The Paradigm Shift

By: Henry F. Camp


The greatest difficulty lies not in persuading people to accept new ideas, but in persuading them to abandon old ones.   – John Maynard Keynes

Making our job more difficult, people naturally think in habitual patterns. This is normally a good thing, because without this skill, we could not recognize and conceptualize as quickly as we do. The word habitual suggests that we fall into thinking patterns without being conscious that we are doing so. Being unaware of how and why we are thinking something further increases the challenge of getting a paradigm to shift.

I observe that people struggle mightily to protect their sense of competence that comes from acting on what they know as opposed to re-thinking things through each time. It is no wonder then that folks prefer to conclude that their current rationale is better than or close enough to a proposed new approach. From experience, they know that it may take a significant amount of time and hard thinking to recognize all the differences between the old idea and the new one. For many it is no fun to check for ramifications and eliminate internal conflicts which usually result from a conceptual substitution.

It is accurate to describe the particular transformation that is required in our case as a subtle redirection of intention. You may feel that a subtle shift in thinking would be easier than a more profound one. I think not. Particularly when the proposed change is subtle, a common comment is “I’m already doing that”. For all these reasons, their staff resiliently resists the changes our client needs them to make.

External events sometimes set the stage for a catharsis. A crisis or suffering can weaken the perception of control and competence, making us more open to change. We can’t rely on and don’t want to cause an external trigger. Further, transformations often require a sacrifice of a comfort. Like smoking cigarettes, knowing a habit is not healthy does not guarantee that we will abandon it.

On the other hand, people do commonly abandon old ideas for new and better ones. The shift often begins with just a glimpse. There is what we call an ‘aha moment’, often quickly followed by the mutterings of the person’s mental custodian sounding something like: “Tsk, tsk, tsk … can’t have this clutter … we already have plenty of ideas like this … must sweep this new one out … hasn’t stood the test of time like ours … everyone thinks our way.” And, bang, the ‘aha moment’ is gone.

However, after an epiphany has occurred once, even momentarily, that part of the mind that supervises the custodian will continue to feel a tug – a wondering about whether something valuable might have been lost. This tug later leads to the commitment to more study (when there is time), from which an evolution in thinking can occur.

IDEA’s training process takes advantage of this ‘internal supervisor’ by refreshing the notion. We do so in a Socratic fashion, leading trainees to think through examples in their current reality that demonstrate problems caused by flawed assumptions. Only after the problem is fully accepted do we begin to wonder about a solution.

Holistic solutions, ones that lead to a decisive advantage, are really just a decision of how to exploit the system’s constraint. In business: the best way to produce cash from both assets and profits with the least effort and expense. Following these guidelines means becoming cash rich and more profitable while simplifying demands on operations and, more importantly, management. Even a taste convinces us that we are on the right track.

As enough time passes and with careful thinking, the new paradigm more fully manifests itself. IDEA reinforces the new paradigm with actual relevant examples so that the rationale for even more actions becomes clearer – in order to subordinate to the decision to exploit the constraint before anything else. For retailers, for example, these actions support providing the right products to willing customers. Better availability as broadly defined is the consequence. Fewer shortages, a broader offering, more shelf life, quicker new product introductions all drive more sales, more profits and more cash. In every scenario, the snowball gains size and momentum.

Each perceptive shift occurs when each person becomes ready. Supporting the truism that ‘when the student is ready the teacher will come’, IDEA is there to fulfill the teacher’s role, creating openness to a new and only slightly different, point of view. At the conclusion of the engagement, a client is able to maintain the new state without our help. More than that, the client’s employees will be in a position to continue to generate improvements which keep the company ever flourishing regardless of the state of the economy and competition.