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Breaking Paradigms

A paradigm can be described as a certain mode of thinking bounded by particular parameters and criteria. During any situation or problem, while looking for a solution, an individual has certain assumptions that they make, certain preset notions and rules that they believe in which guide them to think of possible solutions to that situation. These rules and beliefs are within the stipulated paradigm or thinking of the individual or of the society or the field in which the individual is working. These paradigms, though very useful in resolving situations, many a time also limit one’s thinking and perception. Today, we are going to explore the world of breaking these paradigms, i.e. the world of ‘paradigm shifts’!

One of the most popular notations of ‘paradigm shifts’ is as given by Stephen Covey in his bestselling book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. In this book, Covey talks of paradigms with 2 perspectives. One, of how the passengers in a train, initially irritated by the ruckus created by 3 kids, taunt the absent-minded father for not disciplining them. Later, after learning that the 4 of them were returning from the kids’ mother’s funeral, the passengers understood the uneasiness in the children’s minds and thereafter, started to encourage them to make more noise and jump about, thus attempting to take the kids’ minds off their mother’s departure. One additional piece of information, Covey says, can change the entire way of looking at a situation. He refers to this as a paradigm shift in thinking! Information may also create paradigms, says Covey, through the famous example of the same picture having both an old woman and a young beautiful damsel’s pictures. People would only see the side of the picture that they have been fed information on earlier. Thus, paradigms always exist, and it is possible to also break them and look beyond them.

We see things in a certain way, under certain defined rules. Many a time that helps us to find solutions as well as common notations of interpreting situations. However, some times, stepping out of these rules and boundaries is what gives rise to innovation. For example, from the perspective of mathematics, the answer for ‘what is half of 13’ would always be 6.5! However, assume this from a linguistic perspective, and it may be as 13 i.e. 13 divided with a horizontal line midway. Or it can also be 1I3 i.e. a vertical line between 1 and 3. Once one starts to look beyond the defined rules of mathematics and starts to accept other perspectives, it is possible to find alternate solutions, alternate methods, and alternate paradigms. When solving a mathematical problem, it is important to stay within the realm of mathematics, however, other times, once in a while it can be creative and also a little fun to step beyond the obviously accepted norms.

All great inventions are children of this fantastic phenomenon of ‘breaking paradigms’. From a Galelio who thought beyond the accepted norm that the earth is the centre of the Universe, to an Edison who kept thinking beyond what is known in electricity, to the Wright Brothers who chose to look beyond what human beings can do while inventing the technology of aerodynamics, from the challenge of putting a man on the moon to the experiments conducted on the atom by Rutherford, looking beyond paradigms has always been difficult, revolutionary, and has resulted in extremely successful and useful inventions!

The most powerful example of breaking paradigms that comes to my mind is that of Roger Bannister, who in 1954 decided to break the paradigm that existed in human minds – a paradigm that was considered reality and a medical truth – that the physical human body cannot run a mile in 4 minutes! It was medically proven to be not possible for the physical body. No athlete across the world could accomplish this impossible feat! Roger Banister, a medical student, decided that this was a paradigm in the mind, and on 4th May 1954, for the first time in the history of sports, an individual ran a mile in 4 minutes! Something considered literally impossible!! The most interesting outcome of this paradigm breaking, is that just within the next one year to that event, many more athletes could run a mile in 4 minutes. Today, almost every athlete can run a mile in 4 minutes. Did the human body change??? Or, did the paradigm change???

So, let us understand that, for all of us, paradigms exist! They are in our minds! They are useful! They help in resolving situations and problems with known tried and tested formulae! Sometimes, paradigms can limit. We need to learn the ability to work with the existing paradigms whilst also striving to look beyond them for creative alternatives…

Embrace other paradigms n work with them! Resolve problems creatively…
You have the power!

Published in ‘The Hans India’ on 28th July 2011

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September 19, 2011 - Posted by | RevathiOnline Learning, The Hans India Newspaper | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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