“The world we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems we cannot solve at the same level we created them.”
It`s only taken me 21 years (I must be a slow learner) but I think I`ve finally figured out why such a large percentage of the population is dissatisfied and unfilled. I have also determined why so many people struggle and labor without finding either the degree of satisfaction or results that they desire.
It all has to do with the power of paradigms.
What is a Paradigm?
Adam Smith, in Powers of the Mind, says a paradigm is a shared set of assumptions, the way we perceive the world. A paradigm explains the world to us and helps us predict its behavior.
Willis Harmon, in An Incomplete Guide to the Future, says a paradigm is the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing and doing associated with a particular vision of reality. A dominant paradigm exists as unquestioned. It is a tacit understanding that is transmitted through culture and conveyed to succeeding generations through direct experience, rather than being taught.
Joel Barker, in Discovering the Future, The Business of Paradigms, says a paradigm is a set of rules and regulations that describe boundaries and tells you what to do to be successful within those boundaries. A paradigm tells you that there is a game, what the game is and how to play it successfully.
With those definitions, you cannot help concluding that there are many paradigms in our everyday life. The nature of a paradigm is that it is invisible, yet it determines what is thought or believed. It actually uses you – it shapes and causes your actions. A paradigm acts as an information filter; what we actually perceive is determined by our paradigm. What may be perfectly obvious to persons with one paradigm may be quite literally invisible to persons with a different paradigm. Most importantly, what you can and cannot accomplish is determined by your paradigm.
A classic example of the power of a paradigm is Columbus in the 1400`s. In those days, people believed that the world was flat. More accurately, to them, it was not that they believed the world was flat, the world was flat. You and I know that the world was not flat but their assumption that it was certainly did shape their actions.
Prior to the time that the first runner ran a 4-minute mile, the paradigm was that it was just impossible for a human being to run that fast. Yet, when that paradigm was smashed and someone ran a 4-minute mile, within a short period of time many people were running 4-minute miles.
What does this have to do with you and me? Everything! Life did not begin when you and I arrived. We were born into a particular paradigm. It`s not good or bad, it just is what it is, but it, not you or me, is responsible for where we are.
Whenever we work with a group of people who have issues to resolve, what they always want to do is immediately jump in and start discussing the issues. This is in spite of the fact that their previous discussions did not resolve the issues. What is not seen is that the particular paradigm that you and I live in is not designed to have people resolve their issues. How do we know that? If it was, the issues would have been resolved.
Albert Einstein recognized this in the quote in the beginning of this article. In other words, if we continue operating according to the same rules and playing the same game, what we will get is more of what we`ve already have. To our way of thinking, this is the definition of insanity, namely doing the same thing over and over again, believing you will get a different result.
“When society requires to be rebuilt, there is no use in attempting to rebuild it on the old plan. No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.”
—John Stuart Mill
What I, and I think all of us, must finally learn is that we simply cannot accomplish what we came here to accomplish in the existing paradigm. The existing paradigm has rules designed for our failure not for our success. So the challenge for all of us individually and for our organizations is to first unconceal the existing paradigm. Remember, it`s invisible. Once we begin to see it, we can also begin to see it for what it is. We can also understand how it literally is designed to prevent us from progressing from our current state to where we would like to be in the future.
The remaining step is to design a new paradigm appropriate for what we want to accomplish. This paradigm will insure not only the success of our organizations and all of the individuals in it but will allow for true partnership, satisfaction and fulfillment. From our work with many companies, we are clear that this is possible; not easy but possible. Once we design the new paradigm, everything begins to just flow. All that people need to do is literally practice the rules of the new paradigm until they become good at it.
In this post, we will systematically distinguish the characteristics of the existing paradigm while simultaneously describing the characteristics of a paradigm designed for true success and satisfaction. These two paradigms will consistently be referred to as the existing paradigm and the possible paradigm.
The Existing Paradigm
Let`s look first at how we function as individuals. In the existing paradigm, we wake up in the morning, look out into the world and literally believe that what we see is really there, that there is a reality. We think that what we see accurately represents what is actually there. Then, since we believe what we see to be real or true, we react to it. Our actions become our response to what we believe is really there.
We literally become a victim of what we believe to be there. In this paradigm, the function of language is quite clear. When we open up our mouth to speak, what we do is describe what we see, how we see it and our reaction to it. In other words, in the existing paradigm the function of language is purely descriptive.
My contention is that just about everyone operates in this manner virtually all the time.
Yet can this possibly be the truth? If there really was a world out there, if there really was a reality, wouldn`t everyone see the exact same thing?
Of course they would. However, you know that not only does everyone not see the same thing, everyone sees something different.
That`s why there are so many misunderstandings and disagreements. It is also the reason why company meetings end up looking like arguments instead of discussions. We are all smart enough to know that everybody has a different perception, yet, even knowing this doesn`t seem to cause us to consider that maybe what we see isn`t really real.
Maybe there is no reality. Maybe our eyes literally function as projectors, projecting onto the blank screen of life whatever is going on in our thoughts. Maybe what we see is our own creation. Maybe we are the source of our personal reality.
I invite you to consider the possibility that what I just said is in fact the truth. Whether it is or not, however, it does point us in the direction of the possible paradigm. In this paradigm, the function of language is as a tool of creation. In other words, every time we open up our mouth to speak, we are literally speaking into existence our reality. I read recently that we always find exactly what we are looking for, and I believe that to be the case. Have you heard the expression self-fulfilling prophecy? In the possible paradigm, you recognize that what you see is under your control and literally what you see is what you get.
Controlling Your Circumstances
How does all of this work on a very practical level? Let`s take satisfaction for example. In the existing paradigm, people think that satisfaction is a function of the circumstances. In other words, they arise in the morning, and look out into the world to see whether or not the circumstances fit what they desire; if they don`t, they are not satisfied.
We are convinced that satisfaction is not a function of the circumstances. In the possible paradigm, you are either creating satisfaction in your conversation or not. You are either this helpless victim reacting to the circumstances, deciding on a moment-to-moment basis whether or not you are satisfied (i.e., Are the circumstances as you want or not?), or you are starting from being satisfied and going out and creating the circumstances you want.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don`t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can`t find them, make them.”
—George Bernard Shaw
Are You Satisfied?
So if you`re not 100% satisfied, you only have yourself to blame. Life is like a picnic. You can either go to the picnic hoping someone else will bring what you want, or you can make sure that what you want is there by bringing it. As I said earlier, you are either creating satisfaction or not. You cannot get to satisfaction, you have to come from satisfaction. In fact, you can`t get any place other than exactly where you are.
So for starters, if you are not 100% satisfied, where you need to focus your efforts is not on the circumstances, but in your personal paradigm. If you start your day being dissatisfied, what we guarantee you is that by the end of the day you will be dissatisfied and you will have spent another day in the existing paradigm.
If you want to join us in this journey as a paradigm pioneer, the first step is to be committed to being satisfied. In the possible paradigm, you bring that commitment to everything that you do. You bring your satisfaction to your work rather than expecting to get satisfaction from your work. The latter course is a no win proposition. In the former course, you cannot help but win.
What about Happiness?
Much the same can be said about happiness. People think that happiness is a function of the circumstances. In the existing paradigm, this is certainly the case. People think that they will be happy when they achieve the American dream, i.e., when they have the right amount of money, the right romantic relationship, the right customers, etc. In the possible paradigm, you are either willing to be happy or you`re not.
“Happiness is a choice you make in each moment about how you experience that moment, not a state you one day achieve.”
—Barbara DeAngelis, Ph.D.
Barbara and others have convinced us that happiness is a learned skill. When we spend our lives, as most people do, preparing for the future rather than enjoying the present, we end up postponing happiness. Does this depict your daily life? Is your present career best described as preparing for the future, figuring that one day you will be happy? I saw a wonderful bumper sticker the other day that said, Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. It strikes us as a great formula for learning how to be happy today.
At any moment, 99.99+% of the things in our lives are working perfectly. However, isn`t it a truism of our current paradigm that we notice the less than .01% that isn`t?
It`s a crazy way to live your life. I know, since I`ve done it for most of mine.
I don`t recommend it.
An alternative is to accentuate the positive. Make a conscious effort to look for the meritorious aspects of an apparently negative situation. Learn to look for all the wonderful things going on in your life. It`s like the Nike slogan, Just Do It! So if you`re not happy, get happy.
Like a Hamster on a Treadmill
If you further explore the existing paradigm, you discover quickly that the predominant human emotion is fear. Fundamentally, people are fear based. They fear dying, living humiliation, failure … the list goes on and on.
One of the predominant fears is of insufficiency — not having enough. At a very early age, we were taught that the resources of the planet are scarce. Is there a person who wasn`t told as a child to clean their plate because there are poor people starving? The message was quite clear: resources are scarce. This has some very dramatic consequences for all of us. Consequences, you say? What is wrong with conserving scare resources?
When you come from a position of fear and scarcity, money is very important. The name of the game is to work hard, accompanied with effort and struggle, all so that we can make plenty of money.
For a company, the ever-increasing solution is to produce more and more and to get everybody else to do the same. And if people are not pulling their weight, get rid of them. So, many people end up doing what they do just for the money.
But here`s the irony. The purpose of all that hard work is seemingly to create abundance. But when your premise is a state of scarcity, there`s no amount of money that ever seems to be enough. This is because people never question the underlying assumption — that we live in a world of scarcity. No matter how much money people make, whatever level they achieve, somehow there has to be more.
What`s not seen is that you cannot produce abundance with scarcity thinking. And, when your supposition is fear and scarcity, there is no possibility of happiness or satisfaction because what`s always looming in the background is the fear that if you stop, it will run out. We become like the proverbial hamster on the treadmill, working harder and harder and not ever getting closer to the desired end.
Opportunities, Not Problems
People who live in the possible paradigm are playing an entirely different game. They have replaced fear and worry with optimism, faith, and trust. They have replaced a scarcity view of the world with an abundant view of the world. These are the eternal optimists, the can-do people. Nothing is a problem, it`s always an opportunity. Every day is a challenge filled with excitement.
Ironically, most people are so fear/scarcity based that they call these others Pollyannas. They literally criticize them for being optimistic and hopeful. It`s difficult to see that the reason for this is that fear is the biggest game in town. But it`s time for us to see that it`s also a very disempowering game.
The Only Way To Go
Being optimistic, being positive, having faith is the only way to go, really. It is the secret of success of every truly successful human being. You cannot produce abundance from scarcity. You can only be truly abundant if you`re willing to come from abundance, and coming from abundance means trusting that there will always be enough and learning to expect the best. What happens when you do this? Learning to expect the best will dramatically increase the number of times that the best occurs.
So where are you? Are you concerned about your future? Are you worried that you cannot see what`s down the road? Not being able to see what`s down the road, and being concerned about it, are earmarks of a fear-based person. Do you feel that it`s up to you to determine daily desired results? An incessant need to plan for the future is mostly a fear-based condition. Founding your day-to-day life, whether professional or personal, on a state of fear will never get you anyplace worthwhile. The ultimate solution is simply to learn to trust.
What Base Are You On?
Everything that has been just said applies on an organizational level. When you walk into an organization and listen to the conversation, you can either hear that it`s fear-based or that it`s faith-based. Which basis it is determines what is possible.
In most companies, people spend an inordinate amount of time worrying. What we find is that the more you spend your time worrying, the more you have things to worry about. It just isn`t useful or helpful. You can either see the glass as half empty or half full. Your choice makes all the difference in the world because it determines what paradigm you live in. Many companies these days are attempting to diversify, but in the existing paradigm such attempts will never be truly successful because they`re fear-based.
So where do you go from here? It all depends upon where you start from. If you and the members of your company start from being a happy group of satisfied, turned on, joyous, and alive people who are enthusiastic and optimistic, and have faith and trust in the future, the likelihood is that just about everything will work out to your satisfaction and liking. If you don`t come from that place, the deck is stacked against you.
Going on to the second part of this article, “Expectations and Reality” let’s now explore the existing paradigm and what I have identified as the possible paradigm, primarily as it applies to our interpersonal relationships.