Sometimes you think you know what something means, and then you look into it and you are no longer sure. You hear someone say something in a context and you are convinced of the meaning, but perhaps the meaning has been defined by the context.
Today’s Office Speak is a favourite term of a mythical group of people known as the Agents of Change (we’ll get to that one another day). These Agents roam the earth calling people to see beyond their day-to-day way of thinking and to make a Paradigm Shift.
paradigmnouna typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model.“society’s paradigm of the ‘ideal woman’”
A scientific revolution occurs, according to Kuhn, when scientists encounter anomalies that cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. The paradigm, in Kuhn’s view, is not simply the current theory, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all of the implications which come with it. This is based on features of landscape of knowledge that scientists can identify around them.
Our own world views have been impacted by these scientific revolutions. There was a time when people didn’t know that germs existed, imagine the change that they went through once it was understood. It’s not that long ago that DNA was discovered and we are all in the middle of the science revolution that this is enabling. That’s the level of a Paradigm Shift as described by Kuhn – a complete change of worldview.
You may have seen this diagram before, it was used by Kuhn to illustrate that a different perspective can change the meaning:
I’m going to assume that you can all see the two different creatures being shown here?
Let’s return to those Change Agents that patrol the typical office environment requesting a Paradigm Shift here and another one over there. What are they really calling for? Are they calling for a scientific revolution in our day-to-day office existence? Or, as I suspect, are they asking us to squint a bit and look at something in a slightly different way. This tendency to overstate is quite common in Office Speak.
Rather than saying:
“We need a paradigm shift here.”
Perhaps it would be better to say:
“Is there a different way of thinking about this?”
“Perhaps we need to look at this a different way.”
It may be that I’m just being a bit too British about this, but it sometimes feel like we call all change a Paradigm Shift when all we’ve really done is moved from one desk to another, or changed from one colour scheme to another. These don’t quite compare to Einsteinian General Relativity do they? Perhaps the Agents of change or rewarded for the number of times that they use it? Or Perhaps it’s just become a lazy way of saying “we need to change what we are doing”?
Header Image: This is the view from Eagle Crag down Borrowdale an a cold but beautiful day in 2019.