Potassium (K-) channels catalyze K+ ion permeation across cellular membranes while simultaneously discriminating their permeation over Na+ ions by more than a factor of a thousand. Structural studies show bare K+ ions occupying the narrowest channel regions in a state of high coordination by all 8 surrounding oxygen ligands from the channel walls. As in most channels, the driving force for selectivity occurs when one ion is preferentially stabilized or destabilized by the channel compared to water. In the common view of mechanism, made vivid by textbook graphics, the driving force for selectivity in K- channels arises by a fit, whereby the channel induces K+ ions to leave water by offering an environment like water for K+, in terms of both energy and local structure. The implication that knowledge of local ion coordination in a liquid environment translates to design parameters in a protein ion channel, producing similar energetic stabilities, has gone unchallenged, presumably due in part to lack of consensus regarding ion coordination structures in liquid water. Growing evidence that smaller numbers and different arrangements of ligands coordinate K+ ions in liquid water, however, raises new questions regarding mechanism: how and why should ion coordination preferences change, and how does that alter the current notions of ion selectivity? Our studies lead to a new channelcentric paradigm for the mechanism of K+ ion channel selectivity. Because the channel environment is not liquid-like, the channel necessarily induces local structural changes in ion coordination preferences that enable structural and energetic differentiation between ions.