Of all the ideas I look to address in this blog, none is more fundamental to exploring cultural patterns and rhythms than the idea of the “paradigm”. A paradigm can be narrow, or far reaching, specific to a field of research, or an over arching theme that can influence people of all walks of life. Simply defined a paradigm is the framework, or pattern which imprints itself on our views and ideas about the world. It serves to refine our focus, form our line of questioning, and yield solutions relevant to our needs. Paradigms are models that allow us to explore and understand the world around us.
To understand a paradigm is to understand the patterns of thought and ideas that bring relevance to our projects and our solutions. It minimizes risk, and helps us to successfully chart the course of our goals. In general, to work against the grain of a paradigm is to potentially minimize the effectiveness of our efforts. Understanding a paradigm on the other hand, puts us in a position to use the momentum of an established paradigm to quickly identify problems, create effective solutions, and to communicate with efficient clarity.
Consider human rights in western society. It was not long ago that here in America the role of African Americans was one of submission and subjugation. They could not vote. Own land, or run for office. Most were not afforded the right to choose for themselves the lives they wanted to live. The paradigm, or that over arching pattern of thought concerning people of color created the framework in which it was acceptable to think about, and treat African Americans in ways that we find unthinkable today.
now imagine a white, male, slave advocating politician from that era was brought to the present in a time machine, and ran a campaign on a platform based on those patterns of belief relevant to the equality paradigm of his time. In particular, the right to own slaves. That pattern of thought particular to his paradigm would produce a cultural language so contrary to our paradigm of social equality that people would have to wade through their confusion before making it to anger.
It could be argued that the problems of racism still exist in politics, but the point is that the overarching paradigm of equality in America today, does not allow us to even entertain the idea of slavery. The conversation of human equality in America today exists in a social paradigm that makes the topic of owning other human beings irrelevant. So in the case of our time traveling politician, the paradigm and pattern of thought that could make him successful in his own time, would today be met with befuddlement and cries of outrage.
So it is with us today that we also run the risk of speaking a language different then those with whom we are trying to communicate, bosses, spouses, children, clients or whoever it may be, understanding the context and language of their respective paradigms provides the framework for clear and meaningful conversation and cooperation.
Understanding and applying the patterns of a paradigm is to speak the unspoken language of culture. When you consider the degree to which our success relies on our ability to communicate and collaborate, it becomes clear that speaking the language of an established paradigm is key in having our ideas understood and valued by those we seek to influence and partner with.
It’s a matter of building our conversations around what’s relevant, and taking hold of the understanding that the patterns of an established paradigm help to focus our search for relevance, in the questions we ask, and in the solutions we propose.