PARADIGMS – Joel Barker                    View  Joel Barker: Paradigms Video

Futurist Joel Barker says people shoot down good ideas because they assume that the future is merely an extension of the past.  Many things we accept today once met substantial resistance from thoughtful people.

Paradigms dramatically affect our judgments and our decision making by influencing our perception. “We see best that which we are ‘supposed’ to see – and see poorly or not at all that data which does not fit our paradigm.”

People resist change when they operate within old paradigms. These paradigms establish boundaries and provide the rules for success.

People tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit the paradigm. Barker calls this the “Paradigm Effect.”  This can block creative solutions to problems and the ability to see the future.

To illustrate, Barker tells stories of triumph and disaster resulting from paradigms.

Here’s one:

Question: What nation dominated the world of watch-making in 1968?
Answer: Switzerland, a country renowned for over a hundred years for watch-making excellence. In 1968, it held 65 per cent of the market.

Question: What nation dominates watch-making today?
Answer: Japan, a nation which, in 1968, held virtually no market share.
Reason: The introduction of the quartz watch.

Question: Who invented the quartz watch?
Answer: The Swiss. The Swiss were so certain that it was only a novelty, they showed it promiscuously at a trade show.
The Japanese came; they saw the idea; they conquered the market. The Swiss failed to see the potential because they had a financial and emotional investment in the old paradigm.

Barker says: “When a paradigm shifts, everybody (even the most successful!) goes back to zero. It doesn’t matter how strong your reputation, or how big your market share, or how good you are at the old paradigm. Your past success guarantees nothing.” (what once worked so well becomes unavailable or obsolete.)

Barker makes these key observations about paradigms:

(1)  Paradigms are common. They apply to all areas of our lives.

(2)  Paradigms are useful. They show us what is important. They give us guidance for solving problems.

(3)  A warning: Sometimes paradigms become THE paradigm – the only way to do something. Thereafter, any new idea is rejected out of hand. Barker calls this “paradigm paralysis.” It’s a terminal disease of certainty that has destroyed many a mammoth. (Those who say ‘it cannot be done’ should get out of the way of those who are doing it.)

(4)  The people who create new paradigms are usually outsiders. They are not part of the established paradigm community. They need not be young, but they are people who are not invested in the old paradigm. They have nothing to lose by developing the new one. Outsiders are the key for a true paradigm shift. It takes a true outsider to even ask the questions that need to be asked to bring about true change. The new rules are written ‘at the edge.’

(5)  The paradigm pioneers must be courageous. The person who embraces a new paradigm at an early stage (i.e., innovators / early adopters) must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by the problem solving.

(6)  You can choose to change paradigms – to see the world anew.

The Paradigm Shift Question:

What do I believe is impossible to do in my field, but if it could be done, would fundamentally change my business?”

What is impossible to do in one paradigm is easy to do in the next.

 “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  ~ Marcel Proust