What is a Paradigm Shift? (With some Examples)


All of us have paradigms. They are manifested from the conditions we grew up in, who we hung around with, what our media influences were – our unique circumstances.

What is a Paradigm

A paradigm is how you currently see the world – the mapping we have in our heads of how to understand and perceive the world.

Some paradigms are universally accepted to be the right way to approach a situation. So when I see a green light at an intersection, I know to go because at some point in my life I associated a green light with going. This is an easy paradigm to understand.

Other paradigms are universally accepted to be the wrong way to approach a situation. If I go out to a bar, I need to be appropriately dressed, because “no shoes, no shirt, no service”.

And there are situations where no paradigm is necessarily correct. Such as when you’re faced with a difficult relationship issue or complex business problem.

Upgrading your paradigms is what is known as a ‘paradigm shift’.

How a Paradigm Shift Happens

It takes 3 general steps for a paradigm shift to happen.

Step 1: There is acceptance of a current idea.

Step 2: There is testing of a new way of thinking.

Step 3: The accepting of this new way.

To shift your paradigm, it takes a motivation to challenge and look beyond your current reality. That’s moving from Step 1 to Step 2.

Then comes the proof through testing in Step 2 to tell you if its working or not.

Finally, in the third step, comes the acceptance of the paradigm. This is the validation piece where it now sinks into who you are.

Paradigm Shift Example #1 – Perception

Stephen Covey gives a great example in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘. Here is an image of 3 women. The first image appears to be a young woman. The third appears to be an old woman. Depending on how you look at the second image, there is both the old and young woman in the same picture. Once you see both, you can never go back to the original photo and look at it in the same way.

Were you wrong the first time you perceived the picture as a young lady, or when you perceived the picture as an old lady? You weren’t wrong – your paradigm was what it was. You just made a shift in your existing paradigm.

paradigm shift examples

Paradigm Shift Example #2 – Questioning the Status Quo

In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the Earth was flat. This belief held for years until the Spanish and Christopher Columbus had the vision to cross the ocean in search of India.

Instead of India, they stumbled upon North America. Once they came back and proclaimed the Earth was not flat, the old truth could never be accepted again because of the paradigm shift.

Columbus and his crew challenged the belief in Step 1 to test a new way in Step 2, confirming the new belief in Step 3. The sign of a leader is that they are not afraid to question the status quo.


Paradigm Shift Example #3 – Ah-Ha Moments

When Instagram first started, it was a simple photo sharing system. It was not much different than other social media apps out at the time.

It was during development when the whole idea of the app changed. To escape the daily grind,  Kevin Systrom (the founder of Instagram) went away on vacation with his girlfriend and while there, realized that the filtering of photos on the app gives a user the ability to be a pro photographer. People share photos when the photos look pretty, and that’s what stuck.

Without this shift in perception, Clarendon, Ludwig and Gingham would not be part of an Instagramer’s vocabulary.



The examples above share a common theme: looking back at the original idea doesn’t seem to hold anymore. The paradigm has been shifted.

What if you could find the right paradigms that fit your needs and could transform you in the shortest amount of time?

That is why learning and evolving to continue ‘upgrading’ your paradigms is so essential. And that is why flexibility is such a great skill to have. You can save many years of testing by following successful people that have already done it. That way you can condense years into months, or even days and hours.