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XEROX

Reprinted from the Fall 1989 issue of BENCHMARK Magazine, a publication of Xerox Corporation.

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A CRASH COURSE IN PARADIGM THINKING
by Debra Feinstein

000 This assumed border serves as a The puzzle points to an important con-
000 boundary, or a limit to thinking. But this cept for success in the 1990s: We need to
000 imagined constraint is in the mind of the break out of our paradigms of thinking
problem-solver, not in the definition of if we are going to solve the problems
the problem. facing us.
CAN YOU CROSS all nine dots in the above Solving the puzzle requires us to The ability to master paradigms is a
drawing with only four straight lines, with- change the paradigm, the frame of refer- critically important skill for dealing effec-
out lifting your pencil from the paper? Give ence with which we view the problem. tively with an accelerating pace of change.
yourself a few minutes to try to solve this When we change our paradigm-our A recognition of their existence is the first
puzzle before going on to read the answer. assumptions about, or the way we look at step toward mastering them.
The puzzle is impossible to solve if the problem-options that were unthinkable
you assume, like most people do the first in the old paradigm suddenly emerge. The Paradigm Thinking 101:
time they see it, that there is an imaginary drawing below illustrates one of many solu- Water to a Fish
frame (as depicted below) around the tions that become possible when we break The word paradigm comes from the Greek
nine dots. through the assumed boundary. root, "paradeigma," which means "model
or pattern. " Adam Smith, in his book,
fOoOl Powers of the Mind, defmes a paradigm as
10 0 01 "a shared set of assumptions." Smith
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writes, "The paradigm is the way we per- world in its entirety; we see only pieces.
ceive the world ; water to the fish. The And our mental frameworks naturally bias
paradigm explains the world to us and us toward only seeing that part of the world
helps us to predict its behavior. " "The real act of discovery consists that supports our paradigms.
Paradigms are found in all areas of not in finding new lands but in Paradigms act as filters on reality even
life. Futurist Joel Barker, in his book, in the "objective" activities of science.
seeing with new eyes."
Discovering the Future: The Business of - Marcel Proust Kuhn found that when confronted with
Paradigms, defines a paradigm as "any set information that was anomalous to their
of rules or regulations that describes bound- paradigms, scientists either distorted the
aries and tells us what to do to be success- information until it fit their rules, or they
ful within those boundaries." According to just didn't see it.
this broad definition, zero defects, rock and "The thing that is almost scary about
roll music and Einstein's theory of relativity the paradigm effect is its physiological
all qualify as paradigms. impact on us," says Barker. "We see best
A new paradigm gives rise to new pos- that which fits our rules. We see poorly or
sibilities. Technological advances-for exam- not at all that which does not ."
ple, fire, the wheel, the telescope, the steam
engine, the airplane and the atomic bomb- Paradigms Change the World
often open the way to new paradigms. If our paradigms determine what we see,
Social paradigms dictate our behavior it follows that when a paradigm changes,
and collective values. In the environmental what is seen and believed changes
paradigm of the 1950s, the rule was "throw accordingly.
it anywhere, it will go away," and smoke- "When paradigms change, the world
stacks billowing black smoke were a proud itself changes with them," Kuhn writes.
symbol of productivity. Medical paradigms "Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt
determine how we think about our bodies. new instruments and look in new places.
Over the years, Western medicine has iden- Even more important, during revolutions
tified evil spirits, humors, germs and [paradigm shifts] scientists see new and dif-
Faces or vase? "Reality" has less to do with what
viruses as causes of disease, and has is actually there than with how we are looking at it. ferent things when looking with familiar
designed treatments accordingly. instruments in places they have looked
While we are in a paradigm, we take Paradigm Thinking 201: I'll See It before. It is as if the professional commu-
its rules and boundaries for granted. It is When I Believe It nity had been suddenly transported to
what we call "reality. " Like eyeglasses with Once we recognize that our paradigms are another planet where familiar objects are
colored lenses, our paradigm colors what- an invisible structure through which we seen in a different light and are joined by
ever we perceive. think, the next step is to understand the unfamiliar ones as well."
"Most of our notions about the world degree to which they determine what we This calls into question the notion of a
come from a set of assumptions which we see and experience. Their influence is far fixed , objective universe. Just as an object
take for granted , and which, for the most more powerful and pervasive than we appears differently in an infrared , ordinary-
part , we don't examine or question ," says may realize. light or X-ray photograph, how reality
Werner Erhard , a consultant who has been Thomas Kuhn, who in 1962 wrote a appears to us has less to do with what is
dealing with the effects of paradigms since seminal book on scientific paradigms called actually there than with how we are looking
1971 . "We bring these assumptions to the The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, at it.
table with us as a given. They are so much points to an experiment that illustrates the "Our paradigms determine the way
a part of who we are that it is difficult for paradigm effect. In the experiment, origi- the world ' shows up' for us," says Erhard ,
us to separate ourselves from them enough nally reported in 1949, people were briefly "and that allows for only certain possi-
to be able to talk about them. We do not shown a deck of playing cards in which bilities. Our paradigms determine our
think these assumptions, we think from some cards had red spades instead of black. world view, the way we perceive things,
them." The subjects literally saw the red spades as what we perceive, what we can see as pos-
Expressions such as "that's imposs- black, because that's what they expected. sible, what we can't see as possible and
ible," or "that's not the way we do it around Once the anomaly was pointed out, the what we can't see at all. Ultimately, they
here" speak to the existence of paradigms, subjects had no trouble spotting the limit our strategies and our actions."
or belief systems, that are operating, red spades.
unseen, in the background. Like water to The experiment and others like it led Paradigm Thinking 301: How
the fish , they are not recognized by us as Kuhn to the conviction that our paradigms Paradigms Operate in Business
our paradigms. Yet, they influence what we act as filters on reality. We never see the Adam Smith pointed out that, "When we
think -and even what we see. world directly; we always see it through are in the middle of a paradigm it is hard to
these paradigm filters. We never see the
imagine any other paradigm." This would ful in the new game," says Barker. ''That's
not be a problem for businesses if they why when a paradigm shifts, you see sub-
stayed in a single paradigm indefmitely. But stantial anxiety. That's why there is so
given the accelerating pace of change, the "A new idea is first condemned as much resistance to this kind of change."
life expectancy of paradigms is getting ridiculous and then dismissed as Had the Swiss known they were deal-
shorter and shorter. trivial, until finally, it becomes what ing with a paradigm shift, this recognition
From the perspective of the current might have helped them overcome the uni-
paradigm, the "obvious" future is always everybody knows." versal tendency to resist change. But by
- William James
one that is consistent with the present and looking at the history of their success, they
that carries forward current rules and This classic case serves as a textbook concluded that they didn't need to change.
trends. But when a paradigm shifts, the example of paradigm blindness. The mis- By staying with the old paradigm, they
obvious and the predictable are not what takes the Swiss made because of their lack found themselves in the tragic condition of
occurs. of awareness of paradigms can teach us to having to release more than 75 percent of
"In 1968, if you had been asked to pre- avoid similar pitfalls. their watch workers.
dict who the world leader in watch manu-
facturing would be, you would have said Sack to Zero Three Phases
the Swiss, because they had dominated the One principle this example illustrates is Another principle of paradigms is that they
watch market for so many years," says that, when the paradigm shifts, all the rules have three phases. Barker describes these
Barker. change. Barker calls this the "going back as follows:
Instead, there was a paradigm shift- to zero" rule. In the new paradigm for In the first phase, the rules are devel-
from mechanical watches to electronic watches, there were no gears, no bearings oped, expanded and refilled. During this
watches. The Japanese, by recognizing and and no mainspring. The technology and phase, we have only moderate success
acting on the new paradigm, captured the expertise the Swiss had for building in solving problems with our new para-
lion's share of the market. The Swiss, by watches in the old paradigm did not carry digm because we are still working out
clinging to ~he old paradigm, steadily lost over to the new one. the new rules.
market share until they hit a low of below "While a company may carry some of The second phase is the successful and
10 percent during the early 1980s. Iron- its leverage over from the old paradigm, productive time of a new paradigm, during
ically, it was the Swiss who had invented there is no guarantee that it will be success-
the quartz watch in the first place.
"The signifICant problems we have
cannot be solved at the same
level of thinking with which
we created them. "
-Albert Einstein

which there is explosive problem-solving.


The paradigm enables us to solve problems
rapidly and efficiently.
Eventually, the paradigm begins to run
out of steam. In the third phase, the rate of
problem-solving slows down. Ironically,
this may be the most profitable phase of the
paradigm-a fact that can blind short-term
thinkers to the need for change. A build-up
of the number of problems that can't be
solved, however, is a good indication that it
is time for a paradigm shift. Like eyeglasses with colored lenses, our paradigm colors whatever we perceive.
"Every paradigm uncovers the very
problems it will never solve," says Barker. mechanical watches that were accurate to a own success. "
Erhard calls the phase three phenome- 60th of a second instead of a 30th. But Once the third phase begins, it
non the "law of diminishing returns. " measured against watches that were accu- becomes increasingly obvious that we need
"Once you've established a paradigm, rate to a 30,OOOth of a second, their quality to change our paradigm. But an organiza-
each move you make begins to use up that improvements didn't provide a competitive tion that waits until the next paradigm hits
paradigm," he says. "We try to do more of advantage. it over the head is not going to maintain
what we've done, do it better or do some "In the wrong paradigm, even the right dynamic success. The trick, says Barker, is
new variation on the same theme, and we actions don't work," says Erhard. "More to anticipate and begin to plan for the new
wonder why what was so great suddenly effort does not produce a commensurate paradigm during the successful phase of the
isn't giving us the juice it once gave us. It's increase in results. No matter how smart old paradigm.
because the paradigm has begun to be used you are or how successful you have been in Erhard goes a step further, claiming
up and we're experiencing the law of the past , you can't develop powerful strate- that the ability to figure out what the com-
diminishing returns." gies and effective plans when you are ing paradigm is and the flexibility to easily
The Swiss, when faced with the elec- working in the wrong paradigm. When change are not going to be enough to
tronic watch, did not say, "The paradigm people begin to understand the nature and ensure success in the 1990s.
has shifted. The old way of doing things is effect of paradigms on thinking and action,
no longer going to work." Instead, they they can see why organizations are so often Paradigm Thinking 401:
tried to do "more and better" of what they unable to duplicate the success of others Mastering the Possibilities
had done before. By 1972, they could build or even to sustain the momentum of their The successful executive of the 1990s, says

PARADIGM THINKING, properly applied, leads window. If the team of software developers and to save more than $100 million over
to tangible results. JMW Consultants, Inc., responsible for the project continued the the next three years.
a New York-based management consulting development process at their current rate- JMW did not teach the team new tech-
firm, helps companies boost productivity a rate that was in line with industry niques for developing software. Instead,
through paradigm shifts with an approach standards-the product would not be ready they helped them shift their paradigm. In
called "Productivity Breakthrough on time. If the company hired more pro- their old paradigm, the rule was "X (the pre-
Technology." grammers to speed up the process, they dictable) amount of work in X amount of
Three years ago, a major computer would exceed their budget. Clearly, a time." The new paradigm was stated as a
manufacturer called in JMW to help deal breakthrough was needed. possibility-''Y (the required) amount of
with a crisis. After working with JMW, the software work in X amount of time."
The manufacturer was trying to get an team began to double their previous pro- ''The shift was to create a future-the
important product out in order to take ductivity. The breakthrough enabled the one they needed-as a possibility, not as a
advantage of a rapidly closing marketing company to get the product out in time- prediction," says Wemer Erhard, who foun-
ded a national affiliation of management
Erhard, instead of merely adapting to new the future will be clear about their power to
paradigms, is actually going to create them. establish realms of possibility and about
Rather than taking something already in their ability to empower and enable people
existence and putting a conceptual "fence" to be effective in those realms." "If there are two courses of action
around it or generating new products and And, he adds, there will be a higher you should always take the third."
organizational structures from old para- degree of productivity from team-building - Jewish proverb
digms, excellent companies will create new project commitments (see sidebar story
paradigms, which will give rise to "whole below) than from conformity or elimination "The most interesting part of manage-
new domains of possibilities. " of those actions that don't lead straight to ment is the part that's committed to what
That will lead to a situation in which the goal. wasn't predictable, to what wasn't going to
something and its opposite are not the only "What hasn't been recognized is that happen," says Erhard. "That's what people
alternatives. For example, Erhard points out there is an enormous amount of new possi- get paid a lot of money for."
that in trying to solve the problems of hier- bility, an enormous amount of room for
archical, centralized organizations, the first creativity, innovation and for new levels of The Metaphvsics of Paradigms
thing people do is tum to the alternative productivity in new paradigms," says The secret of paradigms is that, with them,
provided by that model-flattened, decen- Erhard. "Great executives are those who we construct our own reality. A<; Thomas
tralized organizations. He suggests that a can create new possibilities for people to Kuhn said in 1962: "When paradigms
different paradigm for an organization work into and to fill up with change, the world itself changes with
might be to look at it as a network of accomplishments." them."
conversations. It's a revolutionary thought, and it is
"The work gets done in the openings Paradigm Thinking Post· the most important thing to know about
these conversations create," he says. "The Graduate Course: .nventing paradigms.
culture of an organization is constituted by the Future How reality occurs-or "shows up" - for
this network of conversations, which allows What great executives will do in the 199Os, people is not determined by what's there to
for certain things, pulls for certain things, says Erhard , is to create different para- be seen, but by how we are seeing it.
doesn't allow for certain things and makes digms that are appropriate to the commit- "We know very little about the real
it very difficult for certain things to ments in various parts of the organization. rules of the world , what can and cannot be
emerge." "They will be able to shape organiza- done and what is and is not possible," says
Erhard points out that this model does tion-wide paradigms that are appropriate to Barker. "But we can choose to see the
not fit into the prevailing current paradigm the moving sands, changing markets, world in new ways."
in which success is seen as a product of changing competition and introduction of In so doing, we will-literally-change
establishing clear-cut goals. new technologies," he says. " A<; fast on its the world that is there for us to see. 0
"Rather than imposing goals on organi- feet as an organization is today in changing
zations and managing to narrow people's its focus, that's how fast it will have to be
actions toward the achievement of those to be able to change the paradigms in
goals, the excellent business leaders of the which those focuses are developed."
1990s will establish organizations in which Erhard says that instead of waiting for
there will be a lot more freedom for people a new paradigm to become apparent, we
to actually be proactive and entrepreneurial can create and invent futures that "were not
and self-generating. Excellent managers in going to happen anyway. "

consultants with which JMW is associated. thinking," he says. "In 'business as usual,' erating a new paradigm." At some point in
"At that point, no one knew how to do it, but' we get clear about the situation to deter- the process, he says, it will be evident that
they could still create the possibility. mine what we can do and what we can't. you have come up with the best paradigm
Because there was now a new paradigm in But to produce a breakthrough, you have to for a breakthrough in the situation.
which to see the work, the team began stand the usual approach on its head." "Productivity breakthroughs are a prod-
seeing the job of developing software differ- The process begins with inventing a uct of seeing something in a new way,
ently. They then were able to generate a new possibility, without regard to whether which enables you to see new oppor-
commitment to that possibility." you know what to do ,to realize it. You then tunities and new openings for action that
Erhard points out that when a break- look back at the situation from the stand- you couldn't see before," he adds. "Break-
through is needed, what is often called for point of that new possibility. throughs come as a result of shifting your
is the development of a new paradigm. "That is what gives you the new per- commitment from the predictable future to a
"Changing the paradigm does not spective and what allows you to see the possible future." 0
negate the need for realistic, hard-headed situation in a way you haven't seen it before,"
says Erhard. "That is the beginning of gen-