Your Silent Partner


Review and Challenge Your Paradigms

Success in most things we do in life is dependent on our willingness and ability to make changes as they are needed. The problem is that we are all creatures of habit, and for most of us, making changes, especially those that we feel are being forced on us by circumstances (including other people), is something most of us resist.

What is change? Quite simply, a change is a shift or move from one situation to another. The existing is replaced with the new. The unknown replaces the familiar. A change in your circumstances will usually bring (or even force) a change in your behaviour, and this can easily lead to some pain and discomfort – sometimes physical, but more often psychological. Both lead to fear and anxiety, and are therefore a major cause of stress. Even a seemingly simple change such as a 10 minute railway timetable change can cause untold personal and family upheaval and stress for those affected. Major life changes such as the death of a family client or close friend, divorce, illness and surgery, imprisonment, being made redundant as an employee, being in a serious accident and being caught up in a business failure, can sicken and kill, because of the need to make adjustments, and of the flow-on effects of change-induced stress.

Among the main reasons most people tend to resist change are:

  • Uncertainty “Will this change affect me?” “How?” “Can I meet my new job demands?” “Are the rumours true?” “Why are they keeping me in the dark?” “What risk does that change create?” [Some of us are much more able to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity than others.]
  • Threatened self-interest “Are my interests likely to be threatened?” “If they are, I won’t co-operate. I’ll oppose the change, and I don’t care if the change would be good for the company as a whole!”
  • Wrong perception of the change “What is this change all about?” “What are the real reasons for changing?” “I’ll bet the change will be to someone else’s advantage!
  • Personal disruption to routine and self-confidence “What will this change do to my personal plans and arrangements?” “I’m not comfortable with the proposed change!”

Many firms simply ignore change – hoping it will go away! It usually won’t, and this is a major reason for business failure. Such firms become dinosaurs. In other firms change is recognised, but resisted. These firms rarely reach their potential for growth and success by failing to see opportunities that are brought by change. In others, changes are made, but too often as a reaction and sometimes too late. My research shows that the most successful enterprises actually make changes before (i.e. in anticipation of) the need to do so. They are proactive, rather than reactive. They deliberately change to be better able to meet the challenges and problems of the future. They actually map out the direction they want to go and thereby actively create the kind of future they want, rather than simply letting it happen by waiting for the winds of fortune (or fate) to blow them one way or another. Of course, this all involves planning.

Whether, as individuals, we are able to make the kinds of changes life (including the business world) will demand of us, depends very much on how we see the world around us and respond to those demands – our set of beliefs, ideas, values and perceptions, or our frame of reference. For many of us, these guiding principles and assumptions about ‘how things really are out there’ become self-imposed ‘rules’ about how we should or should not behave. In effect, they guide, and even govern our behaviour – they are models on which our behaviour is built. These beliefs, models and ‘rules’ are our paradigms. Their ability to lock us into particular patterns of thought and behaviour, which we see as essential for success, is known as the paradigm effect. This explains why some of us are change resistant, why some are entrenched Labour voters, why some believe in capital punishment and why some football fans prefer AFL to ARL.

Some people have very strong paradigms; others have more moderate perceptions, beliefs and ‘rules’ of behaviour. Some cannot (will not?) change but others can. No matter how strong or weak they are, our paradigms are a result of our experiences and learning – how we have learned to cope or deal with the problems and challenges of life, especially in our formative years. We all behave according to the paradigms we are most comfortable with, which means that we usually choose the line of least resistance. What we hear and see is filtered by our paradigms, and this reinforces them. For example if we are change resistant, we will oppose change, and thus not experience (and learn about) the benefits of a particular change. If we are ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ Labour supporters, we will rarely if ever listen objectively to anything good being said about the Coalition parties. We therefore reinforce our beliefs because we will not consider any alternatives or the possibility that we are wrong, or that someone else’s paradigms may be right.

To be able to change our behaviour (and this includes changing things in our business work) we need to be able to change our perceptions and frames of reference. This is known as a paradigm shift. To make a paradigm shift we must be willing to challenge our existing paradigms and move to a new set of rules or guidelines. Finding creative solutions to serious and complex problems often calls for a paradigm shift. There are some well-known examples of people whose success was limited by the paradigm effect until they made a paradigm shift.

Harry Warner (of Warner Bros. Films) is quoted as saying: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” in 1927. Tom Watson, a founder of IBM is reported in 1943 as saying: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Someone said that “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible”, but, thankfully, nobody convinced the Wright brothers of that.

All advancements in science and technology, all success in business and all other fields of human endeavour, and all individual achievements, have come from people who have challenged what is and have gone ahead and created change, improvement and thereby achievement.

How often in the past week have you said: “It can’t be done.” or “That’s impossible.” or “That’s not the way we do things around here.” or “Let’s just worry about today.” ??
That is your paradigm effect at work. Why don’t you challenge those beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and rules that govern (and limit?) your behaviour? Your future success depends on it!