Think Tank

Feb 27, 2020, 10:18
A Paradigm Shift Is Upon Us

A Paradigm Shift Is Upon Us

30 January 2019

Paradigm pioneers will redefine culinary education and be at the forefront of change and ride the tide of success.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

At a time when nearly every industry is faced with dramatic flips in how they do business – education has remained fairly stagnant. Sure, we have adopted a few new technologies, our classrooms are “smart,” and in culinary education we have upgraded our kitchens to accommodate new methods of cooking. But, fundamentally we deliver what we think is important in the same manner as we did decades ago. 

We live in an era where convenience is paramount, excellence is expected, value is supreme, and mass customization is commonplace. How have we really adapted to these changes? Major industries are scrambling to adapt to a generation that is less concerned with owning an automobile, has little interest in carrying cash, would rather experience than own, shops 24/7, finds spending more than an hour in a restaurant confusing, would rather hike or kayak than play golf, and knows that current knowledge leads to faster career growth than physical skills. How are we adapting to this?

The thought of working 60 plus hours a week in a kitchen does not compute for an up-and-coming careerist and time itself suddenly has more value than pay rates. All of this seems contrary to the foodservice industry that most of us grew up in. This reality is just as confusing to us as what we did seems to anyone under the age of 25.

A paradigm shift is defined as: “A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” With the radically new environment that is host to a new generation of workers and students, doesn’t it seem like a paradigm shift is in order?

In previous articles I have discussed paradigm shifts - The Most Important Question Is “Why?”, Don’t Let Your Program Become a Commodity, Preparing Students with a Thirst for Knowledge, New Directions in Education for 2019, and Think Tank Resolutions for 2019. I also try to continually point to the challenges before us. There are many, but in truth the most significant challenge is paradigm paralysis.

Paradigm paralysis refers to the refusal or inability to think or see outside or beyond the current framework or way of thinking or seeing or perceiving things. Paradigm paralysis is often used to indicate a general lack of cognitive flexibility and adaptability of thinking.”
*The Oxford Review

I hear the same concerns over decreasing enrollments, dwindling budgets, aging facilities, a faltering level of student commitment, fear of programs closing their doors, and expressed concerns from employers that students are ill-prepared to perform effectively on the job when I travel and talk with associates in culinary education. Yet, we continue to protect our curriculum, method of delivery, established content, old school traditions, and methods of assessment. Is this not the pure definition of paralysis?

To those programs who have embraced the opportunity to change – I applaud you, to others I pose this question: “At what point will you decide to think differently?”

Those program directors and faculty who see the challenges that we face as opportunities to re-define what culinary education can mean in the future are the paradigm pioneers that we should all be paying attention to.

We are aware of those companies and individuals who challenge the status quo and end up redefining the business they are in, but how often do we study their thinking process? I have been impressed with these companies and how they are redefining their industries: 

  • Capital One and their reinvention of the bank experience through the creation of Capital One Café
  • Amazon’s approach toward the grocery store with Amazon Go – a store without the cash out experience is a game changer
  • Master Class online courses with the pioneers of various industries is brilliant
  • The whirlwind research going on to demonstrate the viability of driverless cars must keep Detroit automakers up at night.

Each of these examples will prove to change an industry and serve to embrace the opportunity for change.

So, what can we do to turn lemons into lemonade? Where might we invest our time and effort to not just avoid the negative impact of a paradigm shift, but also ride the tide of success as a pioneer?

  • Avoid paralysis
    Don’t allow the challenges facing education stop you in your tracks. Be willing to use what is before you as a steppingstone and not a roadblock. Embrace the opportunity to change.
  • Study and learn from pioneers
    Don’t simply rely on other educational institutions or academic leaders for your inspiration. Watch other pioneers who seem to be changing or at least challenging their industries – study their thought process and methods. Think how these methods might be applied to education.
  • Keep an open mind
    During the ideation process the most important tool is an open mind. Refrain from throwing water on any idea, no matter how extreme. It is this open-minded process that leads discussions toward the next great idea.
  • The only thing to fear is fear itself
    Fear of change, fear of failure, and fear of the fight are the greatest roadblocks to the process of change. Every paradigm shift is flush with small failures. It is the process of overcoming these small failures that will eventually lead to tremendous success.
  • Ignore the pundits – Make them ambassadors
    There will be many individuals who will resist your ideas, and even work to ensure your failure. Ignore them as much as you can and align yourself with those who challenge the details. Embrace the process. Faculty, students, administrators, and even employers may push back – involve them to turn their resistance into understanding and advocacy.
  • Generate many ideas
    Your first ideas might turn out to be the best, but work on building a large portfolio to draw from. When you engage others’ ideas as part of the solution then they will become enamored with the process and active ambassadors for forward movement.
  • Never stop asking why
    Most importantly, as people stand their ground with numerous reasons why things need to be done a certain way – pose this question back to them: “Why?” You may find the most compelling reason for their resistance is tradition or comfort. When there is little substantiated reason for doing something a certain way then never be afraid to break that process if it leads to improvement.

Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..