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Paradigm Shift vs. Representation Change

by: David Ricketts

Home / Innovation / Paradigm Shift vs. Representation Change

Understanding the Difference Between a Paradigm Shift and Representation Change and Why It Matters

The term “paradigm shift” has gained popular usage as a call to action for transforming our business and our success.  The term paradigm shift gained its roots in scientific discourse to describe the changing viewpoint or perspective about a problem or data.  In business, the term is used to describe a change in viewpoint or understanding, such as the brick and mortar consumer electronic stores, such as Circuit City and Best Buy, who shifted from a merchandise to a service model for business growth. A change in representation often occurs in a paradigm shift, however, there is a significant difference between the two.  A paradigm shift is not an active term, it is a descriptor – it describes that a viewpoint or understanding has changed, but not how, or by whom.

Representation change is the activity of you changing how you view and represent the world; it is an internal, self-driven, active process. It is how you newly look at a problem, how you have transformed your original thinking into a new perspective and understanding.  Someone cannot change your representation for you – although they can help guide you.

Representation change is the cornerstone of the creative process – to ability and need to change how we perceive and understand the world.  The tools and techniques for creativity, whether it is something simple like brainstorming or something more complex like TRIZ, are all methods to change your representation and with it enable to you discover and solve high-impact problems.

5 Tips to Change Your Representation

  • Change your location.  One company, in an effort to effect a great change in viewpoint, sent their US-based team to Asia for 6 weeks to work on coming up with a new product.  The fact that almost everything would be different to them forced them to see even the simplest task in a new light.
  • Improv Comedy. One exercise in improv comedy is to start a description of an event or item and then stop and let the next person continue the story or description.  Each person can take it in any direction they want – and almost always, never in the direction the other person would have thought.  Try describing something to a friend and then stop and let them continue their description of it.  The discontinuity in each of your descriptions will spur a change in your thoughts.
  • Walk away.  There have been several studies on the process of “leaving a project or idea sit.”  When you work hard on something, all of the details and contradictions are fresh and in the forefront of your mind.  Walk away – literally. Doing another activity and letting time pass allows you to forget – forget your old way of thinking.  Your experience in the “time off” may also inspire a new way to look at the problem when you return.
  • Find a novice.  Ask a friend who is not an expert on your topic and give them some data or example of your topic without your analysis or description.  Then ask them to describe the problem/topic in their own words.  The will certainly not see it the same way as you do.
  • Analogy and metaphor. List 5 things that are “like” your topic and then describe them.  Then try to use those descriptions on your topic. If you’re lucky, there will be similarities you didn’t see before that gives you a fresh viewpoint.


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