Paradigm

Paradigm is not a technical word per se, but it is a word that has been attached to a lot of technical concepts and, in particular, to anything to do with the Internet. To start with, let's look at what a paradigm actually is.

A paradigm is basically a way of doing or looking at things: check out any dictionary, such as this online entry here, and that's basically what it comes down to. You probably don't realise it, but you have many paradigms in your life already.

One of my many paradigms is that when the glass begins to look empty, I get it refilled. Fulfilling this paradigm has allowed me to look at the world from a variety of different angles and, at the end of the evening, different taxicabs.

Paradigm is, in some degrees, synonymous with other great words like groupthink or even mindset and has had, for many years, a regular guest spot on buzzword bingo cards throughout the English-speaking world.

To clarify, it is one of the most over used and misunderstood words ever to have the misfortune of becoming part of management speak. It was ideally suited to the dotcom boom when every business model would offer a new paradigm, paradigm shift, or combination of words involving paradigm, to make the company vision it was describing sound smart and savvy to bankers and management consultants.

Services offered over the Web wouldn't just be selling you such and such, but would be a whole new paradigm of airline ticket purchasing or theatre seat booking. As such, paradigm, from humble beginnings, made its way into a thousand IPO prospectuses and countless business meetings in the late 90's.

As with all fads, we eventually became tired of hearing about paradigms. I remember once, at a meeting with a software vendor that shall remain nameless, being warned that if a new paradigm was so much as hinted at in the proposal I was drafting, I might as well forget about writing it at all.

Paradigm remains a useful word, and shouldn't be blamed for its own inclusion in the lexicons of management consultants. As Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, has said: paradigm "is a word too often used by those who would like to have a new idea but cannot think of one".