There is no single path or strategy for us to follow in building support for a new paradigm. Indeed, the very nature of wicked problems and complexity theory suggest that any attempt to define one is doomed to fail.

That said, one critical place to start is with the norms and values we use in approaching wicked problems, which is the way social scientists understand a country’s or other organization’s culture. Political scientists, for example, do not include what we think about President Obama or the protests following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO. Rather, when they write about political culture, they refer, instead, to broader attitudes about authority or race in general.

In that sense, a first step-f not the first step–in producing a paradigm shift in the way we govern ourselves and deal with wicked problems is to help bring about a cultural shift toward the values discussed on the previous page which can only be achieved through a process of education in the broadest sense of that term. By that, we don’t simply mean what happens in classrooms. Instead, “education” in this sense can happen any place where a dialogue occurs. As the pollster Daniel Yankelovich defined that term, “a dialogue is a discussion that is so intense that it leaves no party unchanged.” Dialogues may or may not focus on the new paradigm, per se. In fact, dialogues take place whenever people engage in serious discussions and do so with open minds. Whatever the form they take, dialogues turn into events in which the participants end up questioning their core values and assumptions and begin adopting new ones, including those consistent with the new paradigm. Then, they have to try out those new beliefs and learn how they work (and don’t as the case may be) in their personal, professional, and political lives.

Luckily, we know a fair amount about how innovative ideas spread through a population. Beginning in the 1950s, Everett Rogers and others who were inspired by his research demonstrated that the adoption of new and innovative ideas follows a surprisingly regular pattern. At first, only a handful of early adopters
“buy” it. Support for the new idea really begins to take off if–and only if–respected community members and other opinion leaders–support and popularize it. Once an innovation has the support of about 5% of the population, it is said to be embedded and is unlikely to disappear. Once it reaches about 20% of the population or the early majority depicted in blue, Rogers claimed it was unstoppable because, at that point, what he calls the late majority is likely to go along producing something like the yellow curve in which the idea achieves overwhelming support. No new idea or paradigm is ever universally accepted. There are always what Rogers unfortunately called “laggards” who still think the world is flat or blacks and whites should not be treated equally. However, once an idea has made it that far, it becomes the dominant one that just about everyone uses.

None of the research inspired by the writings of Rogers and other experts on innovation undercuts the most important things we know about paradigm shifts.

They never happen quickly or easily. They also never happen in one fell swoop. Instead, they build slowly over time. In fact, research in the history of science suggests that even the most active participants sin a paradigm shift may not be aware that they are in the midst of doing so until it is over and they can look back at how revolutionary their work has been.