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Why It is So Hard to Change – Part 1 – Paradigms

by Sep 14, 20172 comments

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write a series of blogs about change.

A quick scan of the human condition suggests that we need to embrace change in numerous areas—leadership, the environment, politics, healthcare, social justice, and so many more.  And yet we are highly resistant to change, even in the face of significant problems or impending disaster.  Numerous studies of heart attack patients show that more than one in four will not change their lifestyle to avoid a recurrence, even though they will all hear the same stern lecture from the cardiologist every time.

I will be drawing from some of my previous books and will show the references at the end of the blog.

Albert Einstein wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. He also said, “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”.  What he was referring to is the way we each become locked into “paradigms”.  This takes us to the first reason why we find it so difficult to change.

Ever since the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, the notion of the paradigm has been a popular concept. Students graduate within the framework of a specific discipline, complete with rules, assumptions, beliefs, and strictly prescribed ways to make decisions. This becomes our operating paradigm—a box—and if we step out of the box, we will not graduate. Once we have internalized what our teachers deem to be the operating paradigm, all other paradigms appear as wrong, flawed or silly. Thus equipped, our new paradigm becomes our intellectual operating software, and we become convinced that ours is the only right, sensible, and objective way of doing things. Our paradigm is the very water in which we swim, and to be asked to leave this warm and comfortable environment is not only unthinkable, but perhaps even dangerous. We do not ask questions from inside the box—the box is the answer. If they are not of our paradigm, the rest of the world is wrong. We see this vividly demonstrated in our politics every day—the echo chamber of our paradigm is amplified and we become closed to any differing philosophy presented.  Polarization results. Management and leadership theories and philosophies fall into the same level of “stuckness”, and are the principal cause of the grief experienced by so many who labor today in uninspiring organizations.

Our habits thus become ingrained, and our ability to be original or enquiring dies. Many theorists believe that the essentials of personality formation are completed by the age of six, and if this is so, our personal paradigms may be fixed much earlier in our lives than we are prepared to accept. When we act like six-year-olds, this may be the level of personal development at which some of us have maxed out!

We can get out of this ”box” by replacing our natural desire to say “I don’t agree with you!”,  with, “What can I learn from you and your differing perspective?”.  In fact, the key to change is always about asking questions instead of pressing your point of view ever more loudly onto others.

Try this for a week.  Engage with those who hold different perspectives from your own, and see what you can learn, what inspires you, how you can adapt without compromising your own values, and how you can grow.  Your world, and therefore the world will be better for it.

Please share your experiences by commenting on this blog—we will all be able to learn together this way.

Notes: Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; This blog draws from Lance Secretan’s book, Inspire:  What Great Leaders Do“. See also, Lance H. K. Secretan, Managerial Moxie: The 8 Proven Steps to Empowering Employees and Supercharging Your Company

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