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We are a multidisciplinary innovation studio working with diverse partners to understand sustainability challenges and identify holistic, resilient solutions, and we are committed to training the next generation of leaders.

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Insights, inspiration and opportunities to create a more vibrant and resilient future.

What Does A Paradigm Shift Even Mean?

Lyndon Valicenti

On the subject of revolution… what does a paradigm shift even mean?

Used originally to describe the nature and structure of scientific revolutions, the concept of a “paradigm shift” was first articulated by the American physicist Thomas Kuhn in 1962. Examples of these deep shifts in our mental models include when astronomers realized the sun was the center of the universe, instead of the earth, or when naturalists planted the seed that all living things evolved from the same ancestor. 

Since then, the concept has been applied in many non-scientific contexts; really, in any case where a profound change has resulted from a fundamental shift in approach or underlying assumptions. For instance, the sharing economy has broken through a cultural norm of materialism and the United Nation’s Gross National Happiness Index puts forth a new definition of national well-being, beyond economic gain.

But what are the mechanics of a paradigm shift? How do they come to be? And how can we catalyze one? 

Climate change, one of society’s most pressing problems, demands drastic transformation in our energy, cultural, and governance systems. While gaps remain in the research on social change and transformation, social scientists have begun to identify the key drivers in establishing, maintaining, and changing social systems. These include power, knowledge, and conflict. By aligning them organically or strategically, we can finally move past the status quo, towards a new paradigm of wealth, health, equity, and quality of life.