Paradigms: A Few Points to Ponder
(Notes from Joel A. Barker, Future Edge, NY: William Morrow, 1992)
Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D.

In 1968, Switzerland dominated the world of watchmaking, with over 65% of the unit sales in the world and more than 85% of the profits. They were constant innovators and on the cutting edge of research in all aspects of their watches. By 1980 their world market share had collapsed to less than 10% and 50,000 of the 62,000 watchmakers had lost their jobs. What happened?

Something profound. They had run into a paradigm shift - a change in the fundamental rules of watchmaking. Everything the Swiss were good at - the making of gears and bearings and mainsprings, etc. - was irrelevant to the new way.

The irony was that this disaster was totally avoidable. The Swiss themselves invented the electronic quartz movement at their research institute in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Yet, when the Swiss researchers presented this revolutionary new idea to the Swiss manufacturers in 1967, it was rejected. It couldn't possibly be the watch of the future! So sure were the manufacturers of that conclusion that they let their researchers showcase their useless invention at the World Watch Congress that year. Seiko took one look, and the rest is history.

1. Any organization must have all of the following to be successful in the future: excellence, innovation, and anticipation (p.11)

2. Organizations also must manage to stay in an advantageous stance relative to paradigm shifts.

3. Paradigms, even as they are successfully solving many problems, always uncover problems that they cannot solve. These problems trigger the search for a new paradigm. (84)

4. Paradigm shifters are almost always outsiders - in that they don't understand the subtleties of the prevailing paradigms and/or have little investment in them (84)

5. You don't have to be a paradigm shifter to get all the advantages. Just being a paradigm pioneer is sufficient (note example of USA and Japan). (78)

6. It is in the future where our greatest leverage is. Why is that intelligent people with good motives do such a poor job at anticipating the future? As more than one sage has already observed, the future is where you are going to spend the rest of your life. And since that is true, wouldn't it be useful to be able to get to know more about the neighborhood before you move in? You can and should shape your own future. Because, if you don't, someone else surely will. (18-20)

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Last modified January 14, 2007 Notes Copyright 1992-2007 Rex Mitchell