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The term "paradigm" comes from the Greek word paradigma, meaning pattern or example. Its modern usage dates from a small book by Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: University Press), written in 1962. Kuhn was interested in the philosophy of science and in particular in how scientific progress actually comes about. He argued that all 'normal science' takes place within a pattern or paradigm and that revolutions in scientific thought only come about when people are able to break out of the pattern and create new ways of seeing and thinking - a new paradigm.

Other writers have developed Kuhn's thinking in different fields. Fritjof Capra, for instance, offers the following definition:

A paradigm is a constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality that is the basis of the way a community organises itself. (Capra 1997:6)

In the field of organisations, a number of writers have found the term useful. Gerry Johnson, Richard Pascale, and If Price & Ray Shaw have all found the concept  useful. My own Culture and Complexity also uses the concept to help explain how cultures change - and why they often do not.

Johnson, Gerry & Scholes, Kevan 1997 (4th ed). Exploring Corporate Strategy: Text and Cases. London: Prentice Hall.

Basic textbook on approaches to strategy. It uses Johnson's 'cultural web' model (53ff) which includes an appreciation of the power of paradigms to promote or hinder change.

Pascale, Richard 1991 (1990). Managing on the Edge: How Successful Companies Use Conflict to Stay Ahead. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Pascale writes much about the need to both build and break paradigms. Successful companies, he argues, must have a good core paradigm but the more successful it is the less easy it is to change it when the changing environment requires the organisation to change.

Price, If & Shaw, Ray 1998. Shifting the Patterns: Breaking the Memetic Codes of Corporate Performance. Chalford, Gloucs.: Management Books 2000.

Price & Shaw adopt a systemic approach to organisational change, coupled with an emphasis on memes—the hypothetical ‘genes of culture’ proposed by Richard Dawkins.

Joel Barker has made a number of videos on paradigms in business; he has also written Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future.

Dick Richardson gives a table of differences between a model and a paradigm.

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Last modified: 12th January 2008
u/dr325/genweb/paradigms.htm" target="_blank">Dick Richardson gives a table of differences between a model and a paradigm.

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