Getting Out of
Introducing Paradigm Mapping, a powerful visualization tool for getting a person, a group, or an organization unstuck and moving on.
Years ago, I watched a large company slowly slide itself into insignificance. It once dominated the industry, but now its impact, as well as its stock, is a fraction of what it once was. Recently, this company’s new CEO tried to implement some much-needed change. One third of the employees were let go. Millions of dollars were invested. The entire structure of the company was dramatically altered to improve productivity and capture new opportunities.
Yet, after the smoke cleared from all of these activities, and the sound dimmed from all the motivational talks and chanting of buzzwords, nothing fundamental ever changed. Behind declarations of serious transformation, people in this company still continue with the same habitual behavior of the past. One manager said to me, “With all this activity, you would think something would actually move around here!” Everyone in this company is deep inside something called The Box.
Stuck In The Box
Like the people in this company, we all get stuck in The Box, frantically searching the same ground again and again for a seemingly obvious solution that is never found. See if any of these examples sound familiar:
• Ann again marries the same man, only this time with a different face and name.
• After years of failure, the Sanfords try again with their troubled son, who stays troubled.
• Despite the implementation of a variety of successful programs used in other companies to curb employee theft, the increase in corporate stealing continues.
• A department won’t live up to it’s obvious possibilities, even with another change in leadership, improvement in the quality of teams involved, more financial resources, and a move to new offices.
In all the years I’ve served as a consultant, this has been my biggest problem–getting people out of their boxes. Seeing this, I’ve developed a tool to effectively get people and organizations unstuck and moving forward. What follows is an introduction to this tool with its three guiding principles:
1. You are in THE BOX when a problem causes you to repeatedly search the same ground for a solution.
Being “stuck in the box” is the term used for the inability to resolve obviously solvable problems. These problems remain defiantly free from any solution, all the while soaking up an enormous amount of time, energy and other resources. When our solutions don’t work, we say to ourselves, “I must not have the right answer,” or, “It wasn’t implemented correctly.” So we redouble our efforts, running in endless circles. We are stuck in The Box.
2. THE BOX is created when interactions or exchanges are governed by a rule that can’t be acknowledged.
All relationships and interactions are exchanges, and these exchanges are run by rules. A governing rule is the over-arching belief that directs, defines, and limits a set of exchanges. When a governing rule can’t be acknowledged by the people it affects, a rigid and confining situation of preset exchanges called The Box is generated. These hidden rules block the ability to search in more fruitful locations–ones that could produce real and effective solutions.
Here are two statements from people in two separate companies with hidden rules embedded within them (not hard to see, but totally impossible to bring to their owner’s attention): “We couldn’t possibly be missing those funds because of theft. The director is the most honest man I know.” “We must show our clients our innovative leadership and do all phases of this showcase project in-house.” Both comments contain hidden and unacknowledged rules that are restricting the ability of these two companies to find effective solutions to their most pressing problems.
3. People can’t stay in THE BOX once they see and accept the governing rule that created it.
I found that an essential part of any search for solutions was being left out by people who are stuck in The Box. This missing factor is the hidden governing rule that was invisibly directing the search for solutions. Problem-solving typically never includes consciously looking for the hidden rule being followed. When the usually-invisible governing rule that is directing the situation is made visible, things automatically change. When an individual or group sees and accepts this formerly-hidden rule, they always have a fundamental shift in perception and thinking. They must move out of their box.
There is a silly parlor game where a person, who professes psychic powers, goes out of a room full of people. Those left behind collectively select an object in the room. The person returns to the room and tries to guess what was selected while a moderator asks him questions. This pretender always guesses correctly. The others try to figure out how the fake psychic was so uncannily accurate. Nobody comes up with the answer, which is absurdly obvious once you know the secret. As the moderator asks, “Is it the piano? Is it the black dog? How about the vase? The fake psychic is following a simple hidden rule: after the first thing the moderator points out that begins with the letter “B”, the object is always the very next thing he points out. For example: If the moderator asks, “Is it the Black dog?” Then, because it begins with the letter B, it will be the very next thing he asks about that was secretly selected: the vase. I’ve seen geniuses flounder and fail on this one.
Interestingly, once you know this rule you can never really play this absurd game again. The same with seeing a formerly-hidden governing rule: once you know and accept what it is, you can’t keep playing the same way; you can’t stay in The Box.
PARADIGM MAPPING: a tool to show people inside The Box its hidden governing rule
Paradigm Mapping is the method I’ve used to get people to clearly see and accept the hidden rules governing their exchanges and move out of The Box. A visual representation of a person’s or group’s hidden rules are constructed in front of them. By using quickly-made images with accompanying notation and continual input from the viewers, what was formerly unconscious can be brought into awareness.
Let me show you how this is done. A facilitator puts words and images on a large whiteboard in front of everyone involved. He becomes their hands, jogs their minds, calms egos, clarifies, etc. While this process is happening, the facilitator is erasing, correcting, questioning, and refining until a final consensus is reached that what they are viewing is their governing rule. Seeing everything slowly develop before them dramatically increases their ownership and acceptance of what is written on the board.
To effectively visualize another’s rules, the facilitator creating the image must concentrate on reading the consistent pattern behind people’s exchanges, then graphically summarize and represent that pattern. These images need to reflect back to the viewers what they are communicating and agreeing to. Also, the images are simple and symbolic (using sophisticated drawings or images can get in the way by hindering easy participation). Attention is focused on creating this image or map, not on each other or the facilitator. Everyone can see which rules are dominating their interactions and exchanges when they are visually represented. They all can have an understanding of what has locked them in their box.
I once managed a number of ongoing projects with a certain woman. I quite liked her, but she had one habit that kept getting in the way of us all effectively doing our jobs. She continually brought up the issue of “unfairness to women.” She had been poorly treated in the past, had seen other women have similar problems, and wanted to do something about it.
The projects we had to finish had absolutely nothing to do with this issue. The time needed in other places was being spent as a forum to further her cause. Finally, something had to be done to focus on the projects at hand. The buck was passed and it ended up in my lap.
Two questions written out (only to her) on a whiteboard was all it took. The first one was, “Have you ever seen me discriminate against a woman in any manner?” The second one was, “What does “fairness to women” have to do with finishing these projects?” Then I left for home. I didn’t need her to literally answer them for me. Behind these two questions was the rule of a box she was attempting to put our entire team in. To her credit, everything immediately improved.
Another time, I was consulting for a small company that had been diligently working on a certain problem for months. The people in this company had tried everything. “We just haven’t found the right solution yet,” they kept saying.
Being an outsider, I had the advantage. I wasn’t yet tainted by all of that diligent effort. I could see that the one place they hadn’t looked was at the over-arching rule they were following to resolve the situation. They had looked at everything else too many times.
They were trying to expand their services, but didn’t have enough money to make the necessary improvements. They had accomplished a lot. Things had just reached the point that they needed money, and only more money would work. The rule that wasn’t being openly dealt with was that the company leadership wasn’t giving them the needed cash.
I found myself drawing concentric circles and stick figures on a couple of large whiteboards in the conference room. I visually showed them how they saw their problem and their attempted solutions. Then they collectively saw a solution—they were solving the wrong problem. Their real problem wasn’t the customer, but their corporate leadership. Their bosses were not seeing the value in what this department was attempting to do. They needed to do a sales job on the higher-ups
The department head stated that he never saw a meeting get so focused in such a short time with just a few scribbles and rough notes. He said, “You doing this, whatever it is, was instrumental in us resolving a problem that had remained totally immovable. I even watched my own people come up with effective solutions when, the day before, they were mentally frozen!”
Perhaps Paradigm Mapping can help you get out of your box.
This is a short video (Rapid Vizual) on Paradigm Mapping.
Paradigms: The Crucial Missing Ingredient
When individuals or groups make crucial decisions they seldom, if ever, include their underlying paradigms or governing principles in those choices–but by doing so, profound changes always occur. Seeing what is invisible–but driving everything–leads to profound insights and dramatic improvements.
Trying to understand a situation, create a solution or solve a problem with a critical element totally missing is like making bread without salt, singing a song without a melody, riding a bike without a seat–all doable, but not desirable. Paradigm Mapping provides the missing ingredient that, when included, makes all the difference.
What is a Paradigm?
A deﬁning example, underlying pattern, model or archetype.
A framework, viewpoint and/or belief from which decisions are based.
A conceptual scaled model of how the world works.
What is Paradigm Mapping?
The process of first reading the patterns of decision making, extracting the governing principles and collecting the foundational stories of a particular person, group or situation. Then visually expressing all that in a single coherent image or map. And finally, determining routes through this newly mapped terrain to achieve or obtain a particular objective or optimal possibility.
Why Paradigm Mapping Works Best When Drawn Live
A mapping session begins with a large sheet of paper or a blank computer screen. Images are then made and lines are drawn to represent what the problem or issue is. Every map has a unique structure directed by the participants and their interests.
Paradigm Maps have the following benefits and characteristics:
- Everyone is actively involved.
- Rarely do conflicts arise because people are not talking at each other, but making sure the map accurately represents their concerns and position.
- The ability to draw is not relevant; simple images or symbols work best. Complex images get in the way and can thwart participation.
- Since drawing is inherently a language of relationships, the images represent people’s relationships quite accurately.
- This process naturally filters out a lot of the verbal validation, and the core issues can be rapidly brought to light.
- An ongoing record is automatically made of what has been said, the points made, and even agreements achieved. To recall anything that happened earlier you just move to that position on the map.
- Concepts can’t be forced on anyone without clear ownership for all to see.
- The underlying governing principles are always put on the map. These are considered important features of the terrain being traversed. This tends to shift the viewpoints and deepen the understanding of all participants.
- Meanings and concepts are easier to see and understand in a visual format.
- You have a record of the interaction that can be referred to and recalled later.
- If there is another session, an enormous amount of time is saved. You can easily start where you left off last time with the old map again in front of everyone.
- Maps are always evolutionary and never finished. They are only representative of some terrain for a moment in time.
- When people jointly develop routes though their map to achieve some desired result, active future involvement is dramatically improved.
- Everyone has shared ownership.
- Building a map together encourages consensus.
- Crucial insights and interconnections are gained which would be undetected if you were not dealing with images.
- All participants always leave with a copy of the map. Therefore, history is impossible to rewrite.
Pattern Reading, Principle Extraction, Concept Modeling and Paradigm Mapping are the more advanced techniques, but are now all within the context of the Rapid Visualization of Ideas:
To get more information or schedule a Paradigm Mapping session with Kurt over the Internet, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visualizing What’s Outside-The-Box
I’m an information designer and have done over 60 museums and 30 books.
But it isn’t more information that we need. We are totally drowning in all this information, with tons more being added daily. Information design helps, but it doesn’t fully address what I feel is the growing underlying problem.
Our foundational paradigms or belief structures on which all this growing dump of information if piled on – is fundamentally flawed. It is better structures or frameworks in which to handle all this information that we desperately need. As a culture, we don’t yet fully know this. Though when we can find a place that is quiet from all this din of information, data and interconnection, we feel it–we feel that something down deep is off.
These foundational paradigms form the edifices around people, groups and cultures that we commonly refer to as being in the BOX
I’ve also found that bringing these underlying structures into awareness of any person or group using them is best done through simple visual constructions or RapidVIZ.