Just a moment ago, in the sixteenth century, Copernicus caused a bit of a stir.
He postulated that the Sun was the centre of the Solar System, rather than the Earth. Cue much huffing and puffing by Ptolemy and the Establishment. It was a Paradigm Shift. It was a revolution in the making.
Paradigm shift is a phrase coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book “The Copernican Revolution” and later developed in his ground breaking “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in 1962.
I really like Kuhn’s idea – we’ll come to it in a moment – but what I notice is that what he so elegantly describes is mirrored in many other accounts of how things change, from Alchemy to Military Strategy and has real implications for us as individuals, right here right now.
A simplified version of Kuhn’s model goes through the following stages, from a start point he called “pre science” – when things are”unstructured” – we don’t have a model for them:
This is when we think we understand it. We have models, they replicate and they enable us after a fashion to predict. It allows experts to appear. It’s where consultants come from. Careers and enterprises are built, and there is a sense of “truth”. Stability.
This is when “anomalies” start to appear. We discount them as obvious mistakes, as “outliers”. We find ways of either isolating them or ignoring them. We conspire, unconsciously to become “wilfully blind“
The arrival of the Black Swans. Those events that are in retrospect obvious but which we allow to take us completely by surprise. We can no longer isolate or ignore them. We are forced to see. Our view of experts change. A time of huge uncertainty.
Out with the old, in with the new. A new way of doing things, a new way of seeing things. We have a paradigm shift and now have, for a while at least a new “Normal Science”
Rinse and repeat.
Standing on the Sun
“In order to see the solar system as it is, Copernicus had to be standing on the sun.”Richard Morley. MIT Physicist
Such is the nature of a paradigm shift.
Whether as individuals or businesses, I find it hard to see other than we are leaving model drift – the stuff of the 2008 financial crisis, the current Covid crisis and the hunger for “normal” – and heading rapidly into model crisis. Climate Change, Inequality and the idea of Singularity make that inevitable and necessary.
I think it means that each of us, in our own way need to “stand on the sun” and take a different perspective on what is happening. To lose that comfortable ability to blame someone else, and take responsibility for ourselves and those around us.
How might we “stand on the Sun”?
The fact is that the model we have been using is broken (there’s good argument that the sort of meta model that is our current form of capitalism, like civilisations, last around ten generations. That puts us in line for a change)
Our overriding abilities as humans is our ability to think, to imagine and to turn that imagination into reality. Of late, that imagination has been impoverished. If the best our imagination can do is to invent Collaterallised Debt Obligations, then we’re losing the plot.
So, how do we stand on the Sun? Quite simply, by changing the conversation. The more we do as we are bidden to “focus” “concentrate” and go for efficiency the less we see.
“Zero based” conversations that acknowledge that in many areas, we do not know, whether as a business, a team, or as ourselves.
With people you trust, who share your values, and who will explore possibility with you. Not about what is, but what might be. Ambition for what matters.
If you want to see what a conversation like this feels like, come and look at a tiny, but important experiment we are running at Originize.
4:30 – 6:30pm UK time tomorrow afternoon. You can register here.