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Changing Paradigms

What is Changing Paradigms?

A paradigm is the shared set of assumptions, theories and methods that guides the work of individuals and groups. Paradigms help us make sense of the world. They shape our approach to problem-solving, innovation and the pursuit of knowledge. They become our “truth” – even when flawed or untrue.

Changing Paradigms is highlighted in the Vision and Knowledge Dimensions

Why is This Important?

This principle is called “changing paradigms” to remind us that we must be diligent to understand our paradigms and change them when they are flawed or become ineffective.

We must continually challenge our paradigms to ensure they are not blinding us to a better way, but instead are enabling us to see. It’s important to remain open and adaptable to ensure that our paradigms help us achieve superior results.

Principle in Brief

A paradigm is the shared set of assumptions, theories and methods that guides the work of individuals and groups. All of us have them. Paradigms help us make sense of the world. They shape our approach to problem-solving, innovation and the pursuit of knowledge. They become our “truth” – even when flawed or untrue. A flat earth, witch burning and lobotomies used to be generally accepted paradigms. Thankfully, our understanding has improved and most of our paradigms are better.   

Thomas Kuhn, philosopher of science, noted that when most people are faced with a new paradigm, they tend to ignore, deny or even attack the new way of thinking rather than giving it a chance. This is especially true for those who don’t know how to change or have a vested interest – such as a career or reputation built on the current paradigm.  

Attacks on those advocating a new paradigm by those wedded to the existing paradigm have always been common. The 17th-century church imprisoned Galileo for suggesting the earth orbited the sun. For decades, 19th-century doctors rejected the new paradigm of germ theory because it implicated their dirty hands as a source of disease transmission and high mortality rates. When Einstein introduced the theory of relativity, it was attacked by the scientific community. Einstein welcomed the criticism and even insisted that his theory pass three tests to be considered valid.  

A longstanding paradigm in business is the belief that a top-down approach is best, with leaders dictating how everything should be done. In the early 1990s, when we introduced MBM® to our metal fabrication plant in Italy, the response of the union leaders was: “This might work in the US, but it won’t work in Italy. Here, managers think. Workers work. You’re asking us to do the manager’s job.” Applying MBM there required a paradigm shift.

Following are additional examples of business-related paradigms that are inconsistent with Principle Based Management™:

  • Forcing employees into roles they aren’t good at or don’t care about rather than fitting the role to the comparative advantage of each
  • Defending rather than challenging the status quo
  • Using averages to make decisions rather than applying marginal analysis
  • Hiring based on credentials rather than virtue and talents
  • Increasing revenue that is unprofitable

Changing paradigms begins by recognizing that something is amiss, such as not getting the results we expected. Our initial reaction tends to be only giving lip service to the needed paradigm shift, to changing the form but not the substance. Thus, it often takes outside intervention to bring about real change, which can mean removing those, including leaders, who are holding back progress.

Understanding the power of paradigms can help us recognize what is hurting results and accelerate the needed transformation. It can open our minds and lead us to recognize the need to always seek better ways of thinking and doing. This requires that we continually challenge our paradigms to ensure that, rather than blinding us to a better way, they enable us to see.


Openness is a simple concept reliant on a system of equal rights that respects the dignity of each person and their right to live as they choose – as long as they do not violate the rights of others. When people are respected, free to choose their own path, and rewarded for the value of their work, they can improve their own circumstances as they contribute to the well-being of others. An open society encourages honest exchanges of knowledge, opinions and ideas while protecting individuals from the threats or force of those who disagree.   

Unfortunately, today’s trend is against openness. Differences have become dividing lines, with those who disagree demonized or canceled. More broadly, nationalism and tribalism pit one group against another. Closed-minded people retreat into insular and protectionist groups, reinforcing their own biases and preventing the exploration of different perspectives through civil discourse.

The ancient philosopher Confucius taught that it is “a pleasure to learn,” and that even in a group as small as three, there will always be one from whom we can learn. By embracing openness, we accelerate our rate of learning and improve relationships. Differences become opportunities for productive discussions even in the face of passionate disagreement.

Openness should extend to all interactions with others, including trade. Voluntary exchange – based on mutual benefit – fosters division of labor by comparative advantage and entrepreneurship that lead to a greater diversity of art, music, food and other goods and services that enrich people’s lives. Protectionist barriers to exchange, whether within or among nations, create closed systems that stifle innovation and value creation. As Frederic Bastiat observed: “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”

At Koch, we recognize the vital role of openness in bringing about progress. Innovation flourishes when we encourage the free flow of ideas, well-designed experiments, challenge and building knowledge networks. Employees learn more and make better decisions when they seek out diverse points of view and are open to feedback about how they can improve. They help others do the same when they share their ideas and suggest different approaches. If we are open, we recognize that no matter how well we have been doing, we can always do better. Openness helps us overcome entropy in society, our organizations and our lives.

Understand it Better


Changing paradigms takes deliberate effort.  The following examples illustrate some specific actions involved in changing paradigms.

Give it a Try

The power of these principles happens through application. There’s no substitute for learning as you apply.