The Power of a Paradigm



The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People embody many of the fundamental principles of human effectiveness. These habits are basic; they are primary. They represent the internalization of correct principles upon which enduring happiness and success are based. But before we can really understand these Seven Habits TM, we need to understand our own "paradigms" and how to make a "A Paradigm Shift TM." Both the The Character Ethic The Personality Ethic are examples of social paradigms. The word paradigm comes from the Greek. It was originally a scientific term, and is more commonly used today to mean a model, theory, perception, assumption, or frame of reference. In the more general sense, it's the way we "see" the world -- not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting. For our purposes, a simple way to understand paradigms is to see them as maps. We all know that "the map is not the territory." A map is simply an explanation of certain aspects of the territory. That's exactly what a paradigm is. It is a theory, an explanation, or model of something else. Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. But suppose you were given the wrong map. Through a printing error, the map labeled "Chicago" was actually a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination? You might work on your behavior -- you could try harder, being more diligent, doubling your speed. But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster. You might work on your attitude -- you could think more positively. You still wouldn't get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn't care. Your attitude would be so positive, you'd be happy wherever you were. The point is, you'd still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or your attitude. It has everything to do with having a wrong map. 10 If you have the right map of Chicago, then diligence becomes important, and when you encounter frustrating obstacles along the way, then attitude can make a real difference. But the first and most important requirement is the accuracy of the map. Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we're usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions. The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act. Before going any further, I invite you to have an intellectual and emotional experience. Take a few seconds and just look at the picture on the following page Now look at the picture below and carefully describe what you see Do you see a woman? How old would you say she is? What does she look like? What is she wearing? In what kind of roles do you see her? You probably would describe the woman in the second picture to be about 25 years old -- very lovely, rather fashionable with a petite nose and demure presence. If you were a single man you might like to take her out. If you were in retailing, you might hire her as a fashion model. But what if I were to tell you that you're wrong? What if I said this picture is of a woman in her 60s or 70s who looks sad, has a huge nose, and certainly is no model. She's someone you probably would help cross the street. Who's right? Look at the picture again. Can you see the old woman? If you can't, keep trying. Can you see her big hook nose? Her shawl? If you and I were talking face to face, we could discuss the picture. You could describe what you see to me, and I could talk to you about what I see. We could continue to communicate until you clearly showed me what you see in the picture and I clearly showed you what I see. Because we can't do that, turn to page 45 and study the picture there and then look at this picture again. Can you see the old woman now? It's important that you see her before you continue reading. I first encountered this exercise many years ago at the Harvard Business School. The instructor was using it to demonstrate clearly and eloquently that two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It's not logical; it's psychological. He brought into the room a stack of large cards, half of which had the image of the young woman you saw on page 25, and the other half of which had the old woman on page 45. He passed them out to the class, the picture of the young woman to one side of the room and the picture of the old woman to the other. He asked us to look at the cards, concentrate on them for about 10 seconds and then pass them back in. He then projected upon the screen the picture you saw on page 26 combining both images and asked the class to describe what they saw. Almost every person in that class who had first seen the young woman's image on a card saw the young woman in the picture. And almost every person in that class who had first seen the old woman's image on a card saw an old woman in the picture. 11 The professor then asked one student to explain what he saw to a student on the opposite side of the room. As they talked back and forth, communication problems flared up. "What do you mean, 'old lady'? She couldn't be more than 20 or 22 years old! "Oh, come on. You have to be joking. She's 70 -- could be pushing 80!" "What's the matter with you? Are you blind? This lady is young, good looking. I'd like to take her out. She's lovely." "Lovely? She's an old hag. The arguments went back and forth, each person sure of, and adamant in, his or her position. All of this occurred in spite of one exceedingly important advantage the students had -- most of them knew early in the demonstration that another point of view did, in fact, exist -- something many of us would never admit. Nevertheless, at first, only a few students really tried to see this picture from another frame of reference. After a period of futile communication, one student went up to the screen and pointed to a line on the drawing. "There is the young woman's necklace." The other one said, "No, that is the old woman's mouth." Gradually, they began to calmly discuss specific points of difference, and finally one student, and then another, experienced sudden recognition when the images of both came into focus. Through continued calm, respectful, and specific communication, each of us in the room was finally able to see the other point of view. But when we looked away and then back, most of us would immediately see the image we had been conditioned to see in the 10-second period of time. I frequently use this perception demonstration in working with people and organizations because it yields so many deep insights into both personal and interpersonal effectiveness. It shows, first of all, how powerfully conditioning affects our perceptions, our paradigms. If 10 seconds can have that kind of impact on the way we see things, what about the conditioning of a lifetime? The influences in our lives -- family, school, church, work environment, friends, associates, and current social paradigms such as the personality ethic -- all have made their silent unconscious impact on us and help shape our frame of reference, our paradigms, our maps. It also shows that these paradigms are the source of our attitudes and behaviors. We cannot act with integrity outside of them. We simply cannot maintain wholeness if we talk and walk differently than we see. If you were among the 90 percent who typically see the young woman in the composite picture when conditioned to do so, you undoubtedly found it difficult to think in terms of having to help her cross the street. Both your attitude about her and your behavior toward her had to be congruent with the way you saw her. This brings into focus one of the basic flaws of the personality ethic. To try to change outward attitudes and behaviors does very little good in the long run if we fail to examine the basic paradigms from which those attitudes and behaviors flow. This perception demonstration also shows how powerfully our paradigms affect the way we interact with other people. As clearly and objectively as we think we see things, we begin to realize that others see them differently from their own apparently equally clear and objective point of view. "Where we stand depends on where we sit." 12 Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case.We see the world, not as it is, but as we are -- or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them. But, as the demonstration shows, sincere, clearheaded people see things differently, each looking through the unique lens of experience. This does not mean that there are no facts. In the demonstration, two individuals who initially have been influenced by different conditioning pictures look at the third picture together. They are now both looking at the same identical facts -- black lines and white spaces -- and they would both acknowledge these as facts. But each person's interpretation of these facts represents prior experiences, and the facts have no meaning whatsoever apart from the interpretation. The more aware we are of our basic paradigms, maps, or assumptions, and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those paradigms, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view

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