The Seductive Art of Paradigm Shifts

Life hinges upon paradigm shifts – those “big bang” moments that revolutionize thought by seemingly inverting the planet on its axis. Such has been true of history. Such is true now. And so it shall be this new year and every year in our future.

There can be no denying.

The wise man reflects upon where he has been as a measure of knowing where he is going. Let’s be wise together now…

  • All of mankind once knew the earth was flat. Until they all knew it wasn’t.
  • It was fact that the sun orbited the earth. Until that fact was a lie.
  • Achieving flight in a man-made machine was impossible. Until it flew.
  • Walking on the moon? A fairytale; until that one small step for man.

These are epic case studies to be sure. But they illustrate the point – life doesn’t advance smoothly or evenly from detail-to-detail, day-to-day.

Life leaps from paradigm-shifting-moment to paradigm-shifting-moment like a kangaroo buzzed on too much caffeine.

Indeed, paradigm shifts lurk all around us disguised in other names.

  • Malcolm Gladwell classifies them as “Tipping Points.”
  • Tim Ferriss (in his new book) calls them “Harajuku Moments.”
  • Seth Godin labels them “Purple Cows.”
  • Nassim Taleb anoints them “Black Swans.”

Listen. I know each of these metaphors has its own flavor and subtleties. I’m not trying to oversimplify or paint with too broad a brush. But I am attempting to showcase that achieving substantial impact by doing the remarkable is born of a common origin.

According to Wikipedia, paradigm shifts are…

“a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to [the] idea of normal science.”

Granted, we’re not talking hard science here. We’re exploring social sciences (at most) and humanities (at least). But the condition of changing basic assumptions holds, I think, for our purpose. So let this be our footing as we trek forward into the seductive art of paradigm shifts…

Unplug From the Propaganda (Resistance is NOT Futile)

The volume of new age information (much mis-information) is barely conceivable in its weight and scope. As it pertains to “real journalism,” Carl Bernstein (who knows a thing or two about the subject) has said that “contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary [citizens] are being stuffed with garbage.”

I happen to agree. Though I take “garbage” one step further.

I call it propaganda.

Everyone has an agenda (even me, now, with this article). But all agendas aren’t created equal. My agenda is to enlighten, which is to say spark your illuminated mind. I want you to challenge my ideas. I want you to wrestle with your own. And I want you to do so far away from the crushing hype and hyperbole of mainstream propaganda.

Compare this with agendas intended to legitimize coercion or mandate compliance.

These insidious aims of mis-information syphon off the creative oxygen vital to paradigm shifts. Examples are too numerous to describe. Flip on the telly or wander over to your favorite news website. As Fox Mulder is famous for believing, “the truth is out there.”

Given this dark state of affairs, we would-be paradigm shifters have but one option – to unplug from the propaganda.

Precisely how you unplug is up to you. Some filter down the television that they watch. Some switch from mainstream programming to public broadcasting. Others purge television completely. The same process can (and probably should) apply to publication subscriptions, personal obligations, work environments, etc.

Suffice to say, wherever mis-information penetrates you life begin to devise actions to repeal it.

Skepticism is the shared quality in all these maneuvers. I’ll go so far as to say skepticism is required for propaganda detachment. Remember the premise of paradigm shifts – “a change in basic assumptions.” So don’t assume anything. Be skeptical.

But skepticism alone isn’t enough. You must…

Upgrade Your Motivation

Unplugging from propaganda grants you creative latitude and ample space with which to explore new ideas.

This is fertile soil for paradigm shifts of any variety. But the process of sowing and reaping your “purple cows” isn’t always (if ever) a picnic. In fact it’s hard, damn hard. Success isn’t guaranteed. And you’ll want to quit more times than are worth counting.

Those that fight through this blockade deploy a powerful weapon – what Daniel Pink (in his book, DRIVE) calls “Motivation 3.0”, or the “third drive.”

According to Pink (via his research), mankind’s motivation has evolved through three distinct phases…

Motivation 1.0 was rooted in the basic primal urge to survive. This “drive” worked well. Until it, alone, didn’t. As humans became more complex creatures forming more complex societies a behavioral paradigm shift was required. And it took the form of Motivation 2.0.

Motivation 2.0 was born of a new mental model that Pink summarizes as “humans are more than the sum of our biological urges.” This paradigm is predicated on, to quote Pink again, the belief that “the way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad.” This view has dominated human existence till this very day – in classrooms, boardrooms, factories, diplomacy, you name it.

Motivation 2.0 worked well for economic progress and technological advancement the last several centuries. Until, now, it doesn’t.

Human society is evolving again – big time. Knowledge work, which is to say linear-minded widget making and analytical overkill, is a dime-a-dozen. And most everything of need is readily abundant. So, for today (and in the future), the far more precious and game-changing attributes of value sprout from non-linear creative thinking. And this form of advanced creation requires a new means of motivation.

Enter Motivation 3.0.

This third drive upgrade is fueled by intrinsic motivators (as compared to Motivation 2.0’s extrinsic motivators). Such motivation stems not from external rewards like money but from the inherent joy of the creative process. This is personal fulfillment of the purest proof. And it’s catalyzed by three ingredients – autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

The bottom line is this – you’ll never harvest your paradigm shifts with Motivation 2.0. Plant as many awesome ideas as you like. In time, they’ll all wither to dust because they haven’t been nourished with the real juices of innovation – intrinsic rewards.

Alas, skepticism imbued with third drive motivation still falls short. To unleash your full creative potential, thus triggering those “tipping point” moments, you must…

Dare To Be Heretical

Heretics have an abused reputation. Popular compliance has always been the whip flogging those who think, speak, and live outside the lines. But as history teaches us, best epitomized by Oscar Wilde, “everything popular is wrong.”

Which brings us to this article’s little yet significant tipping point moment – to dare to be heretical.

You must take up this dare if you are to foster meaningful paradigm shifts. Lesser ambitions won’t do. As Seth Godin puts it, “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.”

So ask questions of authority. Live in defiance of apathy. Listen with empathy to the stories of those in need. Tell your own stories, and speak them loudly. Be persistent. Grit it out. Make change. Do all that and one day your mounting paradigm shifting potential will burst open!

And it is this eruption of genuine conviction that is seductive. No, not in a perverse and manipulative way. In a tempting and attractive way. Such is the art of seduction – to radiate an energy that is exciting, alluring, and inspiring.

Here are some remarkable heretics doing just that…

Heretics aren’t saints. Heretics are avengers. Fearlessness and perfection aren’t the goals. Courage and impact are.

Now you know. And as the G.I. Joe’s exclaim, “Knowing is half the battle.” But that begs one question…

…What new paradigm will you eat for breakfast? Share with us down below.

About the Author: Matt Gartland is an anti-hero avenging injustices of creativity. His legacy project is to chronicle 10,000 Random Acts of Greatness in 5 years. And he shares bold ideas for confidently living above low expectations on his Modern Audacity blog. Learn more about Matt’s audacious pursuits to spark change!

photo courtesy of Stephen Poff

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Tom Meitner January 18, 2011 at 10:29 am

That propaganda thing is huge. As I’ve watched less television and read less magazines, I’ve noticed how much other people craft their opinions based on what other people are telling them. It’s amazing (and pretty sad).

If there’s one thing I learned from George W. Bush’s book, “Decision Points”, it’s that there are so many moving parts and sides to every story, and the media vastly oversimplifies it all, regardless of politics or whatever else.


Matt Gartland January 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Hi Tom-

Propaganda is indeed a beast of an influence. Disconnecting from much of the noise is quite refreshing. Glad to see you’re doing the same :)

Hope you’re well!

Jonathan Manor January 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

Really great read Mead. I like how you mixed the literary work of Tim Ferris and Malcolm Gladwell. Oh, and I like Purple Cows.

I got to be honest, it’s a lot to take in at the same time.


Matt Gartland January 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Hi Jonathan-

Glad you liked the read. It was fun to weave together a few great minds of our time. Each is unique with sharp ideas on their own. But it’s fascinating to connect dots and discover shared polarities among them.

Best wishes!

Contrarian January 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I enjoyed your post, Jonathan. I appreciate you challenging us by nudging our minds forward.

I do find it interesting why so many people suffer from paradigm paralysis. Most folks exhibit an inability to see beyond their current models of thinking, so “shifts” in their paradigms come slowly if ever at all. As you eloquently point out, our mental frameworks are fixed, and only with the benefit of hindsight are we able to see just how foolishly inflexible we where.

An even more intriguing question: “Who’s paradigm are you borrowing”? Most people rent space in someone elses head. They blindly adopt the majority view, therefore you could say that they don’t even have a paradigm … they are using one that is on loan to them.

The question that keeps us growing, and seems to me the essence of the “illuminated mind”, is this: “What if everything you knew was wrong”?

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”. – Mark Twain

– Contrarian


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Thanks Contrarian (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite words!).

I love the “who’s paradigm are you borrowing” thought starter. That’s really insightful and very important I feel.

And the final two quotes are personal favorites too. Thanks for taking my 1500ish word article and distilling it so succinctly into it’s essence! :)


Dandy January 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Hi Matt,
Wonderful article. I had to read through it twice, because it’s so good. I love that you encourage us to question authority and think for ourselves. We all have a right to be autoritive over our own beliefs and ideas! Thanks Matt!


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

My pleasure Dandy! I’m so glad you enjoyed the read and appreciate the question as the thought-starters they were intended to be.


Jessilicious January 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Hi Jonathan and Matt!

Wow, this was a really great read! You had me at kangaroo buzzed on too much caffeine. ;)

I love love LOVE your last point about daring to be heretical. That so resonates with my own inner rebel. :) And I definitely want to be one who creates a movement, who is continually moving forward to more courage and impact.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I have to admit – I’m partial to the buzzed kangaroo too :)

The heretical point is indeed important. I can’t take all the credit for it; the one-and-only Seth Godin really struck that home with me. I highly recommend his works – you’d love them.


Kristina January 18, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Great post! I just have to add one terrific heretic:
As a professor in my MBA program, he inspires others to embrace their differences/flaws/rebellion/etc…to succeed. Don’t think of your differences as flaws, but use them to your advantage.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Hi Kristina-

I really connect with the “flaws as your advantages” modality too. Sounds like Dave is one audacious guy :)

Thanks for sharing!

Jasmine January 18, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Thanks for this very smart and true post. I love the book The Black Swan by Nassim Talleb and how he reveals the Economic Emperor’s aren’t wearing any clothes.

May we all spend more time accepting what we don’t know than pretending what we do! And may we use the unknown to create the impossible and remake the world anew as we wish it to be.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Beautiful Jasmine!! Thank you!

I love your last sentence…”may we use the unknown to create the impossible and make the world anew…” That is my epic inspiration for the day. Wow!

All the best!

Eric Schiller January 18, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Jonathan, I think some of your ideas are getting more sophisticated, however I think it’s important to note that the only type of person that you considered to be a ‘heretic’ are of the ‘fluffy self-help’ variety.

Isn’t it the people who are actually building products and real communities who are changing the paradigm?

All of these ideas are trickle down from decades continental philosophy, social psychology, occult studies, and cybernetic theory. Why get your information from pop-writers like Gladwell and Ferriss? That’s like getting relationship advice from Justin Bieber.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Hi Eric-

I’m the author of the article; not Jonathan. So I’m happy to field your question.

I agree that heretics come in many shapes and sizes. Listing all of them in a single article would have been a doozie and rather boring to read.

If I may, the people above truly have created real communities. Todd Henry is a prime example, his Accidental Creative podcasts (also a product I suppose) are listen to by a raving audience. He’s a serious thought-leader/heretic.

I also don’t dispute your statements about the true origins of many of these ideas. Gladwell and Ferriss certainly weren’t the first savants with these free-thinking notions. But they are the modern-day stewards of the message, and, I think, it is the message that matters most.

Plus, I wonder how many folks – given the free choice – would choose a classical textbook on continental philosophy over the latest Gladwell publication. You and I might. But I wager the majority will choose Gladwell. And again, I have no issue with that so long as the same message (that I so believe in) reaches the largest audience possible.

In all, wonderful questions and comments. Thanks so much for sharing!


Evan January 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm

One way to unplug is to be playful. It is often fun and so we can find we want to do it more (a beneficial circle instead of a vicious one).

Try reversing things – Billy Connolly once pointed out that if our noses were on upside down we’d need little umbrellas for them.

Try out imagining what difference a small tweak would make – what if cars going one way drove down the middle of streets and those going the other down the sides.

Try imagining the same ends via different means – getting fit without goals for instance: would this be possible?

For those who want a big challenge: Make a case for the opposite of what is obviously true and good to you.

Doing these kinds of things can free up our perception and help us unplug.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Hi Evan-

Play is paramount in my book! Thanks so much for sharing this pivotal concept.

Your questions are quite astute and connect, in my mind, with the notion of genuine imagination that we all have as children but that many loose thanks to adulthood.

I’m a big kid – and damn proud of it, largely for these very reasons.

Thanks again for hitting on one of my all-time favorite points!


Sandy a Creative Thinking guy January 19, 2011 at 7:58 am

Perhaps, as things begin approaching singularity we will start mapping the unconscious and find that we have real”down to earth working partners in other realms”


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I like the notion Sandy. I agree that the unconscious is man’s truly greatest and last frontier!


jonathanfigaro January 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I love the read man. Wonderful job. We all need to up the motivation. But it takes a burning desire inside to create this to occur…you can create a burning desire by…1. Working harder on your goals.. 2.feeling good right now and 3. just surrounding yourself with like-minded people.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Here here Jonathan!

Your #3 is especially key – surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Alliances these days are as important as ever, if not more so. Alone we are many but together we are one!


Katie Brandt January 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Great article, and it spurred some questions I need to ask myself: what do I believe? are my beliefs true or are they holding me back? do I have deep enough beliefs so they hold up to others questioning opinions? Thanks for the though provoker!


Matt Gartland January 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Hi Katie-

All very important, indeed essential, questions. Self reflection is a vital first step to discovering your own paradigm and how best you wish to operate within it.

I’m glad this article has helped fuel your creative drive! Let us know if you have other ideas/questions.


Arlen Pauler January 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Another really great post:
Having been a creative working toward a social paradigm shift through Self awareness, my Self and others, since 1972; I am a bit old school. However, it is always reassuring to come across younger colleagues busy with their own form of the same work. It gives me a sense of community even though we aren’t in collaboration with each other.
Both you and Jonathan awe me with your level of insight and precision of articulation. I say this only to acknowledge how much I appreciate your generation’s engagement in a work I hold so dear to my heart. I know the work I, others of my generation, do will be finished by others like your Self.
Have fun rewarding day, Elder Dude.


Matt Gartland January 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Hi Arlen, Elder Dude!

I so appreciate your sentiments. Thank you ever so kindly. Jonathan and I take great pride in our writing. It’s comments such as yours that renews our fire to do more!

Have a rewarding day yourself :)


Back To Wow January 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

First time reading the blog. Gotta be honest the picture alone is what caught my attention. This will become a site I keep coming back to. Thanks!


Note Taking Nerd #2 January 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

Hey Matt,

This is a bad ass eviction notice for the part of our mind that wants to wallow in the comfort of familiarity and security.

But only when we question how high is high do we expand our identity to expand the level at which we can offer true our true gifts to the world.

And for some, their true gift may be a balls to wall entrepreneurial journey of a Richard Branson… For others it could be the non-violence movement by Gandhi.

The commonality in both is the are rooted in love. And I think that when the energy you exude comes from that place, your small corner of the world will feel it and you’ll make an impact.

Thanks again Matt for serving this eviction notice to any unloving thoughts in my mind that want to keep me stagnant!


Matt Gartland January 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Epic comment! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

I love how you weave in both Richard and Gandhi; calling attention to the underpinning that unites them = love. It is indeed audacious to fully unleash and express all that you love. And that, I think, is the point.


Elder Dude January 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Hello Nerd #2
I like your point about the role Love plays.
All this self actualization, creativity and paradigm shifting is just so much stuff, even destructive stuff, except that it be driven my our care and concern for the Well-Being of our fellow Human Beings.
History is riddled with examples of paradigm shifts that didn’t work very well. “Works without Love” is not only dead, it is potentially deadly.
To summarize what I see in your point: Love Is Good Business; particular for the business of living a free and Authentic Life.
Thanks for pointing out this profound truth.

Marco Lee February 16, 2011 at 3:08 am

Reading the title, the first thought that I had in my mind was “hey, we’re thinking of the same thing.

The second thought that came to my mind was the term “Collective consciousness”.

I think we humans have a collective consciousness. We always go through a stage and the get past on to it.

The things is that there are people who pioneer these thoughts. They are also part of the whole but they are the ones who break out, or the ones who are the first who shift and become the leaders of new thought.

I guess that’s also your thought for this. For us to go past what the majority is thinking/doing. To pioneer a certain idea(idea virus lol), to do something extraordinary. :)


Matt Gartland February 16, 2011 at 11:17 am

Nice insights Marco. The collective consciousness idea, I think, plays into much of the “status quo” that seemingly traps many in limited ways of thought. It then is up to those pioneers (thought leaders) to push the envelope and trigger the evolution of the status quo.

As you say, “to go past what the majority is thinking/doing” is incredibly important and necessary for paradigm shifts to happen at all.


aurenekaplan October 25, 2011 at 11:21 am

I am so excited for life because I know that myriad paradigm shifts are around the corner that are going to fundamentally change our lives. The next 10 years will change everything.


Creative Katrina July 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm

There are so many things I love about this post — the topic, the perspective, the historical paralells;  my favorite being how you put collective consciousness ideas in terms that are easily relatable and relevant for our current technology driven culture. Cheers to digging in deep to know who you are and not being afraid to show that outwardly in all you do.


luise December 11, 2013 at 12:10 am

well done!
missing: Eckhart Tolle: The Power Of Now
(best paradigm change book for me. far ahead of its time)


Jessilicious January 21, 2011 at 5:57 am

I’ll definitely check out some of his books, Matt! Thanks for the recommendation. :)


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