We've all learned about the light bulb and how The Wizard of Menlo Park successfully harnessed electricity into the light bulb, but we rarely hear about Edison the businessman. Edison was also a pioneer of mass production and is credited with developing the first iteration of a contemporary research laboratory. We equate Edison with the light bulb, but never imagine him as a central figure of change, discovery, and innovation. But imagine what our lives would be like without the light bulb. What would our energy system look like? Would we have computers powered by kerosene?
In the case of Edison, the filament was the scientific breakthrough, and the light bulb was the technological innovation. From there, life forever changed. We take it for granted now, but for those who lived through the transition, the change itself was monumental. To some, the idea was simply unimaginable. There was only fire. When you only know fire, how can you explain such a drastic shift in the rules? At the time, those who saw or heard of the light bulb found that it simply defied logic.
Sometimes, the rules of order change so radically—and quickly—that they become enigmatic or even absurd. These radical changes are known as paradigm shifts. A paradigm is a set of rules that govern the way we think about the order of our lives. When something challenges our rules, we have trouble accepting the new order, or paradigm. This is a natural reaction. We become uncomfortable. Why? Because these changes force us to start fresh with a brand new set of rules. We have to break our paradigms and adopt a new set of rules from scratch.
I am a Starbucks junkie. I love my mocha coconut frappuccinos. However, one day I walked into my Starbucks and found that it was no longer on the menu. I didn't know what to do. When the barista asked me for my order, I fell into a stupor before walking out the door empty-handed. My brain simply couldn't process the idea that my favorite item on the menu was now gone. Not only was my favorite frappuccino flavor gone, but so was my sense of order. There was something wrong with Starbucks! How could they discontinue my mocha coconut frap? I'll revisit this later.
To demonstrate how we struggle with change, I will borrow a cognitive test from Thomas Kuhn. Study the picture of the playing cards and see if you notice what's amiss. Look carefully. You may have to look at it for a few minutes.
If you found that the colors are wrong, then you are correct—or at least partially correct. Yes, the colors are backwards. The hearts are black, and the spades are red. However, is this wrong? Are the cards useless? No. As long as all 52 cards are consistent, you can still play poker and blackjack. Therefore, the cards are not necessarily wrong—they simply are not what you expected. The colors of the cards challenge your paradigm.
After a few minutes deciphering the information in my brain, I walked back into Starbucks and ordered a caramel frappuccino. Now I'm just as hooked on those as I was to the other flavor. I just needed a little bit of time to bring a sense of order to the chaos wriggling around in my head.
Change happens. You cannot stop it. Think about some recent changes that caused chaos in your sense of order. How did you feel when Facebook launched the infamous timeline? Were you eager to learn it, or were you upset by the sudden change? Did you adopt it or simply leave Facebook behind?
Being a successful student means that you are capable of dealing with change. The same holds true after you graduate. Always remember that what works today might not work tomorrow, and by holding on too tight to tradition, you can fall behind.
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