Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Paradox of Paradigm

Paradox is
a statement that seems self-contradictory but expresses possible truth. Also it can be something that is contrary to popular opinion.

Paradigm is something that serves as a model or a pattern. It can be a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996),wrote a ground breaking book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, in which he describes a paradigm as a box in which normal science places all its beliefs, commitments, until a better paradigm emerges. A paradigm shift is when a new breed of extraordinary scientists choose to jump into that newer, better box.

Later, Stephen Covey (1990) wrote about the paradigm shift in the business context.

A paradigm is the conceptual framework upon which we build our world; it is built upon past experiences; if we are not willing to make shifts in our paradigms, we will remain stagnate in our growth; a paradigm shift is a change from one way of thinking to another; it is something that does not happen like self generation it is driven by change.

We could say it is another name for Change, but a paradigm shift goes much deeper, it is about combining change with the challenging of existing assumptions and innovation.

Leaders of cultures recognize that their traditional paradigm is out of date, and perhaps this leads them to assume that a 'paradigm-shift' program will provide the remedy. Culture change is not simply about how you see yourself and others. It is about how the system works, i.e. how we do the work together, rather than how we work together. The paradigm shift is to understand how to act on the organization as a system.

However, initiatives which threaten the current operating culture are typically resisted to extinction, and many initiatives simply bear no relation to the economic performance of the organization.
The most critical thing to understand about a paradigm is that, in a paradigm shift, everything goes back to zero. What does that mean? It means that whatever made you successful in the old paradigm may not even be necessary in the new paradigm.

And here comes the paradox: The paradox is that changing a culture starts with different thinking about the work.

There are two interesting paradoxes: the decision theory paradox and an Economics paradox:
Abilene paradox: People can make decisions based not on what they actually want to do, but on what they think that other people want to do, with the result that everybody decides to do something that nobody really want to do, but only what they thought that everybody else wanted to do.
Allais paradox: A change in a possible outcome, which is shared by different alternatives, affects people's choices among those alternatives; in contradiction with expected utility theory (utility is a measure of relative satisfaction).

Before shifting paradigms we should see that business in general is filled with instances of paradox.

If it would improve performance to do the work differently, how does it mean we should behave? Focusing on behavior without embedding it in a work context creates an entirely new pathology - people try to play a new game.

By contrast, focusing on how we work, anchors improvement in things that are real, and opens the door to working on culture, in a way which has relevance and, more importantly, is palpably relevant.

This new global world surrounds us with paradox. In order for companies to master paradox they must first identify the opportunity it contains.

Some major businesses are developing an e-commerce in order to sell direct, cut costs and eliminate the small businesses. Yet, small businesses represent a very lucrative, high profit margin market for those businesses.

Another paradox is the question “Should you hire the best people?” Sometimes hiring the best people could be your downfall (another paradox).

It all depends on the situation and how you define "best." Should you focus or diversify?” Both, actually (another paradox), diversification can lead to situations where managers ignore the other business lines and pursue their own goals at the expense of company growth as a whole.

Is paradox the new paradigm?

Will future business success depend on the ability of managers and leaders to embrace paradox? Will they succeed holding in their minds two contradictory ideas, each of which can be applied when necessary?

By embracing paradox, managers will lose the half-truth thinking that ignores the context so pertinent to business decisions. These seeming paradoxes often exist, in the first place, only because we try to apply business rules across all contexts.

It is natural that business bears the same tension that pervades everything else in our lives. Economies and ecosystems are filled with examples of competing goals and conflicting ideas that somehow work themselves out to create balance and, in many cases, an optimal situation.

Only when we have understood the paradoxes of business, can we propose a paradigm shift: changing focus could be the key to getting exactly what we were so focused on to begin with.

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