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Paradigm Shift- When is Enough?

by Louis on July 17, 2012

Paradigm is a ‘30,000 foot’ view of the way we know the world and all we create to live in it. Pushing us to step back to that view is Michael Hodin‘s point in his Huff Post 50 piece comparing the Higgs Boson discovery to aging. The article comes along just as I was preparing to write about paradigm level shifts following a conversation with my dear friend Jason Popko. Most of what I see going on is not shifted enough to bring the paradigm change we need.

Hodin refers to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn‘s great book describing the way shifts occur and responsible for our use of the word paradigm. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, along with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, are the books that most influenced my life and career. I read them senior year of college following a course called Technology and Man with philosopher Henryk Skolimowski.

Though referred to as ‘innovation‘ most of what I see does not measure up. People in health care look to adjustments in healthcare for change. People in the building industry look for changes in design and products. People in technology think a device or a string of devices working in concert will solve problems. People in home health think reimbursement strategies or improved outreach will carry them to the next level. People in the housing industry think community outreach will position them for the future. These examples are similar. There are more. None of them are enough.

Why are good people working so hard at strategies that are not enough? Because it is too hard to get away from what you know. Our interpretation of problems is based in our experience in our field. Our ‘new’ ideas to solve problems are based in our experience, skills and talent. Hodin’s article explains that the reality creating the problem is outside of, or larger than the reality used to create the current system in which we have gained our experience. From within we cannot conceive of solutions that are larger and outside. It is impossible to be more than incremental if you are rooted in what is current.

Because the changes to which we must adapt are so vast we need wholesale new ideas to match them. Paradigm level change. This means out of your comfort zone, out of what you know, out of the folks you know and the industry in which you have spent your career. Conceiving beyond your experience is very difficult. VERY few are assigned that task.

I know some folks who get this. They come from other fields to jobs in aging. They do not have roots. They come with little preconceived notion and, innocently, take a fresh look. They see disconnections and paths not being pursued. Their job may hold their activities in the old paradigm with little more than incremental change, but their minds wander.

Can we expect fresh looks from Gerontology students? Maybe. Really fresh views may come from those who transfer to this field from other fields, but most students are steeped in the myths and legends (oops, I mean reality) of the field as it exists by their professors who are pretty much necessarily steeped,  invested in the current paradigm.

Will competitions, company shakeups and innovation officers bring significantly innovative experiments and demonstrations at the scale of Higgs Boson? Maybe. In time. Can it be accelerated? There is literature on the nature of innovation. I recently read Drive, by Daniel Pink about the process of freeing people and institutions and employees to think…like google’s 20% time sanctioning time spent on your own projects.

My view, from trying to get inside, is that a primary and significant change is in the way these sectors interact. Starting from that premise we can encourage collaboration across traditional silos and sectors. We can insist on collaboration in the criteria of grant awards, RFPs, business competitions and accelerators. The Large Hadron Collidor used to find Higgs Boson is a project of CERN, the European collaborative nuclear research effort started in 1954.

And just before I hit the publish key, a quick call with my friend Joel Shapira leads to this post from Forbes supporting my point.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Atwater July 19, 2012 at 2:01 am

You and Jason are miles ahead of many of us in envisioning a real, and really new, future. What you’ve so keenly observed on paradigm shifts reminds me of the story of the hospital that wanted to ‘totally redo’ its waiting room. It hired a team of experts and the hospital staff came up with ideas on layout, colors, furniture and so forth. The plan they decided on was different and they all were quite pleased with the result. Until one of them told his 7 year old what daddy had been working on. This young ‘outsider’, as you refer to paradigm shifters, questioned her dad “Why do you need a waiting room?”


Aaron D. Murphy July 22, 2012 at 9:56 am

Louis – Love your posts as always. Really gets us thinking! This touches on more than one of the things we spoke about in my interview of you last month (blog and audio at You are a thought leader and an inspiration for a “full systems solution”. Lying in bed this morning a blog title came to me (3 hours behind you out here in Seattle), something like “Are we fixing potholes, or designing mass transit?” – I’ll have to work on that one!!

FYI, I will look forward to having you back for another interview, this time LIVE on SEATTLE RADIO – I’ve been asked to co-host a show on “Encore Living” for this demographic we speak of so passionately… stay tuned!

Keep up the great work – Cheers!
Aaron D. Murphy, Architect / CAPS, Managing Editor @ EtMM


Barb Stucki July 23, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Louis – I was inspired by your posts and ASA presentation to look more deeply into the challenges of making change happen. I found the work by Clayton Christiensen et al. (Innovator’s Challenge and Innovator’s Solution) to provide many valuable insights.

I think that we are reaching the tipping point. The question is – which way will we go – towards a more holistic solution or more quick fixes?


Yvonne Mendenhall September 3, 2012 at 9:02 am

EXCELLENT article!! This is without a doubt one of the most frustrating issues facing the entire world. Yet, policy makers everywhere utterly ignore it. The aging population is a GOOD thing, people are living longer and living healthy much longer. That is a good thing for all people! But, all we hear about is that it is a PROBLEM.

Well, the “problem” is not that the longevity revolution is here to stay (bar a catastropic event). The problem is that policymakers and most humans are not addressing (let alone embracing) the change. The “problem” will be solved, it’s not like this is a surprise–we have known the longevity revolution was happening for decades! All problems are “solved” but will it be solved well? Will the changes be creative and benefit all peoples?

You are so right–being trapped in old thinking and old habits stops the search for a workable and worthwhile and real solution. And with the “clock running down” the chances of a really great solution are ticking away.

Forget about an early solution. Early “baby boomers” best be ready to take care of themselves. (And, they will have to get out of their denial mode to do that!)


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