In 2012 we will take an in-depth look at the 15 step process that enables business leaders to achieve breakthrough outcomes and extraordinary performance. The concept of Unshackled Leadership starts with understanding and accepting that there is an existing paradigm.
The simplest definition of a paradigm is a shared set of assumptions or beliefs. An assumption is information we take for granted. If we take a set of beliefs for granted and all share that set of beliefs, we have a paradigm. The fact that people thought the earth was flat in the 1400s is a perfect example. Since everyone took this “fact” for granted, it became the dominant paradigm of the day.
A paradigm is the way we perceive the world; like water to a fish. A paradigm explains the world to us and helps us to predict its behavior. When we are in the middle of a paradigm, it is hard to imagine any other paradigm.
The analogy of a paradigm being like “water to the fish” is interesting because in order for a fish to know that an environment other than water exists, it would need to come out of the water. Unless that happens, the fish is as blind to the fact that it is swimming in water as a bird is to the fact that it is flying in air.
Because we think what we believe is “the truth,” when you are in the middle of a paradigm, and that paradigm is all you know, it’s hard to imagine any other way to think!
Armed with those definitions, it is clear that at all times we live in a paradigm that impacts our everyday lives. We need to understand this for several reasons. The paradigm we live in is invisible yet it’s as present as the air we breathe.
Because it shapes our thinking, values and actions, it literally uses our lives. It tells us what we can and cannot think, what we can and cannot do and what we will and will not believe.
For example, let’s take the fifteenth century idea that the earth was flat. It’s not that people in the 1400s believed the earth was flat. To them, the earth was flat. It’s doubtful that one person said to another, “I believe the earth is flat. What do you believe?” The belief just was. What don’t you do when the earth is flat? Sail close to the edge! Therefore people in those days didn’t.
Here’s an example from the early 1950s which also shows how a paradigm shapes our thinking. Back then, conventional wisdom said, “It’s impossible for a human being to run a four-minute mile. You try to run that fast, your heart will explode.” Wow! What don’t you do when a task is impossible? Try! Was it impossible? Of course not. However, if you think it’s impossible or that your heart will explode if you try, that thought, true or not, shapes your actions. When Roger Bannister finally ran a mile in under four minutes, it didn’t take long for dozens of others to do the same. Today, the accomplishment is commonplace.
In the next blog entry, we will focus on how we can embrace the concept of a paradigm in our life.