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A paradigm is a way of thinking constrained by overarching theories, assumptions and ways of doing things. A simple example is cutting off the ends of the meatloaf before putting it in the pan, in accordance with an old family recipe. The husband asked his wife why she did it; she asked her mother, who asked the grandmother, who said that the great-grandmother didn't have a large enough pan.
A more poignant example is given by Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Successful People. He was riding in a subway car when a man and his children entered. They children ran around the car disturbing other passengers, snatching newspapers out of their hands, etc. With what he thought was great restraint, Covey asked the man if he would control his children better. The man said that he supposed he should but he didn't know what or how ... he had just come from the hospital where his wife had died an hour ago. Covey's attitude towards the man and his children changed instantly. This is a "paradigm shift"
- The term refers to the relatively routine work of scientists experimenting within a paradigm, slowly accumulating detail in accord with established broad theory, not actually challenging or attempting to test the underlying assumptions of that theory.
In the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn asserts that there are paradigms under which a scientific community operates. Someone working within the paradigm makes certain assumptions and fails to question those basic assumptions to the point that he or she is not even aware they exist. 
MSN's Encarta defines a paradigm shift as "a radical change in somebody's basic assumptions about or approach to something.". The term paradigm shift was introduced by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy wrote the following regarding Kuhn's concept of the paradigm shift:
"A mature science, according to Kuhn, experiences alternating phases of normal science and revolutions. In normal science the key theories, instruments, values and metaphysical assumptions that comprise the disciplinary matrix are kept fixed, permitting the cumulative generation of puzzle-solutions, whereas in a scientific revolution the disciplinary matrix undergoes revision, in order to permit the solution of the more serious anomalous puzzles that disturbed the preceding period of normal science." Kuhn had a theory about the history of science which denied the existence of scientific progress, and which denied the rationality of scientists switching from one theory to another. He popularized the term "paradigm shift" to describe such a switch.
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