The What and Why of a Paradigm Shift

     Flickr: Mr. T from D.C.


                                       The fish will be the last to know the water.

                                                         –Author unknown                  

Paradigms are thought patterns or assumptions that we take for granted and are out of our consciousness. When a paradigm shifts there is a change in basic assumptions. The fish and the water is an excellent example, but know that we are all “fish” and there are many kinds of water.

When a paradigm shifts the results are usually stunning. Using the fish analogy again; imagine a fish that jumps out of the water–for the very first time–and then back again. Water would never quite look the same after that experience. Imagine trying to explain what happened to all of the other fish that haven’t (yet) left the water.






One of my favorite examples of a paradigm shift is the story of the quartz watch, told by Joel Barker in The Business of Paradigms. A couple of Swiss watchmakers went to their higher-ups with a new idea that would revolutionize the industry. Since the Swiss had been the premier clock makers for hundreds of years, people in the industry had a particular way of thinking about clocks. This way of thinking was a paradigm of what a clock should be. What the watchmakers brought to the bosses on that day was different. Their new watch didn’t have springs and gears like a watch/clock was supposed to have. The bosses laughed and sent the watchmakers back to their regular jobs. A short while later, the spurned watchmakers went to a clock convention and set up a table to demonstrate their invention. Two entrepreneurs, one representing Seiko and one representing Texas Instruments, were not blinded by the old clock-making paradigm. The rest is business history. Texas Instruments and Seiko snatched up the patents and the era of the quartz watch was born. In a matter of only a few years, the Swiss watch industry went from the top floor of clock making to the basement. When the paradigm shifts, those who were first often become last.

Here are some examples of relatively modern paradigm shifts in the physical world. This level of change isn’t  common, but it is nearly always dramatic:

The bicycle. Think about it; a whole new way to move built out of inanimate wooden and metal parts.

The steam engine must have been strange and scary when it first came on the scene, and what about steam locomotives?

Radio and television each were paradigm shifts.

The airplane was a paradigm shift over cars and trains.

The computer and Internet are paradigm shifts. Imagine only a couple of decades ago trying to explain what the Internet would be and how it would affect the world?

Can you add to the list?

Imagine what will happen when a clean source of energy and a non-internal combustion engine springs onto the scene. What will happen to the multi-national oil companies? What will happen to the power, money and politics associated with oil producing nations?

The paradigm shift that is happening now in education is much larger than what happened in the world of watches, planes and computers. Those are only things. The renaissance occurring is a psychological, emotional and spiritual shift which impacts the physical world as well.  By changing our schools to a wiser, more effective educational design, we actually shift society—and the world.


7 Responses

Hi Ron,
Thanks for pointing out the importance of paradigm shifts. I have two examples of desired paradigm shifts that I would like to see happen and that are in fact happening already. I will address this in two different messages to make it more practical.
The first is a shift from Human Resource Management to Human Treasures Leadership. I introduced Human Treasures in 1999 and I have the sense that using/exploiting people as resources has become so extreme that this paradigm will shift together with the multiple crises we are facing. Whenever I ask someone. How do you want to be considered and treated. As a resource or as a treasure? People always choose for treasure.

The second shift I see is a shift from I to We. From I-llness to WE-llness. Not we as a group, but we as humanity, as one. We have used this slogan for a couple of years in the World Days of Interconnectedness on 09-09-09, 10-10-10 and 11-11-11. But in fact I see this as a reverse-shift. This shift will happen based on an increased awareness of interconnectedness, an awareness that indigenous peoples have always known and are still practicing…..
This awareness of interconnectedness will contribute to an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence. On you can see the type of events that will happen on 11-11-11. For schools an initiative has been created for doing a group massage:
Would this be something for your school? Another activity is called: Your wish for the world (but it is not yet in English, sorry.)

Hello Leo,
Thank you for your creative thoughts. I love the idea of treasure over resource. Treasure as a verb, as well as a noun. Your version of Treasure Leadership certainly fits the change of consciousness we are moving into.

I also thoroughly agree and appreciate your mention of We-llness. I’ve not see it written like that before. Great concept. We are leaving the fear-based, singular (disease) consciousness and moving to a caring (love) based unity consciousness. We can learn a lot from indigenous cultures. Their paradigms weren’t as fixed as ours. I haven’t checked out your site recommendations yet, but will.

Thank you so much for your contributions. I haven’t been to The Netherlands for a few years now. Seeing your name and reading your comments makes me homesick for my home away from home.

Best wishes,

Your style is so unique compared to many other people. Thank you for publishing when you have the opportunity,Guess I will just make this bookmarked.2

very interesting subject , great post.

The Switzerland watch makers example is a great one. “Those who were first often become last”. If you look at Kodak for instance, they didn’t see digital cameras as an opportunity but as a danger for their business (yet the invented it!). Result: because they didn’t embrace it, they quickly faded away when others seized this innovation…

Kind regards,

Valerie from Geneva

Very good example. Thank you.

P.S. I haven’t been to Switzerland yet, except just across the border from Italy. My family is from Borgiallo, Piedmonte region–5 miles south. Hope to travel your country one day soon.

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