In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote what I’m certain is a scintillating book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I have not yet read it because I’ve been busy immersing myself in higher quality literature, like the Twilight series. In his significant work, Kuhn explained that when there is a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science, it constitutes a “paradigm shift.”
One obvious example that comes to mind is the transition in cosmology from a Ptolemaic cosmology to a Copernican one. Likewise, the transition in optics from geometrical to physical is a paradigm shift. And let’s not forget the transition between the worldview of Newtonian physics and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview. If you are not familiar with these significant paradigm shifts, don’t worry. The point is not to understand them but to memorize them.
That way, when your boss says, “Thinking about the market in segments represents a paradigm shift for our company,” you can smugly consider yourself intellectually superior because you know the true meaning and origin of the phrase.
And if you feel like taking it to the next level of self-righteousness, you can feign indignation at the improper use of what arguably should remain an exclusively scientific phrase. Kuhn wrote, “A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone, share.” (The Essential Tension, 1977).
Although the business world adopted the term in the 1990s, marketers and other business people don’t operate under true paradigms, as defined by Kuhn, and therefore cannot see them shift. Of course, one could push back on Mr. Kuhn by informing him that “paradigm” has been in print since the late 15th century, most often referring to a pattern or example in grammar. So if linguists can create paradigms and observe them shifting, then I say power to the business people! Let us speak of paradigm shifts freely and frequently!