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February 16, 2013 / glennlim thots

The Art of Paradigm-Shifting


The above slide is part of my lecture module on Paradigm Shifts / Mental Models. All successful change begins with a (new) Mental Model…

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”


The Swiss watch industry enjoyed a well-protected monopoly for centuries. No one could touch their expertise, craftsmanship & quality. They took so much pride in their market-domination that they were skeptical of new technology, in particular the Quartz mechanism in the 1960s/70s. The Quartz was a total shift from conventional watch-making, and the Swiss were stubbornly hesitant to embrace it, thinking it unnecessary to explore the technology. To its detriment, Japan took advantage of this complacency and further developed the emerging Quartz technology.

ImageThis is the Seiko Astron, the world’s first Quartz wristwatch, AKA the Swiss watch industry killer! This watch, along with a string of other models, were relentlessly marketed out of Japan, quickly establishing her as the new watch-making leader, and completely upsetting the Swiss watch industry both economically & psychologically. It was so bad that the Swiss termed that era as the Quartz Crisis. As a result of the economic turmoil that ensued, many once profitable and famous Swiss watch houses became insolvent & disappeared.


By 1983, the crisis reached a critical point. The Swiss watch industry, which had 1,600 watchmakers in 1970, had now declined to 600. A research consortium, the Swiss ASUAG group, was formed to save the industry and the result was launched in March 1983 – the SWATCH (or the Swiss-Watch).

ImageThe Swatch was sealed in a plastic case with no possibility of repair and was made by industrial robots. It also had a low number of moving parts (51) compared to about 91 for mechanical watches. Furthermore, production was automated, which resulted in a higher profitability. It quickly became a success, in part due to its innovative return to basics, fuss-free design – practical, mass produced, cheap. All of these attributes seemed to be carefully thought out to ‘counter’ the Quartz model. Unlike two decades ago, the Swiss were now brave enough to move into new paradigms by breaking away from tradition & creating new ones. This was their breakthrough moment, this was their revival…

The Swatch was instrumental in reviving the Swiss watch industry giving a new bill of health to all brands concerned and gave rise to what would become the SWATCH GROUP – the largest watch manufacturer in the world, owning a stable of renowned brands like Longines, Rado, Omega, Tissot, Certina etc.


The above story always reminds me to never be complacent & rest on my laurels, especially after initial success. It also reminds me of the importance of not getting stuck in a certain way or formula of doing things. It reminds me that we will never have completely ‘arrived’ at anything we do, & that we need to keep re-inventing ourselves. It reminds me to be teachable & humble always, so I can learn new things…

But probably the most important lesson of all is gleaned from the Swiss – When I get beaten once, I make sure I learn my lesson well, and bounce back up stronger.

Today, let’s ask ourselves what life paradigms have we gotten stuck in, and how we can  shift them?…Glenn Lim


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  1. zleepyhead / May 8 2014 2:38 pm

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