December 16, 2020

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The Art of Change

Improving Customer Service

Issue # 67 of 70

By: Dr. John T. Self

Do you know what a paradigm is? It is a set of rules or parameters that basically tells us how to do something. It establishes boundaries based on assumptions that explain how to behave in order to be successful. In other words, it is "The Rules." Every organization and industry has a paradigm that governs its thinking. In the restaurant industry, for example, the paradigm is that managers work many hours, employees are only in it for the money and there will always be high turnover.

What most industries need is to think beyond their paradigm, to experience what is called a "paradigm shift" or "thinking outside the box." We don't need to continue within the limits of the same paradigm, because it isn't working. Well, it's kind of working, but it can be so much better.

The classic paradigm shift was the Swiss watch industry. In the 60's, the Swiss controlled the vast majority of the watch business. Now, in the 90's, they have next to none. The paradigm shift happened in the form of electronic watches and the Swiss were not prepared for it. Neither was the American car industry ready for the paradigm shift that occurred when the Japanese brought quality into the marketplace.

Ten years ago, people inside the automobile industry were convinced that an automobile could not get 70 miles per gallon. It could not happen. But when a bunch of young engineering students (non-automobile types) were given the assignment to do just that, they did it. They were able to do it because they didn't know that it couldn't be done.

Most paradigm shifts occur because someone from outside the industry comes in and is allowed to be creative, to break the barriers. Too often even the idea of this type of renegade is quashed before it can exist because of the parameters that are hammered into us by the industry itself. I like to do an exercise at my workshops that illustrates thinking out of the box. The object is to keep the tie that I am wearing against my body. One way, of course is to wear a tie tack. I get someone to time 1 minute. Everyone shouts their ideas and I make a checkmark every time someone gives a different example. Most people say velcro or glue or a big rubber band.

The point is that their paradigm set up boundaries based on assumptions that had not been established. In this case the assumption was that it couldn't hurt or kill me, which means that many options were not considered, Options like a staple gun, nailing the tie to me, shooting an arrow in the tie (and me). The group that probably set the all-time record of ideas was a group of cartoonists at Disney. No one gave them any restrictions as to no pain or death in fixing the tie to my body and they didn't pull any punches.

It is this same way that we limit our thinking to solve problems which has been associated with most any industry for years. We must encourage new ideas, new ways and change itself. But change is a difficult concept that most people hate. In fact, babies are the only ones who really welcome change. But, we'll see. The future is coming soon and prediction is difficult, especially when it comes to what awaits us.

John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.