly the frog will stay in the water until it boils to death. The copy portion comes from the idea of the copycat. In order to find success, we look at what others have done and copy it.

The copyfrog concept is that organizations can slowly lose touch with the world around them, and then just keep copying the ideas of others to reach for success. How true is this of the church in the last half of a century? While slowly losing touch with a changing culture, churches have scrambled more and more to learn from each other. How many churches offer their own conferences these days? Many of these churches have great things to teach based on how they have connected to their culture, but much of it will be constrained by location, and even moreso, by time.

While the water around us is changing temperature, how guilty are we of spending too much time simply just watching how the other frogs are swimming? Secretan writes:

The copyfrog effect causes us to perpetuate, and inadvertently endorse, the existing paradigm because, though it is being questioned silently by everyone else, it outwardly appears to us as though we are the only ones doing so – what Leslie Perlow has called the “vicious spiral of silence.” With this misunderstanding, a paradox occurs: we march in lock-step, supporting an obsolete or unpopular paradigm with which we don’t agree.

Many of us struggle and reach to figure out how the church can continue to thrive in a changing culture. Many sense that the church often struggles to connect with the reality around them. We can no longer gauge our success by how many other churches notice us or copy us. We must understand what is going on around us and learn how to connect with it. Too many churches feel alien to our society, not because they are outposts of God’s kingdom, but because they are strongholds of the past.

Some final thoughts that Secretan concludes with:

Our challenge is that we all have succumbed to so many years of intimidation that we fear going first – the copyfrog effect. But deep in our hearts, we are all looking at each other and wondering, “Who will take the first step? Who will be the brave one? Who will lead? Who will say the words I want to say?” As soon as we see someone else displaying compassion, love, truthfulness, and grace, the floodgates open, everyone pours through the breech and embraces the leader for their courage and authenticity.

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