Paradigm shift: a new perspective involving analogical thinking.
In order to make a decision one has in effect to solve a problem. The problem involves identifying and evaluating various alternatives and selecting that (or those) which satisfy certain predetermined criteria. Decision making and problem solving both rely on the supply of information in order to make logical choices. If there is no information available then the decision amounts to little more than guesswork since the problem cannot be adequately formulated. At one extreme there is perfect information where all the requisite information is available while at the other extreme there is a complete absence of any information at all. Between these extremes there is imperfect information, which means that decisions have to be taken in the light of the best information that is available -- which frequently means that attention is often not given to all the relevant factors in the problem situation.
The rapid change in the business environment brought about by technological innovation, socio-cultural development, economic fluctuations and other factors means that there is often too much or too little information available to decision makers. It is too little when it is not possible to gauge the impact that these variables will have on behaviour in the marketplace. It is too much when the volume of information generated far exceeds the information processing capacity of executives. In the latter case there is often an over-abundant supply of data which defy ready abstraction into more meaningful information. But too much or too little information is not the only problem executives encounter. Often defining the problem itself and coming up with ideas that represent viable alternatives for consideration pose considerable difficulties.
Let us start by looking at problem definition itself. It is common sense to realize that if a problem is poorly or badly defined then it will be difficult if not impossible to find reasonable solutions to that problem. For example, consider the situation in an industrial dispute where management refuses to make any concessions to the trade union members with respect to working hours in their contract of employment. On first sight the problem appears to be simple to define. Union members seek a change in their working hours which is to their benefit. Management perceives any change to be a potential threat leading to cost increases which will make the company's product or service less competitive in the marketplace. But is this really what the dispute all about -- is this really the problem? An alternative scenario could be that the workers are simply seeking to have their working hours adjusted downwards, in line with all other workers in the industry, and that what is being observed is simply an enactment of the power struggle which characterizes so many industrial disputes. Of course, there could well be other explanations too. However, depending on how the problem is eventually defined, and assuming this definition to be a true reflection of the state of affairs, the ideas for solution will be considerably different. Whenever one comes to make an important management decision it is imperative that considerable attention is given to defining the problem correctly
Another point concerns the nature of the ideas that one can come up with as solutions to problems. Too often executives may think that they are coming up with really good and novel ideas -- when in fact they are simply variations on an old theme. Variations on old themes may work -- for a while -- but are they really the best solutions to problems? How can variations on old themes really help to tackle problems associated with paradigm shift, for example?
A paradigm is a set of rules and regulations that defines boundaries and helps us be successful within those boundaries, where success is measured by the problems solved using these rules and regulations.
Paradigm shifts are different from continuous improvement. Examples include: going from donkey cart or horse-drawn carriage to car or travelling long distances by aeroplane instead of by bus or ocean liner. Paradigm shifts have made it possible to send complex, accurate messages over great distances: they have facilitated moving from primitive methods such as shouting, smoke, fire, drum, flag signals to highly sophisticated mechanisms such as telegraph, telephone, fax, live video by wire, optical fibre and communications satellite.
Paradigms have life cycles and towards the end of the life cycle problem solving becomes more costly more time consuming and less satisfactory (see Figure 1). Solutions no longer fit the larger context because of changes that have occurred elsewhere. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of needing to improve parts of the UK motorway network. The problems associated with the M6-M53 intersection, the Thelwall Viaduct connection and M6-M62 intersection in the north-west of England illustrate the point. Widening the M6 over the sections involved has not only cost an estimated 27 [pounds sterling] million pounds of taxpayers' money but an additional unestimated burden on motorists in terms of long delays, excessive fuel consumption while negotiating the sections involved and psychological stress which is difficult even to "guestimate". The paradigm of widening busy stretches of motorways must surely be in the decline stages of its life cycle. A paradigm shift is required urgently
[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Paradigm shifts require a change in perspective on the subject (Figure 2). Blinkered thinking associated with holding too rigorously to a paradigm can lead to missing opportunities and overlooking threats which may have a critical impact on a business. Two competitors may see the same opportunity or threat in different ways and the one which is able to make the best response can gain a sustainable competitive advantage over its rival.
[Figure 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Failure to take advantage of an opportunity and disastrous consequences
In the 1970s the Swiss watch manufacturing industry had some 65 per cent of the world market in watches and over 80 per cent of the profits. However, between 1979 and 1982 firms in the industry had to cut employment from 65,000 to 15,000 and their market share fell to less than 10 per cent. The reason for this was their failure to capitalize on one of their own inventions -- the quartz movement. A team of researchers at the Federal Watch Research Centre at Neuchatel, Switzerland, created the first prototype watch fitted with such a movement in 1967. However, when they presented the model to the Swiss manufacturers, the idea was rejected instead of patented. When the model was exhibited the following year Seiko people saw its possibilities and exploited them.
Creative thinking changes the perspective
Well-known writers on creative thinking such as De Bono (lateral thinking) and Gordon (synectics) point to the need to practice keeping an open mind about matters and trying to view situations and problems from a variety of perspectives. Both De Bono and Gordon advocate the use of analogical reasoning when trying to gain insights into a problem. In this paper we will consider specifically notions which are pertinent to synectics, since analogical reasoning is core to this particular creative thinking mechanism.
Literally, the name synectics, stemming from the Greek, means the fitting together of disparate elements. Throughout his writings, Gordon, who is credited with originating the techniques, emphasized the need to "make the familiar strange" in order to increase the possibility of gaining new insights into problems. synectics is a process for a group of individuals working on a problem in an oddball manner. The approach emphasizes the non-rational substance of thought in the expectation that such a method will give an original and certainly a stimulating slant to a problem. The use of metaphors encourages use of material which, on first sight, may seem altogether inapplicable to a problem.
As with brainstorming there is group leader. The other members of the group may number from five to ten and comprise people who may or may not have competent expertise in the subject matter to be considered.
Synectics employs various types of analogies for making the familiar strange. For example, "personal analogies" harness the use of our emotions and feelings in order to obtain insights into problems which are purely technological in nature. The idea is to identify oneself with a non-human object which is the subject of the problem. One has to transfer one's own feelings into the entity and imagine how it might feel and act in the problem situation. One might, for example, be asked to imagine what it would feel like to a new model of a popular make of car. Based on such an analysis it might then be possible to develop advertising themes to aim at specific customer groups.
Analogies and metaphors are powerful techniques in their own right in enabling people to get insight into problematic situations. Rogers points out that the purpose Of using analogy and metaphor is to raise sensitivity to a level which enables long-term common sense to prevail. Domestic situations are ideal -- such as comparing cash flow to a plumbing system and staff development with gardening. When it comes to strategy history is the very best starting point. If by application of imagination, companies can avoid the type of mistakes made by Charles I or Napoleon, the exercise has to be worthwhile. She recently used the fairly common comparison of marketing campaigns with military campaigns in a workshop with a team responsible for a product which was in slow decline, while its successors were still in the laboratories. They were facing a few difficult years of transition. She presented the analogy of medieval siege warfare, which helped the attendees work out strategies to defend the declining product. The group identified the need for developing "solidarity" with existing customers and providing reassurance. They also identified the risks associated with launching the new ones. Market research was required, and alliances with third parties who influence buying decisions. After all, she commented, the commander of a besieged city would not counter-attack without the very best intelligence about where to target his forces and expectations of help from allies.
Synectics -- excursions and analogies
A commonly encountered problem is that of disruptive stress in the workplace. It is extremely unpleasant for those concerned with the problem and it is counter-productive as far as the organization is concerned. It is a subject receiving much attention in the management literature and the subJect of countless articles and several books. Resulting from research studies, paradigms have been suggested to help people and organizations cope with the problem. Organizational stress, however, can be likened to any kind of disease which invades living organisms. Over time the disease develops resistance to treatments which in the past removed traces of it from the organisms it attacks. It builds up an immunity to treatment. As a consequence, it is often necessary for increasing doses of the antidote to be given in order to treat the disease. In other words the disease "learns" to fight the treatment and builds up a resistance to it. Treatment therefore becomes increasingly expensive and, eventually less effective. Eventually the treatment ceases to be effective. This is the situation we noted above with any paradigm -- there is a life cycle of effectiveness. Arguably then, when treating organizational stress we have to take into consideration that the paradigm being applied may only be effective for a specific period of time and that it is desirable to be on the watch for new paradigms which will be more effective. A paradigm shift from time to time will be required.
In the illustration below the researchers are interested in uncovering potential new paradigms to use as an antidote, or preventive measure, for the problem of organizational stress. Two groups, on separate days but under the direction of the same synectics leader, were assigned the task of finding insights in to the problem of how to reduce stress in the work situation.
The first step was to obtain various redefinitions of the problem. From one of these redefinitions a keyword had to be chosen which was then taken on a metaphorical excursion. The excursion involved taking the word into an environment which was far removed from the original problem. The idea was to look for examples of meanings of the word in the excursion environment. One of the meanings or examples was then taken as the basis for exploration as a metaphor for the problem. The following episodes occurred.
Problem definition/redefinition -- how to:
* reduce stress in the work situation;
* work in a positive way;
* improve morale and reduce absenteeism;
* improve relations between staff.
The word "reduce" was chosen by the leader and the group suggested the world of forestry for an excursion. The group was then asked to think of examples of the using "reduce" in the world of forestry:
* putting fires out;
* reducing tree disease;
* cutting the undergrowth;
* removal of weeds;
* cutting paths through the forest;
* stop illegal hunting of animals in the forest.
The leader then focused on animals being hunted in the forest and asked the group to imagine what it would be like to be an animal being hunted in the forest (note: a metaphor for the problem):
* browned off;
* premature death;
* looking for relatives that have been killed;
* running all the time;
* trying to find somewhere to hide;
* feeling it never stops (relentless pursuit);
* thinks it is a game;
* pain, misery, suffering;
* survival of the fittest;
Problem definition/redefinition -- how to:
* reduce stress in the workplace;
* make work pleasurable;
* work in a more peaceful company;
* reward good performance.
The word pleasurable was taken and the suggested excursion was the family Examples of pleasurable things in the context of the family generated by the group were:
* home cooking;
* family outings;
* family intimacy;
* storytelling at bedtime;
* sports (doing it together);
* having meals together.
The word "gatherings" was then chosen for a further excursion and the group was asked to give examples of the kind of emotions that might be encountered at a family gathering (note: a metaphor for the problem):
In the final stage of each of the above cases the group discussed how the metaphor might relate back to the problem. In group 1, for example, "family outings" were seen as translatable into social events and outings at work, a chance to get acquainted with one's colleagues in a different, stress-free setting. In group 2, it was noted that frustration might be relieved at work by having facilities installed where people could play vigorous sports during their lunch breaks -- or at other times when deemed appropriate. It is interesting, in this context, to recall the facility in some Japanese firms whereby frustrated employees are be encouraged to stick a sword in a dummy to vent their frustration. In the synectics session virtually all the metaphorical suggestions were readily translated back into ideas regarding how to relieve stress in the work situation.
Perhaps one of the easiest to use analogical reasoning methods is that of storytelling. The technique can be used by an individual or better still it can be used by a group on a round robin basis The idea is to relate a story on subject matter which is somewhat distant in subject from the problem under consideration and then to consider, sentence by sentence, how the story content might be made to have a bearing on the original problem. Where a group is working on the problem sentences are contributed by each member of the group on a round robin basis. The following example illustrates the technique.
How to win a big contract with a major supplier
The car pulled slowly into the forecourt of the tall offices in Mayfair. A flunky strode majestically to open the door, an umbrella in his hand. The lightning flashed and momentarily the building was silhouetted against the dark evening sky A clap of thunder welcomed Hermione as she crossed the pools shimmering in the cool night air.
The steps seemed endless; the doors never-ending; the typewriters clicking harder as the clock approached 4.30 p.m. The Christmas decorations created a brightness and a warmth which disguised the underlying austerity Hermione smiled to herself -- she too had been a typist, long ago.
A corner was turned and a large door was ajar. No sound issued from behind the door but in her mind Hermione could hear the rustle of papers rapidly scanned prior to the expected encounter. The door drew nearer; the pace slowed; one last thought on the opening gambit; should it involve a sacrifice in the opening that leads to a positional advantage in exchange for material loss?
Listing points to use as a source of ideas
The following list contains points from the story linked to ideas which are keys to the winning of a big contract with a major supplier:
* pulled slowly: take process slowly and carefully;
* tall offices: it is a tall order and needs a lot of consideration;
* Mayfair: likely to involve top-level negotiation;
* flunky strode majestically: look out for intermediaries who look important but only play a minor role
* umbrella: contingency plans are always required...;
* clap of thunder: those who shout loudest are likely to be effective;
* pools shimmering in the cool of night: some things may look attractive but need to be on guard;
* steps seem endless: a long tiresome process -- needs determination;
* the doors never-ending: may be many people to see -- time and time again;
* the typewriters clicked harder as the clock approached 4.30 p.m.: contracts are often won or lost during the final stages of negotiation;
* Christmas decorations created a brightness and a warmth: atmosphere may seem friendly but underneath...
* underlying austerity: it is very business-like;
* Hermione: unusually sophisticated person conducting negotiations (possibly a woman);
* she too had been a typist, long ago: someone with a lot of experience in the business;
* large door was ajar: the opportunity definitely;
* rustle of papers: all documents are likely to be scrutinized;
* the door drew nearer: keep a watch on the final stages of negotiation;
* the pace slowed: be deliberate during the final stages;
* opening gambit: need to pay attention to strategy to unemployed;
* should it involve a sacrifice, an opening which leads to an advantage in exchange for loss: same as in the story?
Storywriting is a simple but powerful technique which can provide useful insights into problems very rapidly.
Why does analogical reasoning seem to produce novel ideas?
Analogical reasoning facilitates the paradigm shift. It makes one consider notions and ideas one would not normally use in a given situation. Like breakthroughs in technology, analogies provide a way of dealing with a problem or situation in a totally different way. When Laennec saw two boys playing with a see-saw in an unconventional way -- one boy was tapping on one end while the other boy applied his ear in listening to the sound being transmitted at the other end -- he witnessed a metaphorical or analogical solution to the problem which was preoccupying his mind. Laennec was trying to solve the problem of how to listen to the sound of someone's heart without applying one's ear to the person's chest. Of course, Laennec is famed for his discovery of the stethoscope. A similar principle was involved in Westinghouse's discovery of the air-brake when he read of Swiss engineers using compressed air when tunnel building. In both cases, the concepts being applied in the analogical situation were not something one would normally associate with the problem situation.
1 The author proposes storywriting as a technique to prompt paradigm shifts in thinking. Are there any other such shifts?
2 Are paradigm shifts the only true creativity? Are innovators inherently capable of analogical thinking?
3 Is it a valid criticism of business education and training to say that non-linear solutions to problems are discouraged to the detriment of individuals and organizations?
[1.] Gordon, W.J.J., Synectics -- the Development of Creative Capacity, Harper and Row, New York, NY, 1969.
[2.] Rogers, E., "Giving creativity a shot in the arm", Involvement and Participation, 1993, pp. 6-10.
[3.] Proctor, T., The Essence of Management Creativity, Prentice-Hall, Hemel Hempstead, 1995.
Tony Proctor Paradigm shift: a new perspective involving analogical thinking Management Decision 34/7  33-38
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Dec 15, 1996|
|Previous Article:||Decision making during organizational change: observations on disjointed incrementalism in an Australian local government authority.|
|Next Article:||Industry turbulence and information technology structure: an empirical investigation.|