Paradigm paralysis : Definition and explanation of the term

Paradigm paralysis


Paradigm paralysis refers to the refusal or inability to think or see outside or beyond the current framework or way of thinking or seeing or perceiving things. Paradigm paralysis is often used to indicate a general lack of cognitive flexibility and adaptability of thinking.

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Paradigm paralysis is usually a block to creativity, innovation and change (Gelatt,  1993), and has been shown to lead to breaches in ethical behaviour in business and organisational contexts (Robinson-Easley & Anne, 2017) and the inability to form productive relationships and strategic alliances (Merrifield, 1992) . It is also associated with a general lack of flexibility and resilience (Maag 1999).

Paradigm paralysis has been shown to be both situational and linked to individual and group (cultural)  characteristics (Everett, 2012) in that people and groups can fall into paradigm paralysis whilst thinking about a particular issue or as a result of the culture they are part of, or as a general reaction to uncertainty or ambiguity (Wilkinson 2006).

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Everett, J. E. (2012). Paradigm lost. Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, 15, 35-48.

Gelatt, H. B. “Future sense: Creating the future.” The Futurist 27.5 (1993): 9.

Maag, J. W. (1999). Why they say no: Foundational precises and techniques for managing resistance. Focus on Exceptional Children, 32(1), 1.

Merrifield, D. Bruce. “Global strategic alliances among firms.” International Journal of Technology Management 7.1-3 (1992): 77-83.

Robinson-Easley, Christopher Anne. “Through the Lens of Business Ethics.” Leadership for Global Systemic Change. Springer International Publishing, 2017. 41-51.

Wilkinson, D. (2006). The ambiguity advantage: What great leaders are great at. Springer.


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