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Managing Paradigmatic Change

October 16th, 2004 · No Comments

HBS Working Knowledge has an article by Jonathan Byrnes:

Paradigmatic change is very important in business. It has the potential to create major new value and to renew a company, but it is very difficult to accomplish in the absence of a business crisis. Managing paradigmatic change is fundamentally different from managing incremental improvements to the existing business.

This book grew out of Kuhn’s research on the history of science. Before Kuhn’s work, the prevailing view of knowledge building in science was that it was a linear process centered on the so-called “scientific method.” According to the traditional view of this process, scientists posit hypotheses, test them, and in this way, build knowledge. However, when Kuhn looked closely at what actually happened, he found that this could not be further from the truth.

Instead, Kuhn found that knowledge building in science was a process that was marked by occasional great lurches forward. In fact, most science took place within the context of a broad, tacit, explanatory framework that he called a “paradigm.” The Aristotelian system that theorized that the sun revolved around the earth is an example of a paradigm.

What Kuhn found in science plays out in business every day. A manager seeking to create paradigmatic change, whether in market focus or vendor integration or manufacturing process, will hit a wall of “the way we do business,” that is analogous to Kuhn’s paradigm.

As in Kuhn’s process, simply showing evidence that a fundamentally different way of doing business would provide higher returns will not be sufficient to motivate paradigmatic change unless a dire crisis is clearly imminent. It will be ignored much as Kuhn’s anomalies were ignored.

Tags: Management

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