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COMMENTARY: Caledonia and Its Lost Paradigms

“Where are the wild ducks when we need them?”

“The phonograph… is not of any commercial value,” said Thomas Edisonof his invention in 1880. “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote," said President Grover Cleveland in 1905. “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home,” said Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment Corporation said in 1977.

What do these men have in common? The demonstration of the crippling condition known as what Joel Barker, a futurist, calls the "paradigm effect.”

Of course, today we know that the phonograph, women’s right to vote, and the home computer have had a profound effect on the twentieth century. In Caledonia, the prevailing paradigm for our future has been expressed in terms of denying a Walmart store on Four Mile Road (among other things). Today, the paradigm for the proposed changes for Highway 38 seem to be of the same ilk – no, no, and did we mention – no.

Caledonia would benefit from the Highway 38 project. Yet it seems trapped and it has all the markings of our very own version of the “paradigm effect.” Because we see the world through our paradigms, they act as filters. This means that any data that doesn’t fit your paradigm will have an extremely difficult time getting past the filters. It affects blindness. Simply put, one is unable to perceive the data before their very eyes. What is perfectly obvious and reasonable to persons with one paradigm can be quite invisible to those with another paradigm. This is the paradigm effect that is putting the Highway 38 project at risk.

Barker defines paradigms in his book Paradigms as “... a set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things: (1) it establishes or defines boundaries; and (2) it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful.” What is required for this community to move forward is what Barker calls a “Paradigm Shift.”

We need a new way of looking at our future and Barker writes, “In times of turbulence, the ability to anticipate dramatically enhances your chances for success.” When the old rules, the old ways of looking at things no longer solve the issues we face, a shift in our paradigm is required. “Good anticipation is the result of good strategic exploration,” Barker writes. It is this strategic exploration that we as a community and those in our leadership positions need to consider as it will define our future and our viability as a community. We must be aware of individual and collective biases and how they color the way things are viewed.

We need to use both divergent and convergent thinking. That is, we need to know that there is more than one right answer and that we can allow for focused integration of information and the prioritization of choices. We need to be able to draw a map to get from where we are to our desired future. We need to be able to use pictures and words to communicate what has been found as a result of these explorations.

So the question for everyone is this: are we the Thomas Edisons, Grover Clevelands and Ken Olsens of Caledonia in the 21st century? Or will we have the courage to change the rules. “And when rules change, the whole world can change.”

Brian Dey September 19, 2011 at 11:49 AM
I never thought I would say this Dan, but an excellent read.
Jerry DeBoer September 19, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Well written Dan, but a few comments. First your article is written in a way that suggests the people opposed to economic expansion are the new "Thomas Edisons". The first question is driven by a point you make yourself, "We need to be able to draw a map to get from where we are to our desired future". What exactly is Caledonia's "desired future" and where is the map? Does Caledonia want to grow up and be just like Racine? Milwaukee? Maybe even Chicago? I get the impression that the majority of the people of Caledonia fully appreciate the quality of life they currently have and want to keep it that way. Considering it's an excellent quality of life, why wouldn't they? In regards to the comment from Barker... "the ability to anticipate dramatically enhances your chances for success". What do you anticipate will be the benefits of the progress you'd like to see, and could you give some examples of towns, cities or villages that you'd like Caledonia to look like in terms of quality of education, job opportunities, low crime rates, happy families, good government, good physical and mental health, etc.? Ultimately I believe you make some excellent points, but it is my "paradigm" that this article suggests we should plod ahead without a clear map to Caledonia's "desired future" and though some people might dream of a bigger and brighter Caledonia, they should first realistically anticipate and explore the changes and inherent problems that come with economic growth.
Jim September 19, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Please research before you post quotes. Ken Olsen was absolutely correct with his statement when read in it's complete context: http://www.snopes.com/quotes/kenolsen.asp Read the entire article. Ken was an amazing engineer and a visionary far beyond what most people that run high tech companies are today, so I get a little upset that the only thing commentators seem to be able to write about is a misquote.

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