Before becoming too attached to current
paradigms, look at some rules and regulations that once governed
people and how they lived, worked, and thought about the world. As
ridiculous as some of these now appear, at one time they were
legitimate, given the rules of the day.
• For a long time it was believed that the
world was flat (a view still held by some).
• Emily Dickinson's poetry was judged to be
unpublishable because it didn't rhyme.
• Football coach Knute Rockne's use of the
forward pass at Notre Dame was viewed as a fad that would not
• Black athletes were deemed incapable of
playing major professional sports.
• Einstein's appearance and behavior suggested retardation.
• Colonel Sanders was considered too old to start a business.
• Men insisted that iron ships would not float, that they
would damage more easily than wooden ships when grounding, and
that the iron bottoms would rust.
Many situations exist to demonstrate the
paradigm effect in action. Here is a simple example to demonstrate
this concept, followed by a more comprehensive demonstration.
In the early 1970s, a major corporation was
faced with the seemingly impossible task of engineering and
producing a special customer request in an extremely short time
period (about half the normal lead time), under severe budgetary
constraints. In response, the company formed a multidisciplinary
team to concurrently design, tool, and produce the item.
Because representatives of the different functions worked in the
same room and collaborated on the problems, the product was
delivered ahead of schedule, below cost, and with few production
problems (in contrast to the usual situation). At this point, the
situation doesn't sound like a paradigm effect example, but it
really was. After completion of the project, the company failed to
see through their existing paradigms to the long-term benefit of
such an approach, and went back to business as usual.
This next example does not focus on a specific
organization, but suggests how a generally accepted set of rules
or standards in a an organizational function, such as data
processing, can have an effect. When computers were first
introduced, they were huge behemoths that required highly trained
specialists to operate them. The governing paradigm logically
became one of centralized computing, with the ignorant masses
precluded from any contact with the machine. All applications and
development involving the computer were strictly controlled by
In the 1970s technology changed to allow remote
access, software improved, and more people were trained to use
computers. The logical conclusion would have involved an immediate
move to more decentralized processing. However, in most cases,
this approach didn't fit the existing paradigm of centralized
control and an elite cadre of DP professionals, and the change was
slow to come. As a result, many employees outside data processing
were frustrated because they were trained to use the computer, yet
they could not get direct access.
An even more dramatic effect came about with
the development of personal computers. DP professionals saw PCs as
they wanted to see them, and were skeptical about their potential
value. In fact, Ken Olsen, President of Digital Equipment
Corporation, stated in 1977, "There is no reason for any
individual to have a computer in their home." Of course, this
viewpoint carried over into the workplace as well. How wrong was
the paradigm shared by Olsen and others? Just look around in any
office or factory today for the answer. While these examples are
significant, the impact of these situations was not catastrophic;
things just took longer to happen as a result of the paradigm
effect. The examples in the next section demonstrate what can
happen when paradigm paralysis occurs and organizations cannot
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