Felix The Flying Frog
I first saw the story of Felix the Flying Frog on an office door at Microsoft. Everyone at Microsoft had “door art.” Cartoons or quotes or little stories. But, this story on this door seemed completely out of place.
Felix The Flying Frog is a story that has been around for years. I read it in the 1990’s, but it predates the modern internet by quite a few years. The author is unknown. The story is reproduced below, but essentially, it tells how Clarence tries to teach his pet frog Felix, to fly. Of course, initially, his efforts are met with failure. But, Clarence has been to many management and self-help seminars and he is armed with all of the tricks to improve performance. He has Felix think positive thoughts. He has him set goals. He challenges him to overcome his limitations.
And through it all, Felix continues to fail. Not just a little. He is an utter failure, at every single task. Clarence understands the value of pushing your employees to excel, so he continues throwing Felix out of progressively higher windows. And it’s not like Felix wasn’t trying. He wanted to improve. The result of the failure is completely attributed to Felix not trying hard enough.
The story, obviously is a metaphor for business. But, it sends a different message than many of the self-help guides. Instead of a message of
“You can be anything you set your heart to”
The message is,
“You can’t do certain things.”
I love basketball. I play a couple times per week. I’m 6’0″ tall with about a 4″ vertical leap. I’m never going to be an NBA caliber player. I can get better, sure. But, if the goal is to play in the NBA, I’m a frog getting thrown out a window and told to fly. It’s not going to happen no matter how many happy thoughts I think.
As managers, it’s our responsiblilty to help guide our employees. I love to work with interns and recent college graduates. I like being in a position to help lay the foundations for a successful career. I once had an intern a named Carl. Carl was brilliant. He got the intern job because he was willing to walk up to the VP after a speech at the local college and say, “How do I go to work for your company?”
Carl was great. Carl came to me at one point.
Rodney, I have a chance to go to work for a local startup company. It’s real “ground floor” type stuff.
What do you want to do with your career?
I want to be a developer and work in business.
Then, I think you should take the job.
But, my internship isn’t finished. I committed to a year and I don’t want to let you down.
I appreciate that. But, these chances don’t come along every day. We’ll be fine. I’m not going to hold you to the year, if you want to go.
I had another employee Enoch. He was a brilliant engineer. Enoch wasn’t really a manager type. He enjoyed being a peer, he wasn’t great as the boss. Eric came to me.
I have a chance to go work for a software company in Canada.
What are they asking you to do?
Well, it’s an architect position, but they would want me to lead a team of programmers.
If you decide it’s what you want to do, I’ll support you, but are you really sure you want to go into management?
Ultimately Enoch decided he would rather stay with our company and be an engineer. I could have decided that since my career led to management, so should his. I could have thrown him out the window and told him to fly. But, without the basic skills and especially the capacity to be a manager, he would have failed. And been miserable while doing it.
What made it so interesting the first time I read this story, was that it was in Microsoft support on a support manager’s door. We had been given goals in support to cut our talk time, increase our number of calls, and several other goals that seemed completely outside our capacity to accomplish. This story on the manager’s door, let me know that sometimes the managers also think the goals are unreasonable and unrealistic. Ironically, it inspired me to do better at the things I COULD do. Things like jumping and croaking. . .in the frog metaphor.
Find your employees strengths and then give them the ability to get better. Don’t push them to accomplish YOUR goals simply because you think a flying frog would be cool.
FELIX THE FLYING FROG
Once upon a time, there was a man named Clarence who had a pet frog named Felix. Clarence lived a very modest life based on what he earned working at Wal-Mart but he never gave up his dream of being rich. One day, hit by sudden inspiration, he exclaimed, “Felix, we’re going to be rich! You will learn to fly!”
Felix was terrified at the prospect. “I can’t fly, Clarence! I’m a frog, not a bird!” Clarence, disappointed at the initial response, told Felix: “Your attitude isn’t helping matters. I think you can benefit from some training.”
So off Felix went to a three-day course where he learned about the history of aviation, the basics of aeronautical engineering (e.g., lift, thrust, drag, etc), gliders, parasailing and the lives of famous fliers. (For obvious reasons, the instructor did not mention Icarus.) After the training and on the first day of the “flying lessons,” Clarence could barely control his excitement (and Felix could barely control his bladder). Clarence pointed out that their apartment building had 7 floors, and each day Felix would jump out of a window, starting with the first floor and working his way up to the top floor.
After each jump, Clarence and Felix would analyze how well he flew, isolate the most effective flying techniques, and implement the improved process for the next flight. By the time they reached the top floor, Felix would surely be able to fly.
Felix the Frog Felix pleaded for his life, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “He just doesn’t understand how important this is,” thought Clarence. “He can’t see the big picture.”
So, with that, Clarence opened the window and threw Felix out. He landed with a thud.
The next day, poised for his second flying lesson, Felix again begged not to be thrown out of the window. Clarence opened his pocket guide to “Managing More Effectively,” and showed Felix the part about how one must always expect resistance when introducing new, innovative programs. With that, he threw Felix out the window again. THUD!
On the third day (on the third floor), Felix tried a different ploy: stalling. He asked for a delay in the “project” until better weather would make flying conditions more favorable. But Clarence was ready for him: He produced a timeline and pointed to the third milestone and asked, “You don’t want to mess up the schedule, do you?”
From his performance appraisal feedback, Felix knew that not jumping today meant he would have to jump TWICE tomorrow. So he just muttered, “OK, let’s go.” And out the window he went.
Now this is not to say that Felix wasn’t trying his best. On the fifth day he flapped his legs madly in a vain attempt at flying. On the sixth day, he tried “visualization.” He tied a small red cape around his neck and tried to think “Superman” thoughts. It didn’t help.
By the seventh day, Felix, accepting his fate, no longer begged for mercy. He simply looked at Clarence and said, “You know you’re killing me, don’t you?”
Clarence pointed out that Felix’s performance so far had been less than exemplary; failing to meet any of the milestones he had set for him. With that, Felix said quietly, “Shut up and open the window.” He leaped out, taking careful aim at the large jagged rock by the corner of the building.
And Felix went to that great lily pad in the sky.
Clarence was devastated. His project failed to meet a single objective he set out to accomplish. Felix not only failed to fly, he hadn’t even learned to steer his fall; instead, he dropped like a sack of cement. Nor had Felix heeded Clarence’s advice to “Fall smarter, not harder.”
The only thing left for Clarence to do was to conduct an after-action-review and try to determine where things had gone wrong. After reviewing the records and giving the data much thought, Clarence smiled knowingly and said, “Next time, I’m getting a smarter frog!”
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved