Dominic Turnbull and Charles E. Smith © June, 2016
It should be clear by now that you can’t think your way to a paradigm change, to changing lanes, to a discontinuous shift in the direction you’re going. Just as astronauts going to space reach zero gravity, we seem to need a moment where thoughts of the past and thoughts of the future are suspended, for a moment, leaving us with real choice, a place of “nothing” in which something new may be created.
Transition One: Pain is the Prime Directive for Getting to Zero Gravity.
Learning is good, so we are told throughout our schooling and any further education. But can mountains of knowledge actually get in the way of thinking freely, seeking new possibilities, and shifting paradigms? If so, is there not a case for ‘unlearning’ in the face of challenges people deal with, in families, companies and other institutions? It is here where the pain resides in giving something up, whether that’s an idea, an opinion, or a deeply held belief. I don’t mean throwing the belief or the assumption away, but suspending it for a moment. Only by doing this can one hold a new possibility or go back to zero gravity. As a constant state, it’s difficult to sustain. But for a moment, it can open up hitherto new ground for thinking, relationships, leadership and transformation.
So how does someone actually let go? As the American physicist Thomas Kuhn puts it: scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions”, and in those revolutions “one conceptual world view is replaced by another”. Think of a Paradigm Shift as a change from one way of thinking to another.
Kuhn puts it rather strongly, but think of some views that you hold very firmly, and then think of the opposite and try to hold both at the same time, or even give the first one up for a moment. Until this happens unlearning remains unavailable, and new paradigms are not possible. I recall the situation of a Vice President I was coaching in a multi-national organization; he didn’t trust his people. This dynamic underpinned all the relationships he had with those on his team. He was stuck in a paradigm, but desperately wanted to feel different. However, he was looking in the wrong place. He was waiting for members in his team to change before he would start trusting them. It was only then he realized that trusting them wasn’t possible inside his existing paradigm; he had to change his point of view. It was painful, but only by doing this would he be able to trust his people. He had to go back to zero to create something new. He did. Pain is a doorway to letting go for the sake of what you really want.Download Article 500 Club