Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN


November 21, 2012

Lessons about paradigms

Greensburg — Twenty years ago, a business consultant wrote a book that led to a training video that influenced students across the country.

In celebration, this column will take a look back at Joel Arthur Barker’s breakthrough on the subject of paradigms, published by HarperCollins.

First, what is a paradigm? Barker borrowed the term from Thomas Kuhn, where it was adopted to refer to a mental model that someone uses to perceive the world. A paradigm is a belief that is so familiar that we take it for granted and assume it is true. We see the world through paradigms, in the same way that some of us see the world through eyeglasses.

Paradigms indicate to us what is going on. Paradigms tell us how to act. In a courtroom, you stand up when the judge enters. In the Gettysburg cemetery, you are quiet. When you are in line, don’t jump ahead of the next guy. Simple things like that. Teachers use paradigms for the classroom. Coaches use paradigms for their sport. Bosses operate using them as well.

What interested Barker was the possibility of paradigm shifts. A paradigm shifts when you replace a dominant paradigm with a new one. New game, new rules. So maybe you used to believe that a high school diploma prepared you for satisfactory jobs, but now you have decided instead that a college degree is the way to go. That is a paradigm shift over the last fifteen years.

Barker wanted leaders especially to become aware of their own paradigms, in case they need to shift. He wrote about the Swiss watchmakers who overlooked the digital revolution and lost market share for their fine pieces when Japan started producing electronic versions at lower cost. The Swiss failed to make the paradigm shift.

At some point, your little girl became a woman. Uh-oh. Paradigm shift. The reality has changed. You have to see that change for what it is. Sometimes, though, reality didn’t change. Instead, your perceptions of the same reality changed. At one point, people believed the earth was flat. Eventually, they came to understand that it is spherical. Paradigm-shift.

Even the best paradigms leave certain problems unanswered. A paradigm cannot account for every detail. A paradigm is an approximation, the best we can do. But like I said, reality changes. And even when it doesn’t change, there are little things the paradigm couldn’t include. Sometimes, the little things are the important things.

A columnist like me repeatedly offers new paradigms, alternative ways of seeing the world around you. They point to details you might have overlooked. Or they suggest contrary methods for making sense of everyday events. Notice how the pundits are trying to explain why Romney lost. They use competing “paradigms” to convince us.

Barker explained that within a paradigm, a leader simply manages things, helping folks reach their goals. The real proof of a leader is in the spaces between paradigms, challenging how we think and urging us to envision new possibilities. When the people aren’t sure what to think, they require a leader with vision. And another word for that vision is “paradigm.”

Local governments have been struggling to find the language to describe their newfound status. They are stuck with old language. They are stuck with old habits. They are stuck with old laws. But those old paradigms are inadequate to a complex reality, and many politicians know it. They feel it. The trick in part is trying to convince the rest of us, who want desperately to believe that nothing in our hometown ever changes. It is changing, profoundly. Just ask your kids.

Joel Barker’s book is a little outdated today. For example, he warned us against the coming dominance of Japan’s industrial sector. So, okay, he missed that one. Still, his book is more about the process of paradigms than about any particular guess he might have made about the future. In that respect, at least, it endures.


Text Only
  • Five Decades of 'Progress “Political polarization,” “divided government” and “Washington gridlock” have been on the rise for the last 15 years. Public calls for compromise and de-emphasis on centralized government stand out in public opinion polls; yet, nothing changes, and t

    July 31, 2014

  • Governor Pence addresses President regarding unaccompanied children Dear President Obama,I am writing to express my profound concern about the federal government’s mishandling of the present crisis of unaccompanied children crossing the nation’s Southern border by the tens of thousands. The federal government has not

    July 31, 2014

  • Now why didn't I think of that? According to the dictionary definition, repurpose means “ to change or adapt something so it can be used for a purpose other than its original intent.” As one of the many who spend their free time “repurposing,” I like to think of it as bringing new

    July 31, 2014

  • Getting on with the program Now that the fair has been written in the history book, it’s time to get on to more Extension Homemaker News. But first, I would like to extend thanks to Eileen Fisse for the wonderful job she did for the Open Class exhibits. The building looked nice

    July 30, 2014

  • Pat Smith: An actor's life Chances are that Ben Tebbe would have been successful anyhow but it’s refreshing that he remembers who gave him a chance. No doubt, Karen (Clemenson) Hoak would have been proud of what he has accomplished since she gave him a part in a Tree County Pl

    July 30, 2014

  • Spaulding Outdoors: The Inside on Indiana's Outside Nature’s BountyOur daughters were raised in the country and definitely couldn’t be considered “citified” children. Not with Dad around! From the time I was a little boy, I learned there are a lot of good things coming from the wild, and I set about e

    July 29, 2014

  • Word of advice So, what’s the word?Really, what is the word? With over 250,000 words in the English language, you’d think there would be a word for just about everything. Not so. Therefore, I am on a crusade to find a term for some everyday occurrences for which th

    July 29, 2014

  • 9/11 Commission chair scolds Congress for national security failures INDIANAPOLIS – Retired Congressman Lee Hamilton has warned of the perils of political ideology, calling the body where he spent 34 years “noxiously partisan.” Now, he worries the divide is downright dangerous. A co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Ha

    July 29, 2014

  • Brian Howey: Rising up to meet Putin's thuggery BLOOMINGTON – Any illusions I had about the progressive nature of the Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime quickly dissipated when I returned to my Moscow Grand Marriott room in August 2007. Upon opening the door, I was greeted with the spectacle of my pa

    July 29, 2014

  • Pat Smith: A reader's special note Before beginning this week’s column it must be stressed that I love getting emails from readers, love getting telephone calls from readers and love seeing readers when I’m out and about – especially those who very generously tell me that they read th

    July 24, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Amphibious Landing Practice in Hawaii Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.