PARADIGM THINKING, properly applied, leads to tangible results.
JMW Consultants, a New York based management consulting consulting firm, helps companies boost productivity through paradigm shifts with an approach called “Productivity Breakthrough Technology. They were called in by a major computer manufacturer to help deal with a crisis.
The manufacturer was trying to get an important product out in order to take advantage of a rapidly closing marketing window. If the team of software developers responsible for the project continued the development process at their current rate – a rate that was in line with industry standards – the product would not be ready on time. If the company hired more programmers to speed up the process, they would exceed their budget. Clearly, a breakthrough was needed.
After working with JMW, the software team began to double their previous productivity. The breakthrough enabled the company to get the product out in time – and save more than $100 million over the next three years.
JMW did not teach the team new techniques for developing software. Instead they helped them shift their paradigm. In their old paradigm, the rule was “X (the predictable) amount of work in X amount of time.” The new paradigm was stated as a possibility – “Y (the required) amount of work in X amount of time.”
“The shift was to create a future – the one they needed – as a possibility, not as a prediction,” says Werner Erhard, who founded a national affiliation of management consultants with which JMW is associated. “At that point, no one knew how to do it, but they could still create the possibility.
Because there was now a new paradigm in which to see the work, the team began seeing the job of developing software differently. They then were able to generate a commitment to that possibility.”
Erhard points out that when a breakthrough is needed, what is often called for is the development of a new paradigm.
“Changing the paradigm does not negate the need for realistic, hard-headed thinking, ” he says. “In ‘business as usual’ we get clear about the situation to determine what we can do and what we can’t.
But to produce a breakthrough, you have to stand the usual approach on its head.”
The process begins with inventing a new possibility, without regard to whether you know what to do to realize it. You then look back at the situation from the standpoint of that new possibility.
“That is what gives you the new perspective and what allows you to see the situation in a way you haven’t seen it before,” says Erhard. “That is the beginnings of generating a new paradigm.” At some point in the process, he says, it will be evident that you have come up with the best paradigm for a breakthrough in that situation.
“Productivity breakthroughs are a product of seeing something in a new way, which enables you to see new opportunities and new openings for action that you couldn’t see before,” he adds. “Breakthroughs come as a result of shifting your commitment from the predictable future to a possible future.”
Reprinted from the Fall 1989 issue of Benchmark Magazine, a publication of Xerox Corporation