An Irreverent View of Paradigm Shifts – Pt 1

Let me start with a working definition of paradigm shifts that might be easier to comprehend than traditional definitions:

Paradigm shifts are simply changes that produce culture shocks of different magnitude.

The word paradigm is quite old. Paradigm first appeared in English in the 15th century, meaning “an example or pattern,” and it still bears this meaning today. Paradigm shift was popularized by Thomas Kuhn in 1962, when he used the term ‘paradigm’ to refer to the conceptual frameworks and/or worldviews of various scientific communities.

Since then, the use of the term paradigm shift has expanded to include changes in business models, lifestyles, cultures, even beliefs. This is a very useful and thorough definition which you can read when you get time.

These shifts are easily be recognized after they have occured, but are often dismissed even while they are creating irreversable changes in the way people live and act. Paradigm shifts may take years, even decades, to become visible or may happen in a matter of months.

If they are initiated by a discontinuous innovation, the adoption of the new paradigm tends to follow the Technology Adoption Life Cycle first explained by Goeffrey Moore in his book, “Crossing the Chasm.”

As a result, there can be significant delay between the enthusiastic use of a new paradigm by early adopters and the grudging acceptance of the new paradigm by the majority.

Sometimes the new paradigm is never adopted by the majority because they do not trust the judgement of the early adopters. That failure of adoption is shown by the gap in the life cycle labelled “chasm”. Geoffrey Moore’s book is fascinating reading if you are interested in technological changes.

One of the most interesting points I have observed is that people who bring about a new paradigm often get stuck in the idea that theirs is the LAST paradigm shift. Meanwhile, a host of new people arrive and come up with unlikely new and better uses for this new paradigm and it shifts inexorably again and again. The originators are left saying, “But…but… we didn’t intend that….”

For example, weblogs were originally a list of useful or interesting links to visit. Now they have become bully pulpits for all manner of causes. They may even become a great new force for marshalling support and influencing opinion.

I think weblogs are still in the early adopter phase, like the new cell phones which can take and transmit pictures. Both have the potential to make sweeping changes in certain aspects of our lives. I think I can safely say about either of these innovations, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Stay tuned…

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