A paradigm is a way of thinking that is commonly held in an organization or group of people. Businesses, organizations and people develop paradigms to understand how the world works and to navigate the world around us. Paradigms can be useful, however they also can be extremely limiting and my keep us from innovating and find new and better ways to find success as organizations and as human beings.
In Joel Barker’s famous video, The Business of Paradigms, he talks about several famous paradigms shifts. In every example, there was a paradigm that people, organizations or even countries felt sacred. Change is extremely difficult and in many of these examples people wouldn’t change and were left behind when the paradigm shifted. Barker talks about the Swiss Watch industry and how they rejected digital technology in favor of their mechanical designs. Within a decade, their market share had been decimated and the Japanese controlled the industry. The Swiss failed to recognize the paradigm-shift and they paid dearly for it.
Why do people find change so difficult? For one, change causes fear. It’s a leap into the unknown and people and organizations become paralyzed with fear. However, change is a fact of life and unless companies embrace the fact that change is actually the norm, they will whither and die. People and organizations need to have to courage to look beyond the paradigms that they have developed. A paradigm-shift takes courage but it is a choice and a choice that companies and individuals have control over.
One of the best ways to recognize a shift of paradigms is through diversity. Paradigms become so engrained in us that we literally can’t see anything that doesn’t fit the paradigm. Organizations end of missing important information because they can’t see outside of the paradigm. Bringing in “outsiders” or increasing the diversity of thought within an organization helps recognize paradigms shifts and initiates the ability to see beyond the accepted paradigm. An “outsider” or new person in an organization hasn’t been paralyzed by the accepted norms and a change is much easier for them to see.
The world is a constantly changing place and every individual and organization needs to keep pace. If we get caught in the same old paradigms, there is no change and the world will pass us by. Avoid the fate of the Swiss Watch Industry. Every company needs to be aware of paradigm-shifts so they can innovate and stay competitive in the every changing global economy.
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