Paradigms well Defined

Tim O'Reilly spoke at the Open Source Business Conference yesterday in San Francisco and correctly cited Thomas Kuhn as the historian who popularized the concept of paradigms. This was refreshing since many people in technology toss around the word "paradigm" a bit too casually. The implications of paradigms are powerful and deserve the utmost respect, especially if you want to survive a paradigm shift.

Kuhn wrote in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions about the evolution of science and how the field grew through a series of major paradigm shifts -- one paradigm replacing the other not one built on top of the other, as our science textbooks suggest. Tim drew the parallel to the technology industry brilliantly.

Paradigms and their effect on technology was also beautifully explained by Clayton Christensen at the conference during his two hour evening keynote to a standing room only audience. Christensen, though, uses terms like innovation and disruption to explain his theories in The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution.

All three books are landmarks of strategic thought. They will terrify you if you are stuck in Christensen's sustaining technology or in Kuhn's normal science, but the books are also liberating for those who understand and embrace the phenomenon. Embrace it and succeed. Ignore it and fail. History demonstrates the concept with painful and exhilarating clarity -- depending on what side of the paradigm you are on, of course.

Update: Tim wrote up his talk as a comprehensive article here.
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