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20 Examples of a Paradigm Shift

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A paradigm shift is an advancement in knowledge that has large scale impact. This is also a buzzword that is commonly overused as an exaggeration such that the term feels cliche. Nevertheless, it captures an important concept -- that an idea can cause a science, society or industry to suddenly shift such that old ways of thinking and doing things become irrelevant. The following are common examples of a paradigm shift.

Theory of Forms

A theory introduced by Plato in the 4th century BC that became a basis for mathematics and science. The theory of forms suggests that the world is based on immutable, timeless and changeless entities known as forms that can be used to describe and predict all things.


The magnetic compass for navigation was invented in China in the 11th century. This was adopted by Europeans as a steering method around 1410 leading to the Age of Discovery in the Renaissance period. This in turn led to the Age of Imperialism.

Gunpowder Revolution

Gunpowder was invented in China as early as the 9th century. This didn't spark a military revolution in Europe until 1446 when the Ottoman Empire produced a large cannon known as the Dardanelles Gun with rounds weighing over 1,000 kilograms. This could knock down castle walls with a single shot and instantly made the thousands of castles that had been built in Europe militarily vulnerable.


The use of machines in production that sparked the First Industrial Revolution around 1760.

Internal Combustion Engine

A design for a liquid fuel burning engine was developed as early as the 1760s that would later become the basis for the automobile that would transform societies, cities and culture on a global basis.

Darwin's Theory of Evolution

The 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin quickly became a foundation of science that had vast impact on the way that people view themselves and nature.

Interchangeable Parts

The standardization of parts in machines such that they can be easily replaced. Part of the Second Industrial Revolution that began around 1870.

Division of Labor

The division of organizations and work processes into highly specialized roles such as a production line. Associated with the Second Industrial Revolution.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity

Einstein's theories of special and general relativity were largely accepted by science in the 1920s overturning Newtonian physics that had been established for around 200 years.

Quantum Mechanics

A fundamental theory of physics that describes nature at small scale such as atoms and subatomic particles. This mostly emerged in the 1920s and makes it clear that small things don't follow the same laws as large things. Quantum mechanics also revealed that at a small scale, the world is uncertain and probabilistic. This deflated the dominant 19th century view of the universe as a deterministic machine that could be predicted with certainty given enough information.

Nuclear Weapons

The development of the first nuclear weapons by the United States in 1945 and subsequent decision to drop these bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This changed the nature of war and lead to the Cold War based on a doctrine of mutually assured destruction.

Digital Computers

The development and advancement of digital computers before and during WWII. This is the basis for the digital revolution.

Personal Computers

The introduction of small computers such as Simon to the consumer market around 1950. This eventually lead to the consumerization of technology.

Global Internet

The rise of the global internet in the mid 1990s whereby large numbers of computers were connected to a shared network.

Long Tail

The global internet allowed everyone to participate in processes that were previously dominated by professionals. This changed society, communications, politics and business models.

Mobile Internet

The introduction of internet connectivity on mobile devices beginning with the role out of 2G in the late 1990s.

Cloud Computing

The structuring of computing as a utility service, known as cloud computing, has transformed information technology and economies.

Internet of Things

Internet of things is the process of embedding computers in everyday things and connecting them to the internet.

Artificial Intelligence

The development of self-learning and self-improving services and machines.


Robotics based on digital computing emerged in the 1950s but this is arguably still in its nascent stage.


Paradigm shift describes dramatic change caused by new knowledge or capabilities.


One of the reasons that the term paradigm shift sounds cliche is that it is often used to describe things as fundamental changes to science, society or industry that are in fact ordinary ideas or changes with minimal impact. The examples above indicate the large scale of an actual paradigm shift.
Each advancement in knowledge and technology tends to make the next advancement faster resulting in accelerating change.
Overview: Paradigm Shift
An advancement in knowledge that has large scale impact for human civilization.
Attributed To
Thomas Kuhn
Related Concepts
Next: Outside Context Problem
More about change:
Accelerating Change
Business Change
Change Agent
Change Control
Change Examples
Change Fatigue
Change Impact
Change Principles
Discontinuous Change
Impact Analysis
Industrial Revolution
Paradigm Shift
Status Quo
Temporary Change
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Kreutz, Barbara M. "Mediterranean contributions to the medieval mariner's compass." Technology and Culture 14.3 (1973): 367-383.


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