The Paradigm Shift



The warning signs are often right out in plain sight—as someone once said, "a blinding glimpse of the obvious." If the place, and the people in it, look like the fifties, chances are good that the ideas will be from the fifties as well. Beware of the following (taken from a list of 101 idea stoppers for negative thinkers):

• It won't work in my department.

• That's not my job.

• It's against company policy.

• We've tried that too, but ...

• Engineering won't approve it.

• It's not in the budget.

• It will set a precedent.

• Etc., etc., etc. ...

Examining Paradigm Change

In looking at paradigm changes, a good starting point is author and lecturer Tom Peters. He has identified, perhaps more than anyone, organizations that have had the courage to break away from traditional paradigms and to change the way they do things.

In examining the organizations that Peters has studied, the com­mon thread is an almost blatant disregard for tradition without purpose, coupled with a willingness to try something different, if 

needed, to get results. Another theme is the encouragement of everyone, at all levels, to initiate change if it leads to improve­ment. Rules and regulations don't get in the way of innovation and initiative. While not all of his examples have maintained their positions of excellence, the lessons are still valuable.

In another sense, Peters is somewhat of a paradigm shifter himself. He and Bob Waterman, in their initial work, In Search of Excellence, attacked the traditional, structured thinking about organizations, and started a new wave of management thought.

The work of Peters and others is reflective of a number of far-reaching new paradigms, including excellence, Just-in-Time, world class manufacturing, continuous improvement, Total Qual­ity Management, and kaizen. All of these major paradigms have one thing in common, and that is a driving desire to get better— little by little and day by day. Change becomes a part of the organizational culture, and the dominant paradigms support change instead of blocking it. People are comfortable with change, and impossibilities become possible. As a result, major, dramatic changes are often a by-product, rather than a forced effort.

Initiating Change

How is change initiated? Initially, not everyone will feel comfort­able with initiating change and breaking paradigms. However, the potential exists for everyone, given training and encouragement, to become a paradigm shifter.

Traditionally, change comes from the fringes. Think about the person in high school who was an outsider and marched to a different drummer, and comes back to the class reunion a millionaire. (Someone like Bill Gates perhaps?) Sometimes new, young employees have ideas that they should be incapable of, given their experience. The trick is, then, is to push people to the fringes and look everywhere for positive change—it can come from the most unlikely places.


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