Follow by Email

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Paradigms- Why we stay stuck in our systems

Paradigms (pronounced para-dimes) are the patterns or beliefs that control our thoughts and actions.  We set up rules and assumptions that may start out to be true but over time they restrict our ability to see change and new trends.  An example of paradigms that proved shortsighted would be the Swiss watchmakers that thought that the spring watch was the way to keep time with precision.  When Swiss technology developed the quartz watch the existing watch manufacturing companies failed to see its potential.  It took a Japanese company, Seiko, to manufacture the quartz watch and steal most of the watch business from the Swiss. Kodak was still invested in film cameras long after most other camera companies had gone digital.  Being too invested in the current technology can blind an organization to the new technologies or ideas that can quickly reshape our world.  Comments like, "We always done it that way" or "We tried that once but it didn't work" or "When you have been around here longer you will see it our way" are dead giveaways that change will catch the organization by surprise and have negative consequences before they attempt to change.  Think American car companies before the government bailout.

 I watched a video years ago by Joel Barker, a futurist, and it has stayed with me to this day.  His thoughts on paradigms I would like to share today. If you link to the videos of Joel you will here some interesting information on innovation.

So how does an organization not get caught in the "paradigm trap?"  A few changes can be vital.  First organizations should listen to a diverse group of people for new ideas.  Sometimes the best ideas come from people who look at an issue from a different perspective.  This might be a new person to the organization who hasn't learned all the organizational rules.  Often this might be a lower level employee who hasn't been indoctrinated in the organizational norms.  Unfortunately this valuable person many times is discounted or be seen as not being an "organizational team player."  Promotion to higher levels can be blocked by a "group think" mentality.

Second organizations need to have an external focus to sense the changes that are occurring that will have an impact on the organizations operation.  As the changes are identified the organization should not try to resist making the necessary modifications to take advantage of the new growth opportunities.  We see how this occurred today with the companies that didn't respond to the digital revolution.  The disappearance of retailers in the music and book business show the result of not moving in a new direction.  Borders didn't develop an E reader and went bankrupt.  Barnes and Noble developed the Nook and still survive at least for the moment.  Newspapers and magazines struggle to come up with a new model to survive the digital revolution.

The culture of an organization has to be geared to always be looking to change on a regular basis. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" doesn't work in our fast paced world.  "If  you are not looking to improve today you may not exist tomorrow" is the new mantra. I want to give a couple of examples of companies that has shown how successful this can be.  The first example is Apple.  Apple is an example of a company that started out as just a computer company but has always been looking at new technologies.  It became a music player with the IPod, a phone manufacturer with the IPhone and created a new communication and information device with the IPad.  If you think this hasn't been a good strategy go to the Apple store in the Columbia Mall anytime of the day and see the crowds.

The second example is 3M.  Half its products today have been developed in the past 5 years and that is a reality that has guided the company for many years. From Scotch tape to sticky notes to a manufacturer of CD's and DVD's 3M has always been able to re-invent itself through new products.  3M is the standard for how much of your resources you put into research and development.

So what new trend have you noticed today and what implication does it have on how you operate?

Like to try a new ethnic cuisine?  Check out the fundraiser that was mentioned by HowChow recently.


MC said...

A very nice summary!

Bob said...

Great article on the often foolish adherence to tradition and the failure to see new modes of thought!