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When Was Your Last Paradigm Shift?

Ah, the now infamous paradigm shift. I learned about “paradigm” at a Stephen R. Covey seminar back when he was alive, touring, and promoting his 7 Habits book. The word wasn’t even in my vocabulary at the time. It became a popular buzzword for business for many years afterward.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the basic definition of the word.

A paradigm is a standard, perspective, or set of ideas. A paradigm is a way of looking at something. The word paradigm comes up a lot in the academic, scientific, and business worlds. A new paradigm in business could mean a new way of reaching customers and making money.

It’s safe to say that the past two years have caused many paradigm shifts in the business world, the way we work, and the way we may continue working.

The Shifts We Know

The massive lockdowns and shutdowns caused by the pandemic sent small business owners, shop keepers, and service companies scrambling. Those who found ways to survive usually did it through massive restructures of their business models.

One story was about an Asian family shifting their business away from a sit-down restaurant style Chinese food establishment. Instead, they found a niche market for take out and delivery of Lousisiana style gumbo. By eliminating the overhead of the restaurant, they tripled margins and doubled gross revenue.

Another company I know about was in the business of creating high-end bath soaps. The pandemic squashed that market. With creative leadership, the owner assembled her team and did some brainstorming. They landed on the idea to produce hand sanitizer liquid. Their manufacturing arrangement was easily retooled to support that production, plus many of the ingredients were already on hand. Within weeks they were delivering wholesale quantities to essential work places.

Larger enterprises had even bigger shifts. I did work for a large national bank who had to send 95% of the workforce home. How do you perform banking transactions remotely? What must be done to secure customer information over the Internet?

Leaders at this bank got very creative. They identified an encryption device that employees could attach to their home based computer connections. The device provided a virtual private network (VPN) connection that was extra secure. With this setup, employees could login to on-premise bank networks and continue to serve customers.

Productivity actually increased by double digits. Yet it was a paradigm shift many thought could never happen.

Why Shift Perspectives and Paradigms?

I mention these examples because they represent external forces that dictated the need for change. The paradigm simply had to shift.

But what if you are operating in the ‘zone?’ What if everything seems to be working well? Should you entertain a paradigm shift?

Or what if you are operating a legacy? I mean managing a piece of an organization that has huge capital invested in assets that are income producing. Turn on the lights and you make money. That’s a nice place to be, right?

Should there be any paradigm shift in these situations?

I submit you should at least entertain the idea periodically. The sand might be shifting underneath you. Without having an open mind and a discipline about revisiting the current paradigm, you might be setting yourself up to fail.

Kodak is the cautionary tale for this exact situation. Their paradigm was manufacturing high end photo film. Yes, I said film. Not digital.

As the digital transformation unfolded in the market, Kodak held firm in their paradigm. It is said they even went so far as to call the emerging digital technology a fad.

Making the Shift

How do you know when it might be time to make a paradigm shift? Given the vast capacity our brains possess, it is often hard to sort through the details to decide it is time for a shift.

We get into habits that keep our thinking going in one direction. In scripture we are encouraged to “renew our minds.” Here are several patterns that could suggest it is time to shift that paradigm.

Group Think

Anyone who has been part of a work team has likely experienced this form of operating. A decision needs to get made. The choice is put up to the team to decide. One person floats an idea. The next person is not wild about it, but doesn’t want to make waves, so says yes.

As the next person gets a turn to weigh in, they start thinking ‘well two folks agree so I don’t want to be an outlier.’ So they say yes. And so it goes. The decision is finalized. It gets implemented and produces bad results.

The group starts dissecting the outcome. One then another says ‘I didn’t really like that idea.’ Well why did we all agree to do it that way? And things spiral downward.

Avoiding group thinking is a great time to allow a paradigm shift. Share an opposing idea. Ask why not?

For more on this topic, visit The Abilene Principle

Self Talk

The discussion we have inside our minds just might be the most influential voice we ever hear. That cuts both ways. The message can be empowering or it can be derailing.

Watch the tone and content of those little talks you give yourself. Limiting beliefs can hold you back. On the other hand, pride and arrogance can stifle the best choices.

Reframe the Matter

Reframing is a great technique to aid in creating a fresh line of sight. When you start feeling stuck with a certain way to think about something, force yourself to reframe the idea. Bust through the structure of the thinking you used to get where you are. Ask challenging questions about the method you used. Allow yourself the luxury to explore wholly new ideas to address the situation.

This is called reframing. You take the old framework you’re used to using and turn it around. The diagram below demonstrates how viewing something from different angles can create different conclusions.

paradigm shift reframe

Seek Counsel

If you start to feel stuck where you are, look to someone else to add another perspective.

There’s an age-old joke about how men never want to stop for directions. When my wife and I took our first major road trip after we were married, I pulled over one day and asked a local for directions. Once I had the information, I was ready to proceed to our destination. She was amazed. Other men in her life (before me) had apparently never been willing to stop and ask.

I learned a long time ago that having a guide or a mentor was a perfect way to get valuable information for greater success. Try it sometime.

In Conclusion

The need to make a paradigm shift might be more frequent than you think. Add a simple question to your leadership toolkit. Ask yourself, “Am I thinking about this the right way?” Be willing to take the turn, ask for help, and consider the different angle.

Above all, coach and train your team to avoid group thinking. Create an environment where dissenting opinions matter. Promote the value of trust among team members so that decisions can be made with the best input.

Let that paradigm shift happen.

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