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Source of conflict and misunderstanding, paradigms must be overcome in order to drive change.


A paradigm is what locks us into a way of thinking, a model, a representation. The term paradigm exists since 1561. It is derived from the Greek paradeigma which means example, show 1 . It was very used in mythology where the life of heroes were to follow or avoid.

The notion of paradigm has long been studied by recognized authors Kant, Hume … or more recently by Augustin Berque or Joël A. Baker. They have all studied the process of reflection, in order to identify the elements that govern our thinking in a conscious or unconscious way.

The notion of paradigm was defined by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), who contrasted it with the syntagma. But it will be Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) that is the paternity of the concept of paradigm according to the following definition :

A paradigm is a standardized intellectual and social framework2.

On the philosophical level, “is paradigm what is shown as an example, what one refers to as exemplifying a rule and can therefore serve as a model. guide human action3. It induces our way of questioning, of reasoning and of making sense and a relation to life.

We will retain the following definition :

A paradigm is a set of rules, written or unspoken laws that form a framework of thought within which we think, we interpret, we make decisions…

In terms of change management, there is no standard. We make “tailor-made ».



  • A paradigm represents a “truth”: It is therefore not falsifiable, although the scientific theories that depend on it are.
  • The paradigm has the authority principle.
  • It has a ” exclusion principle”: the paradigm excludes data, statements, ideas, to see problems that it does not recognize.
  • By its very nature, a paradigm generates intellectual inertia.
  • The paradigm makes you blind: what it excludes does not exist.
  • The paradigm creates self-occulting evidence. The one who is subject to him believes he obeys facts, experience, logic, whereas he obeys him first.
  • A paradigm generates feelings of reality since the real is looked at according to the paradigm.
  • Paradigm and discourse are recursively linked: the dominant paradigm produces discourses that reinforce the paradigm.
  • A great paradigm determines, via theories and ideologies, a mentality, a vision of the world. Any change in the way we perceive the world changes all of our conceptions. Our visions of the world all have an almost hallucinatory component.
  • A paradigm is only a paradigm because it is shared by a majority of people in the same community.
  • Following a paradigm generates a feeling of comfort : putting rules in our thoughts, allows us to be in a situation of comfort, well-being.
  • A paradigm is the first barrier to change especially if the current paradigm is seen as satisfactory.
  • A new paradigm brings everyone back to the starting point. Skilled users of the old paradigm that benefited from it lose their strengths as the new.


The cycle of a paradigm


When we study history, we quickly realize that paradigms are “living objects” that evolve perpetually. If at a given moment, a paradigm represents a truth on which we base ourselves to evolve, to make decisions or to develop, at another time this same “truth” more valid. Typically, for centuries, it was believed that the earth was flat.


So, the cycle of a paradigm consists of 3 times :

  1. Normal life :  most of the same community believes in the same paradigm and it meets expectations without posing any particular problems. The consensus is present and everyone finds its comfort.
  2. The crisis : the paradigm becomes inadequate. There are more and more situations where it no longer fits. This is not a single abrupt break but multiple successive breaks often unnoticed
  3. The Revolution : There is a general awareness that the paradigm no longer works. A reconstruction is needed to define the new paradigm.

For T. Kuhn, for example, the history of science is subject to the cultural and social contingencies of the moment and would proceed by leaps and bounds: at calm periods, where a dominant paradigm reigns, crises of protest that may lead to radical challenges to paradigm of the moment. And sometimes replace it.


Paradigm and Lean

At the company level, the notion of paradigm is very important. The more people there are, the more paradigms there are and the stronger they are. It becomes complex to pass ideas, change things and put everyone in the same direction.

And yet, the world is changing faster and faster through competition, globalization, standards…

The challenge is to be able to set up a flexible organization that knows how to adapt to situations and evolve as quickly as its environment requires.

Implementing this dynamic of change means speeding up the cycle of paradigms. This dynamic will make it possible not to wait for the “crisis”, always very destructive and eventful, to anticipate them.


Know how to react to paradigms


As we have said, paradigms provoke many reactions, more or less logical and rational, of people being against change. Here are some tips on how to approach these people :



Suggested reaction

The person gets slightly upset and cuts the discussion.

It is useless to answer for the moment, we will have to wait a moment more “ open“.

The person has a completely illogical but non-violent reaction (usually, she leaves).

It must then be questioned to understand why and push it in its reflection.

The person argues with examples demonstrating the opposite of what we assert, this in a consistent way.

You have to show interest and find a point of convergence in the speech to bring the person back to you.

The person is clearly stubborn to see in some cases becomes violent.

There is no point in taking a hit. We must put the person in his place by letting him choose his side: “ it will be with or without him



1 – A. Giordan (2002) – Une autre école pour nos enfants ?

2 – T. Kuhn (1962) – La structure des révolutions scientifiques

3 – N. Allieu-Mary (2010) – Grilles d’intelligibilité des disciplines scolaires : paradigme et/ou matrice disciplinaire ?

4 – G. Canguilhem (1977) – La formation du concept de réflexe

A. Kremer-Marietti (2006) – Le paradigme scientifique : cadres théoriques, perception, mutation

E. Morin (2014) – Le paradigme perdu : la nature humaine

J. A. Barker (1993) – Paradigms : business of discovering the future


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