Time Fora Paradigm Shift

A radical or abrupt change in the way things are done has been described as a paradigm shift. The shift is usually the result of a pivotal event. It is followed by a period of intensive activity and development. It comes about when new methods or devices are discovered and implemented to enhance or replace those existing, or when no existing method or device exists to accomplish a desired end result. It is sometimes a radical departure from rather than just a modification of the UsualWayOfDoingThings. It includes a change of perspective and state of mind and introduces approaches that may or may not be mutually exclusive of existing approaches.

If the present state does not address problems that invite solutions, can we and should we create environments and attitudes that will make a paradigm shift possible?

Or are paradigm shifts some sort of accident or strange coincidence?

What is a Paradigm:
          From the American Heritage Dictionary
          par·a·digm (pr-dm, -dm) n. 
  1. One that serves as a pattern or model.
  2. A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical categories: the paradigm of an irregular verb.
  3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

This page approaches ParadigmShift as a collection of opinions answering Questions of the Where, How, What, and When of Paradigm Shifts:

Software Development Tools, Methods, Production, Ownership, Approaches and Knowledge. In a critical view of syntax and methodologies of the C Language, ChrisBaugh compared the state of programming methods and syntax to be similar to the highway system in 1905. An observation: It seems to be that while hardware and HMIs have greatly improved, there has not been an equal development in the manner and technique of producing software. The development software and the languages used to create the new higher level languages and applications is still in an underdeveloped state. There are some reasons for this that has to do with issues not connected to software and hardware. One of the reasons has to do with what might be called the inertia of education. The student concentrating in the area of Computer Science studies for at least four years at the Undergraduate Level. In Computer Hardware that could be equivalent to at least three or four generations. At the same time several new languages will be developed for special niches. (As in the explosion currently of higher level languages to handle the traffic, transactions and messaging of the new network nation). When the graduate enters his first employment, he may feel like he is in a foreign land. It is likely that he will be confronted with problems, tasks and schedules that his education, however excellent it might have been, has not fully prepared him to face. This is not his, his professors, his school, or the systems fault. The "real" world does not organize into neat, manageable chunks like it once might have. While the student may have entered into his education, with more or less fixed curriculum, courses and requirements set for the degree he was seeking, no such rigidity exists in the "marketplace". The projects, teams, specifications and requirements, product, and even corporate structure may change at any moment. He may not have expected the part that the political, economic and organizational forces would play on how he would work. Rather than having to face a neat well-organized and crystal clear situation, he may more likely find himself in a "JunkyardWars" scenario.

Knowledge Development - Methods, Collaboration and Sharing Much has been said about Knowledge Management, but little about how to produce knowledge. In the past we have experienced expensive things like Wars and Landing a man on the moon to produce new knowledge. Even the appearance on the scene of a Dictator who merely says: This is what you will think, plan and do! Among sensible and reasonable people there is surely is a less expensive, a less destructive, and a smoother way. Could it be that knowledge can be produced by collaboration and dialogue, without the necessity of relating what is comes out of it must produce a bottom line (wealth), or geographical (accumulation, power) effect? Could it be that a new occupation might be developed where we might have workers have the job of thinking and working together with others who think. (I'm not talking about thinktanks and management by manipulation and spin). But thinkers who have no vested interests to worry about, who have the job of thinking about many different ways and means of accomplishing things.

Research, Development, Manufacture, Marketing and Distribution of New Products and Services Perhaps a Shift in the way we produce final products by a ParadigmShift in researching, designing, building, testing, manufacturing and marketing utilizing a NewParadigm? where all of these can take place in a Virtual Market Place. With a Virtual Factory where all of the details of part geometry, physics, assembly, tests of prototypes, plant layout, and worker training can be carried out. Without the RealThing? having been built. As a result of this approach, detailed, accurate CostOfGoods?, Manpower requirements, training schedules, etc, could be determined. When this and alternate approaches (competition could also be virtualized) come together in a Virtual Market, where the forces of Virtual Demand can be balanced against Virtual Supply (which now equals Production) could arrive at a Retail Price to ensure sufficient profit. The factors might then be to the GoldHolders? (stockholders) if necessitated by the size of the enterprise. (Parallel and alternate Scenarios in the Virtual could also be introduced to enhance the simulation) Physical implementation would not take place until successful launch, build and sufficient product demand and market share could be assured. Cost savings would accrue in the case of aborted launches since you could avoid the actual creation of a product which is not desired, non-competitive or is already out of date when it could be produced.


How the shift occurs and whether you can assert or plan such a shift is not known. Perhaps forces beyond our control is at play. Perhaps the recognition of the need and a corresponding and appropriate response is all that is required.

Thinking and Awarenesss Metaphor - Two Mind Sets - BluePlane PinkPlane?: This would be production in the BluePlane. [Directions of the blue plane are equated with ("vision")] The Vision, Virtual or "BluePlane" are likely to be at odds with interests favoring the installed base, but are aligned with interests favoring the vision of DesignersInTheVirtual?. By contrast the "PinkPlane?" "Any extant system is an approximated instantiation that serves users by evolving via implementation" An extraction - paraphrased from http://squeak.org/about/headed-prev-vers.html (1997-1998): There are two orthogonal forces at work in the Squeak team, with which we have been able to make two kinds of progress. These have most recently been articulated in Alan Kay's allusion to ArthurKoestler?'s metaphor of progress in two planes: the incremental improvement plane (which Alan calls the "pink" plane) and the ParadigmShift (or "blue") plane. The Act of Creation'', ArthurKoestler?, 1964, Arkana Reissue Edition, Paperback - ISBN 0140191917 )

Not by Assertion or Desire or with assignment of Manpower On another note - the million engineers is of course not needed to produce wonders. But that wasn't the point. The point was that if you don't have the fundamentals to start with, any number of engineers aren't going to help you. Bear in mind that the "engineers" may be the same people as those doing the theoretical work, just wearing different hats. I am not attempting to draw lines around professions, but around types of knowledge. I will try and refactor this to have less ambiguous language, but I stand by what I said above. You can't arrange to have a paradigm shift because you want it.

Questions of influences, motivations, initiating factors and attitudes of mind How much influence did the discrepancy between hardware and software capabilities have on the way our mind works? What is it that creates a shift? Is there a trigger to fire creative energies? Can that which motivates people to be creative be encouraged or enabled? We have much knowledge and capabilities available today that seem to go to waste. Are we lacking something and is modern man so dried up creatively that vision and expectations are extinct? See:[IcanNot & IsureCan]

The importance of inner motivation and the effect of positive thinking It is not that we should assert a ParadigmShift, but rather that we should begin to convert any visions we have of better ways, or new ways of thinking about solutions. Not inflicted upon us from above, but the result of a drive within. The use of reason, thought, imagination, the creation of a "internal flame" that does not think "I can not", but that thinks, "I can". (the distinction is important - you can not be motivated if your mind set is in the first (IcanNot), but you are already motivated if you are of the frame of mind (IsureCan). If as some have said it is new knowledge we need - we have new knowledge, If we need examples of simulations using computers - take a look at the rather elaborate simulations that exist in the "gaming" community. They could be termed imagineers. Why was the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk so critical, others had flown, others had theorized it to be possible - what was different? [The brothers took the theories, they took the vision, they shaped the theory and the vision attached a motor to the framework - then they tried it - it worked - so a new method and device - A ParadigmShift - that of machine powered flight was introduced. Old Knowledge and New vision with IcanNot Now Thinking -> No conversion into reality = StatusQuo. Old Knowledge and New vision with IsureCan Now Thinking - TryNewThings? (Put a motor on it) -> = Conversion into reality

New Way of Thinking Not New Knowledge, Not New Invention, Not Made In America, But A new way of thinking and looking at what can be done, what is possible. To apply effort in the direction of the New Vision, with a strong belief that "It is possible", instead of the prevailing "It can't be done" or "Not yet, maybe soon" excuses that drive hesitation and inaction.

Some say the Wright Brothers did not invent or theorize, they only took what was known to exist and built the ideas and theories into a "Working" example in the "Now". That is the only credit they have earned or deserve by their efforts - they had a success. Others had invented, theorized about, said it could or couldn't be done, and so on, but they had luckily messed around with what had been unluckily deferred by others to them to do in a "Now" implementation. The above examples do *not* demonstrate new knowledge. The 'imagineers' were really creating simulations which were essentially scaling down (to work on cheap hardware) simulation methods that scientist have been using for *decades* on big iron. These people are bright, and some are even brilliant at squeezing cycles out of commodity hardware - but nothing they are doing is essentially new. Similarly, the only thing that separated the Wrights from many other attempts was a combination of luck and timing. They were messing around with this stuff at the right time. They too were bright, but more fundamental work was done in the 100 years previous, without which they would not have had a chance. They certainly were not the only ones to conceive of powered flight; the availability of materials made it pretty much inevitable that somebody would manage a successful flight around then (say +-5years). The Wrights were more 'hackers' (in the most positive sense) than visionaries. I have a lot of respect for their accomplishments, but my view of those accomplishment is not blurred by the historical spin that has often been placed on it (and many other so-called `american inventions')

I talked to my wife (M.S. in Aerospace Eng.) about this. One of the things the Wright Brothers did was to make corrections in the current flight equations based on empirical evidence (Wind Tunnels). A lot of the current theory was just plain wrong because the numbers were bad. -- DavidHurt


What changes are needed Must Education change? Must the Job Situation change? Must the tools and procedures change? Must the economic realities be faced honestly? - All of the above. Just as the Interstate Highway System occasioned a ParadigmShift in the way people and things are transported, there needs to be a ParadigmShift in the way we make things work in the marketplace. All of the mechanics and systems are in place, It is now TimeForaParadigmShift.

Fundamental misunderstanding "Wars and Landing a man on the moon..." etc. don't in general produce new knowledge. What they are very good at is producing new technologies. Better manufacturing, better engineering practices, novel applications of existing knowledge, yes definitely. And these are all good things, and some of the advances can be amazing. However, it is a mistake to confound the two things.

If your problem requires novel application of existing theory, throwing a million engineers at it can produce wonders.

If your problem reflects a fundamental lack of understanding. War, Moon missions, or other extremities of productivity won't necessarily help you at all.

Are these things Knowledge? I see new technologies, better manufacturing, and better engineering practices as knowledge. Knowledge is knowing how to do something that succeeds, that works. Knowledge comes about because someone has an idea, another contributes to the idea improving upon the initial, another then takes the result and tries it out, tests and verifies that the idea produces the desired result. It enters into general use and in the test of time becomes new knowledge. It is the fundamentals that matter, understanding comes when one sees the fundamentals in action producing the desired result. It doesn't take a million engineers to produce wonders: two bicycle mechanics proved that at Kitty Hawk. They tested and succeeded in the flight of a fixed wing aircraft with propellers. They showed that it could be done. Others developed the success into an another form of transportation for man. One that also changed the way we think about the horizon and the earth beneath us.

Call it Invention, Innovation or Implementation It is probably worth noting that the Wright brothers did not invent the airplane, nor even the general version (absent power source) of it that they used; that was probably Sir George Cayley, almost exactly 100 years prior. What they did achieve is the first sustained powered flight. This comment is not meant to belittle that achievement, but to illuminate some of the aspect of this paradigm shift. It took a long time, and many people were involved. The "million" engineers were needed to make commercial flight a reality...

Frame of Reference Change Shift not created by Technologists or Thinkers, but by Consumers. Using these definitions, there would appear to be no requirement for new knowledge to create a paradigm shift. The only dependency would be a change in FrameOfReference?. The Wright Brother's flight in Kittyhawk was not an example of a paradigm shift, and it wasn't until manufacturing and materials reached the point at which many aircraft could be built and (relatively) inexpensively maintained that a paradigm shift happened in regards to travel. From this standpoint, it might be fair to suggest that a paradigm shift is never created by the people who create a new technology or knowledge, but by the general public or user-base who choose to adopt the new offering and integrate it into their notion of reality. The companies who built airplanes for consumer travel did not create a paradigm shift, but were an enabling factor in the shift itself. By the same token, events such as wars may act as an enabling force (catalyst) for a paradigm shift, but are not the shift itself. Note that a paradigm can be active at a community level, and often becomes the defining quality of a given community. This seems to be the case with the OO community, the Patterns Community, etc.

What is and What is not a Paradigm Shift and the Roots I don't think definitions work for "paradigm shift" which, in science at least, has a fairly well understood common usage that is stronger than this. Perhaps more general usage has also been diluted by the wall street buzzword bozos... However, none of this addresses the thesis that you can't have a made-to-order paradigm shift. In fact, I am pretty much convinced that you *can't* have a paradigm shift without new knowledge of the type espoused above. I certainly (and I have looked) have never seen evidence of it. There are plenty of people labeling fairly trivial things as "paradigm shifts", but that does not make it so. As for the above comments, I would agree that Kittyhawk was not a paradigm shift (it wasn't my example). It may be considered the beginning of the shift (there is no requirement for instantaneous change, of course). Both Kittyhawk and the industry that followed it had their roots in the significant gains in knowledge of both materials and fluid dynamics that preceded the Wright brothers even thinking about flight. They are predicated by this knowledge, and impossible without it.

Distinctions, Requirements, Availability and Combination of Components "New" knowledge is not necessary for a paradigm shift. A shift could just as easily take place based upon a new combination and synthesis of existing knowledge. Certainly, all knowledge (especially technological knowledge) that is required must be in place prior to a shift beginning, but that requirement places no constraint on the "newness" of the knowledge itself. To say that the Wright brothers flight was dependent on fluid dynamics and materials is certainly accurate, so to say they were a requirement for modern travel is also accurate, but at the time the aviation industry took off (no pun intended;) in terms of consumer travel, that information was no longer new. A paradigm shift often has many other variables (sociological, economic, and artistic) that drive it. The tools (knowledge) must be available, but the tools are not the product.''

Particular and General Shifts I think the problem here is discussing both a particular paradigm shift (i.e. the title) and the nature of paradigm shifts in general. I do believe I was unclear about which comments belong to which discussion (I will try to return and refactor). My thesis is, simply stated: a) you can't have a paradigm shift just because you want one. The fundaments must be in place first. b) We don't have the fundaments in place for the paradigm shift that is desired above. There is a corollary statement, that you can't get those fundaments just because you want them, either (although you might, who knows). Understood... I jumped into the generic discussion without adequately taking into account the specific item being proposed... Not a good habit, and perhaps one rooted in the desire to engage in PrematureGeneralization.

Successful Shifts must offer economy as well as functionality Would people agree that most successful paradigm shifts offer economy in its various senses? I think this is required beyond the usual quality of functionality. Some will say no: and give as an example quantum mechanics as previously mentioned. Expressing that what we gained was not economy, nor elegance, but agreement with experimental data. It was that single fact that dragged physicists kicking and screaming into the QM world - and you still won't have any trouble finding a physicist who believes the standard model is a horrible kludgy mess... but it works better than anything else at the moment.''

Examples offered and discussed

Hardware and Software in computing What happened at The Xerox PARC could be considered to be a paradigm shift. Certainly a mouse and a graphical interface was a new way of looking at how a person might interface with a computer, much more versatile and productive than a teletype and punched tape. While much of the early work was done at Stanford, and it certainly occurred over a period of time and through phases. We moved from a typewriter analogy to a desktop+typewriter analogy: I'm not sure if I would label it a paradigm shift, I'll have to think about that. Of course the GUI wasn't attempting to supplant teletype and punched tape. It was after the CLI and certainly didn't replace that (extended it?). As for what is better: certainly the mouse based GUI is better than teletype and punched tape. The jury is still out on if it is better than the CLI. Preliminary results suggest that it depends on the task.

I don't think the GUI was a paradigm shift. It is really similar to 3270 screens and various VT100 screens that were used for years. The paradigm shift came in the event driven programming model used to support the GUI and mouse. The program no longer had control of the screen, rather the screen had control of the program. -- WayneMack

Problem - There are holes in our understanding of computation and of languages that essentially mean we can not build reliable, effective, general-purpose code generators. It is the general-purpose that really gets us in trouble. What people seemed to want was a way to isolate the programmer from the underlying realities of programming. We can do a good job of this for some severely constrained problem domains. We have *no idea* how to do a good job of this in general. One look at the plethora of truly underwhelming GUI code-generators is enough to see how much trouble we can get into with even fairly constrainted domains. But you think that magically we can jump from failing miserably to handle situations like that to succeeding for a general purpose framework???????''

Please don't misunderstand. I am not a nay-sayer, sticking my head in the sand and saying "we will never improve on what we have today". I am *highly* enthusiastic about improvements on the status quo for programming. However, I have a strong and I believe supportable belief that many people are looking in the wrong place for such improvements. My hope is that the limited energy we have for such endeavors in applied in the optimal direction - that is how we are most likely to see real change soon. I have seen wave after wave of 'the next --> BIG <---- !!THING!!" with all the attendant hype; but the emperor has no clothes. In this conflagration the light is invariably corporate marketing (i.e. propaganda) departments fooling each other - the heat is nowhere to be found. If, as I do hope, we are to see real change, there are many directions of attack. I think that the largest of the problems in large scale programming are sociological, not technological: large projects are hard, and we are not good at working together. On the tool front, I think we can expect small incremental improvements in the short term. Fundamental changes will need to wait for better understanding of the problem

On the other hand, the programming-like-driving-a-car analogies that are occasionally bandied about are just broken, period. Simply because operating a car has been made a near universally approachable skill lends no real credence to the idea that the same may be done for programming. It would only do so if one could also demonstrate the tasks were reducible to similar complexity. This *certainly* has not be show to date. It may be that when we understand the problem domain better, we find that there are pretty hard limits on what we can do (without strong A.I., but that is a different can of worms). This doesn't mean that we can't expect end-user tools to be better, or that the average user can't perform trivial programming tasks much more easily than today...


Paradigm shifts may only occur when the old paradigm produces a critical mass of hard problems that forces a new whole new technique to be created.

To work, it must meet the needs that exist in the Present.

Necessary Requirements - New Knowledge, Theory, Technologies must be available and applicable. One must implicitly draw a line between knowledge of fundamental theory, and technologies. The fact remains that Paradigm shifts, by definition, only occur when there is new fundamental knowledge. Furthermore, you can't create this type of knowledge just because you want too. Why did two bicycle mechanics succeed where so many thousands had failed before over the ages? Because the underlying theory (for airfoils, materials and propulsion) was basically there. Keep in mind that much brighter people (Galileo, for example) had spent time on this problem as well....

Let me draw a parallel with a recent paradigm shift: physics in the late 19th century/early 20th underwent a massive restructuring due to quantum theory. It was messy, drawn out, and painful, but it did come about after time. The technology to build particle accelerators is orders of magnitude more effective today than in 1950, say. And this technology has moved into most large hospitals - changing the face of cancer treatment. These incremental engineering changes have allowed a technology that is both probing the fundamental constituents of matter, and to a lesser degree helping in daily life. But here is the thing: nobody would ever have tried to build one before the QM theory arrived - it is inconceivable.

A point in time or a continuing process Does a shift take place in increments over a period of time, or is there not a point in time when some old ways of doing things are completely abandoned as a new way gains in popularity and usage, overtaking and supplanting the old, first in the innovative organizations, then in the change resistant organizations?

Engagement Necessary When you have Old knowledge and you have New vision but and you can't or won't engage the two to implement the envisioned or desired thing, The change does not occur. It is left for Another at a different time.

You are suddenly in the middle of a shift Even with less physically related paradigm shifts, they aren't something you can set out to create, rather something you find yourself in the middle of. Shifts not the result of Assertion or direction from the top-down, but of drastic rethinking and questioning. Paradigm shifts are, by definition, not something you can plan for. It is something that happens to you; you are working away at a little piece of a puzzle when things start falling together - somebody says 'hey, wait a minute....' and all of a sudden you are looking at things in a new way. A way you *never would have thought of* before. Which is sort of the point, that until you are jolted out of your usual thought patterns, even out of your imaginable thought patterns, you couldn't come up with this new thing. I can't think of a single true paradigm shift that was arrived at top-down, by somebody saying 'lets re-think everything'. They all came about by somebody at the bottom (looking at something smaller, more specific) saying 'hmmmmm, well if that is true they I have to rethink this. And if that turns out so, then I have to... oh wait, now we have to rethink everything'. And therein lies the rub.''

A KuhnParadigmShift starts with a phase (normal science) where its mainstream theory is explored in enough detail that its flaws start to become apparent. The established scientists try to explain the flaws by making slight modifications or additions to the established theory, but because the flaws are fundamental to the theory, this doesn't work.

Because of the nature of software development, improvement efforts based on the old models of process improvement are fundamentally flawed. Hence the need for (or rather, the impending probability of) a paradigm shift in software development improvement.

Because of the nature of software development, improvement efforts based on the old models of process improvement are fundamentally flawed.

I disagree. The paradigm shift we really need in software is to believe it is similar to other endeavors and use the ProcessImprovementTools that have been successful in other areas. Software repeatedly casts itself as something different and unique from the rest of the world. Hence, we are always struggling to do new things instead of taking advantage of others' knowledge and experience. -- WayneMack
Pages Related to Paradigm Shifts: ParadigmShift ExtremeParadigmShift SoftwareDevelopmentImprovementParadigmShift KuhnParadigmShift ProcessImprovementTools IntentionalProgramming
Related to Paradigm Shifts:

People Organizations and Approaches

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