A Relational Paradigm...Patterns for Change


         “A Relational Paradigm.....Patterns for Change” contains premises, theory, and an emergent technology for an alternative paradigm, a different world view. The relational paradigm is not so much an attempt to formulate a new system or new world order as it is an attempt to provide the basis for a better understanding of our existing system.
          I began conscious work on the new paradigm in 1978, after working at Midwest Research Institute on a project concerning technology assessment. I realized that I not only did not know the answers, I also did not know the questions. I completed much of the work on the axioms or two-fold operators of the relational paradigm in December 1984. The materials on organizational and computer theory, and on an emergent computer technology, were completed in 1986.

          For the past 7 years I have been observing and trying to understand the “patterns for change.” During this time, I have gained confidence in the premises of the relational paradigm and have found no areas in which these premises or axioms cannot be applied. Whether economics, politics, science, or religion, I have been able to apply the relational axioms to the issues of our day.

          However, my attempts to actually implement the concepts of the relational paradigm have not met with total success. Although portions of the organizational and computer concepts have been tested and implemented, no working model of the relational paradigm is yet in place. The physical implementation is not complete.

          The theories or mental maps of the relational paradigm are incomplete as well. I believe that the theories and maps in this document are accurate, but I have not formulated an integrated map of the relational paradigm. In my attempts at implementation I have yet to complete the kernel (e.g., the conceptual building blocks) for the application of the relational paradigm to computers.

          I believe that the completion of the mental map and implementation of the physical model is a concurrent event. The implementation of any physical manifestation of a new paradigm needs sound theories for its control. Likewise the completion of a sound theory needs physical examples for its verification.

          Timing is a key factor in processes of change. The right concept at the wrong time does not result in effective change. If the system is not ready, then talk of a new paradigm can be called heresy and any attempt at implementation is simply not appropriate.

          In 1984 the system was not ready for the implementation of a major paradigm shift. In 1993 everything is in a state of flux, the geopolitical landscape has radically altered, politicians have been elected on platforms of change, our economic systems are out of balance, and talk of new paradigms is commonplace.

          Although the exact timing for the emergence of a new paradigm is always a subject of speculation, we know the shift is near when our existing systems are no longer in control. Although our existing systems are still functioning, all of them have significant problems that no one knows how to fix. The old systems are not “bad” but are simply subject to the laws governing all the systems we have constructed: systems are born, grow to maturity, prosper, grow old, and die.

          Everyone knows that the system is out of control, but no one yet wants to acknowledge that it cannot be repaired, healed, and made “good as new.” Most advocates of change talk about fixing the system rather than about changing basic premises. We know that the system is going to die, but fear, respect, and compassion keep us from directly contributing to its early demise.

          We are both a part of and separate from the system. The death of the existing system is in a real sense a death of part of us. At the same time, the system is a mental construct whose passing will require us to simply change our minds.

          To change our minds and implement the emergent will be both a continuous and discontinuous event. In our culture, denying the discontinuous is common. We are more comfortable with a continuous evolution, a step-by-step process for which we can plan. The discontinuous is predictably unpredictable. We seek but fear the discontinuous.

          The transformation we are currently experiencing is of major significance. This transformation is more extensive than the change we experienced in going from an agricultural to an industrial age, or from an industrial to an information age. I believe it to be a cumulative change from the hunting, agriculture, industrial, and information ages to an emergent age.

          In the early 1980s while reading Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave, I was impressed to find that few of the concepts I was working with in the relational paradigm were included in his discussion of the third wave transformation from the industrial to the information age. Given the accelerated rate of change from age to age, I began to question the duration of the age of information. In an attempt to answer this question, I drew the following graph showing a projection of these ages. The explanations below may help in understanding this graph.

          - The time axis shows a logarithmic or exponential change rather than a linear change. The graph is formally called semi-logarithmic in that time is logarithmic and space is linear. The logarithmic time axis converts an exponential change into a straight line or linear change. It changes acceleration into velocity.

          - The horizontal axis represents the starting point of each age. The hunting age or the estimated origin of Homo Sapiens began 300,000 years ago; the agriculture age began 9,000 years ago, and the industrial age 250 years ago. The source for the first three points on the graph is the Encyclopedia Britannica. The last five points are projections.

          - The graph shows a discontinuity (i.e., the projection is convergent). Regardless of how far out the projected line is extended, it will never go beyond a certain point in time.


          Each of the four economic ages has been overlapping rather than sequential in time. We still hunt, we still farm, we still manufacture things, and we still use information. The following illustration represents this overlap. The waves are harmonic in that each age converges at the same point—the transition to the emergent age.

          The four ages each had a different basic purpose. The purpose of the hunting age was to plan for and control survival. When survival was assured, the agricultural age emerged with a new purpose—to plan for and control food. In turn, the purpose of the industrial age was the manufacture of things and the information age was to plan for and control systems.

          The problems we are currently experiencing with loss of control of existing systems stem from our inability to handle abundance. We have mastered the production of food, clothing, and shelter. Ironically, the abundance of people, food, things, and information is threatening our success in each of the economic ages. Abundance is threatening our very survival on planet earth.

          From the perspective of the hunting age, the current root problem is not survival of the human species but rather overpopulation. The only threat to human survival is that of failing to make an effective transition to the emergent age.

          The problem is not a scarcity of food in the world but rather an abundance. Our agricultural base is facing severe financial crises because of overproduction. We actually pay farmers not to grow crops. The starvation of selected people in the world stems not from the lack of food, but rather from our inability to understand and control our political, economic, and religious systems.

          Likewise the problem of the industrial age is overproduction. To keep our industrial system functioning we must follow a path of planned obsolescence, whether by style change or faulty construction, and of artificial stimulation of demand through advertisement.

          In the information age we have an abundance of data and information but have lost control of our systems. Laws and regulations change so rapidly that more and more of our time is spent complying with these mental models rather than producing goods or services. We upgrade our computers and buy the latest software, only to find that actual work performance goes down.

          I believe that the transformation the world is currently experiencing is the cumulative change of the hunting, agriculture, industrial, and information ages to an emergent age. Not only is the transformation a harmonic convergence of the previous ages over time, but also a fundamental structural change in the pillars of our existing system. From the patterns of the relational paradigm, I would characterize the four pillars of our system or world view as follows:


Science/Technology                     •                  Economics/Business


          The dot at the center is the fifth business or change agent which can be represented by education.

          The basic axioms, premises, and articles of faith of each of these pillars will be affected. (I have applied the axioms of the relational paradigm to each of these areas; however, this document is mostly about the changes as applied to science/technology and economics/business.) A structural change or paradigm shift is different from changes that “fix” the system. With a paradigm shift the old system is replaced rather than simply maintained.

          An example of the difference between maintenance and replacement can be made in the area of economics. Presidential candidate Ross Perot did an effective job of articulating the problems of the existing economic system. When pressed to specify how to correct these problems, his response was that he would gather together experts, lift the hood, and repair the engine. He wanted to fix the existing economic system.

          Perot described the symptoms of our economic problems, but he did not identify the root cause as one of abundance. To acknowledge and deal with a root cause, we have to change some of the basic premises on which the system is built.

          One basic premise of our economic system that will change is the one stating that things of value diminish with use. Supply, demand, and prices are based on this premise. In the information age, however, the principle commodity is information that clearly increases with use. To sell information in our existing economic system, we are forced into unnatural acts (i.e., patents, copyrights, secrecy, and obfuscation).

          I believe that information is naturally part of a “gift” economy. It isn’t free, but the hooks are on the other end. The gift must always move; you must pass the information to someone else. Historically the major information systems in this country—libraries, public education, and the agriculture extension service—are based on this premise. The major productivity advantage of American agriculture can be partially attributed to the availability of information. The extension service rapidly disseminates all agricultural advances. The success of Japanese industry can be attributed to the same factor. America set up the Japanese economic model after W.W.II so that any information the military used would be openly available to industry. The Japanese share industrial information; the Americans share agricultural information. These gift-based information systems currently exist; however, their operations are not supported by the premises of the free market or capitalistic economic system.

          To acknowledge root problems and change basic premises of a paradigm is a different process than that required for maintaining or fixing the system. A paradigm shift is a discontinuous event; maintenance is a continuous process. In religious terms, rituals are used to preserve and maintain the existing system; rites of passage are used to assist in discontinuous transformations.

          Different types of people are involved in the two processes. Conventional leaders do not handle discontinuous transformations. Not only are the leaders the winners at the old game with the most to lose, but a major function of the leader is to preserve the system. President Clinton took an oath of office to preserve and protect the system. He simply cannot be the agent for transformation. He can try to fix the existing system, but by his sworn oath he cannot advocate a shift in paradigm. The paradigm shifter comes from the outside. The prophet/king alliance of the Old Testament is an example of the different roles. The prophet is from the fringe and initiates the discontinuous; the king is of the system and handles its preservation.

          After I published and disseminated the relational axioms in 1984, one of the responses I received asked whether a physical example existed. Drawing on my background in computer systems and on the practical experience of a colleague, Karl Elliott, I was ready by late 1985 to begin implementation of the computer technology outlined in this document. I believe that the implementation of this technology could result in a 100 to 1 productivity improvement in how we handle information.

          At the time I thought this magnitude of productivity improvement would make the concept easy to sell. Numerous attempts to obtain funding resulted in a consistent pattern of response that I’ve characterized as skepticism, interest, realization, and retreat. Initially people did not believe that the concepts or claims were real, but with some explanation they would become interested and often excited about the project’s potential. At some point in time they would experience a click or realization, and then they would simply disappear.

          It took time before I came to some understanding of what was happening. In this country, more than 50% of the people make their living in the information economy. We are currently a nation of clerks. A 100 to 1 jump in efficiency in how we handle information is not simply an improvement in productivity; it is a change in systems.

          I now think of “the system” as a living entity. To anthropomorphize the system helps explain the patterns for change. As with any living entity, the primary purpose of the system is survival. The introduction of a technology that produces a 100 to 1 improvement in productivity can be compared to the introduction of a cancer cell in a living organism. The cancerous cell is too efficient and its uncontained growth results in the system’s death. The system marshals many and varied forms of defense to prevent the cancerous cell from being made real. The major defense of the system is simply to remove support. Of the several thousand people I have in some way approached with the relational paradigm, the dominant response has been “no response.” No one has said that the premises are wrong or that the logic is flawed; they simply have not responded. The most forthcoming said, “Sorry, but I cannot respond.”

          In addition to the instinct for survival, another characteristic of a living system is its inevitable death. The principle way for a system to have some type of immortality in physical reality is to pass on its lineage through progeny. Once its own survival is assured, a secondary purpose of living systems is the production of offspring. Abnormal growth of a cell may not be cancer but rather the growth of a child.

          As a messenger of change, my attempts at introducing a new paradigm have been rather clumsy. The aborted attempts were made not from malice but from naivete. The purpose of this prologue is to respectively request permission to introduce and make real the relational paradigm. A physical model and a mental map of a new paradigm cannot be made real without the consent and cooperation of the existing system.

          In requesting permission, I could attempt to address the system directly; however, the system now in place denies that it exists as a living entity. Historically, a request such as mine would be directed to a council of elders. However, I have yet to find where or even if such a council exists. My guess is that the elders are present but like the role of the messenger, their function and location are not a conscious part of the system. Perhaps the role of elder is simply filled by those who assume the role.

          In addition to requesting permission I am looking for participants. I have worked a long time to be in a position to implement the relational paradigm and I take responsibility for my work. However, I believe that others’ contributions are necessary for an effective transformation.

          I cannot say with certainty that the relational paradigm is the answer; however, I have not seen any other proposal that goes from clearly stated premises to theories and a partially implemented technology.

          Creation of the new always involves uncertainty. The nature of discontinuous transformations demands a journey through the wilderness. I do believe that the implementation of the relational paradigm has a chance for success. Given the condition of the existing system, I request permission to try.

          The first section of this document is a description of the axioms and patterns of the relational paradigm, the second section is an application of the relational paradigm to organizations, and the third section contains theories and an emergent technology of the relational paradigm applied to computers.

          Many people have contributed to my understanding of the relational paradigm. Of particular significance are my wife Janalie, my son Aaron, and my daughter Meagan. They have provided support and an anchor that has allowed me to continue.
If you are interested in offering support or participation, please contact me.

         Dan M. Epp
         Box 553, 106 Park Lane
         Tribune, Kansas 67879
         Phone 620-376-4081
         Fax 620-376-2433






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