What Is a Paradigm Shift?

A paradigm shift is a major change in the concepts and practices of how something works or is accomplished. A paradigm shift can happen within a wide variety of contexts. They very often happen when new technology is introduced that radically alters the production process of a good or service. For example, the assembly line created a substantial paradigm shift, not only in the auto industry but in all other areas of manufacturing as well.

Understanding Paradigm Shift

A paradigm shift can require that entire departments be eliminated or created in some cases, and millions or even billions of dollars of new equipment purchased while the old equipment is sold or recycled. Paradigm shifts have become much more frequent in the past hundred years, as the industrial revolution has transformed many social and industrial processes. This process is likely to become even more commonplace in the future as our rate of technological advancement increases.

Key Takeaways

  • A paradigm shift is a major change in the concepts and practices of how something works or is accomplished.
  • A paradigm shift very often happens when new technology is introduced that radically alters the production process of a good or service.

American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kahn Kuhn contests that paradigm shifts characterize a revolution to a prevailing scientific framework. They arise when the dominant paradigm, under which normally accepted science operates, is rendered incompatible or insufficient, facilitating the adoption of a revised or completely new theory or paradigm.

Paradigm shifts in the worlds of science often the result from scientists working on the fringe. Their controversial research is perceived as misguided or a dead end. While skepticism and inquiry are integral parts of the scientific process, sometimes a scientist does have a revelation, which leads to a paradigm shift. The weight of scientific and public resistance to the new paradigm can sometimes provoke ridicule.

If a fringe idea is proven to rest on sound footing, the idea can gain momentum toward a paradigm shift.

Paradigm shifts happen in a wide range of other contexts to describe a profound change in model, modality, or perception. While not instantly accepted, if a fringe science is proven to rest on sound footing, momentum slowly builds against the established paradigm. Paradigms are important because they define how we perceive reality. As such, everyone is subject to the limitations and distortions produced by their socially conditioned nature.

In the business world, a paradigm shift is often a change in the perception of how things should be done, made, or thought about. Reacting well to key paradigm shifts have a lot to do with the long-term success of a business.

Example of a Paradigm Shift

For example, the internet created a paradigm shift in the way business is conducted. Email and scan replaced the fax machine and courier services. Orders for securities can now be placed directly by the client via the internet and are sometimes executed in seconds. Before the internet, a client would have to call their broker who would write out an order ticket for the broker's record, then call the firm's floor broker to execute the trade. Stock quotes are now widely available through multiple sources thanks to modern technology, whereas 100 years ago people needed ticker machines installed in their offices. All of the old-time equipment such as order tickets, fax machines, and ticker machines are now obsolete thanks to the paradigm shift brought on by modern technology.