The Power of Paradigms

Adam Smith in his book Powers of the Mind writes; “a paradigm is a shared set of assumptions. The paradigm is the way we perceive the world; like water to a fish. The paradigm explains the world to us and helps us to predict its behavior.”



Consider: The fish doesn’t know it’s swimming in water and we don’t know we’re dancing with of our beliefs.



Paradigms are found in all areas of life. Futurist Joel Barker in his book, Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms, defines a paradigm as “any set of rules or regulations that describes boundaries and tells us what to do to be successful within those boundaries.”


Consistent with the above two definitions, music, golf, relationships, driving a car, personal income and your business among other things all qualify as paradigms. Fact is, you’re always operating in a paradigm of one type or another. The simplest task such as brushing your teeth is a function of a paradigm. Early in our childhood years we learned the “rules” of how to be successful doing this.


While we are in a paradigm we take its rules and boundaries for granted. It is what we call, “reality.” Like eyeglasses with colored lenses, our paradigm colors and filters whatever we perceive. Your business is no exception to this phenomenon.


Most of our notions about our business and life are historically derived and come from a set of assumptions we take for granted. For the most part we don’t examine or question this. We just assume these assumptions are the truth. You and your team’s assumptions about your business, your target market, the economy and so on organize your behavior and actions in your business…for better or for worse.




“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” - Arthur Schopenhauer



Imagine for a moment the following scenarios in your business:


It’s July and every month this year including July you have posted a 15% increase in business over the previous year. You’ve been in business for five years and every August has been the worst month of the year. As you approach the end of July, what do you know is true about the upcoming August? Based on your historical viewpoint you would probably conclude again August is going to be slow. Because of this assumption or rule about August are you likely to go out and make the extra 20 calls a day or whet ever it take in August to maintain your 15% increase? Probably not! After all, you already know August is going to be slow so what would be the point?


Don’t get me wrong, many of your assumptions about your business support its success. At the same time you also can count on you have unexamined assumptions about your business, team, market, economy and so forth that might just be limiting your path to the future.


Unintentionally and unconsciously many times we can become a victim of our own beliefs. The challenge is recognizing and owning our beliefs and assumptions that form the frame work or boundaries of our paradigms. There can be real power and freedom in seeing them for what they are, nothing more than a belief or an assumption and not necessarily the truth.


Self recognition can be difficult and many times triggered by a “negative” experience. The old adage, “you can’t see the forest through the trees,” applies here. Often the quickest way out of the “box” is to pro-actively bounce a problem off a friend, co-worker, family member or a coach. It’s almost always an “outsider” that points out the obvious we can’t see thus creating an opening for new possibilities.


The successful companies in this decade, instead of just recognizing and adapting themselves to new paradigms, are going to be able to create them.


To be able to create new paradigms is the power to reinvent the future. A future that honors the past but isn’t limited by it.

© Copyright 2011 Growth Strategies LLC

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