Patterns by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

Do you notice patterns? … Some people seem to naturally “see” patterns around them. In the grass. In the sidewalk. In furniture. In the warp & weave of fabric. In seashells. In architectural design. In formally landscaped gardens. … Patterns occur all around us. Both in nature and by man’s hand.

Many of the patterns you see are there by creative design or even necessity. The patterns you notice in much of the architecture and art of the Middle East are there by design. It is intentional. By contrast the patterns of stonework needed to create ancient Roman arches exist because of engineering necessity. These patterns may be beautiful to observe, but they serve a functional purpose as well.

I don’t know about you, but I love patterns and see them all around me. They “stand out.” The same is true with mathematical patterns. I remember taking numerous tests over the years that required one to look at a string of numbers and then write the pattern (the equation). Seeing these numeric equations came easily to me as well. Without really understanding “why”, I could almost always write the equation for the pattern. Other “tests” or “assessments” required me to observe a set of data and determine whether or not there was a pattern present. Again, I exceled at these assessments. They were fun. A game. … Some of you “understand”. Some of you think I’m crazy. It’s okay. I probably am.

As I began playing sports and observing people (teammates, coaches, parents, referees), I started noticing patterns too. Certain “things” almost always triggered the same reaction with a given group of people. Consistently. As I began working, the same patterns appeared. Regardless of culture, industry, gender, ethnicity, etc., people (and organizations made up of people) demonstrate patterns. I think of them as “behavioral patterns.”

What do I mean by a behavioral pattern? Let me give a couple examples. A U.S. project manager (leading a cross functional team) schedules a meeting for late Friday afternoon to get updates and review progress. This is a routine weekly update. The team includes a couple senior managers. The project manager is surprised that enthusiastic participation during the meeting is almost non-existent and attendance is poor. In fact, both senior managers are absent during this 4-5pm meeting. … This is a pattern. It’s like a rule of thumb. Few people like a late Friday afternoon meeting and many senior managers (after working late 3-4 nights already during the week) leave work early on Friday. The smart project manager would schedule the meeting for a different time slot and avoid late Friday afternoon. … An aside: if there is no other time slot available, there are some things the project manager could do to mitigate (or constrain) the pattern.

Another pattern? The overly ambitious smart loud-mouth who keeps pushing himself and his personal agenda to the point where it backfires. Yes, he may be successful for a while (a year or two even) but eventually his self-centeredness will cause his success to grind to a halt. His house of cards will collapse. He may have started quickly, but the fall is fast as well.

These are only two of thousands of examples. The key is to be aware of them and use them to help the organization.

The world-class leader sees the patterns and make use of them. The world-class leader doesn’t have to learn the same lesson repeatedly. He sees the pattern and recognizes it going forward. He keeps others from getting caught in negative patterns. He helps others get in positive patterns.

Seeing patterns requires understanding people. It requires understanding that while people are different, they have natural tendencies and individual patterns of behavior. … There is a huge industry surrounding “types” (how people interact with the world around them). There are many different assessments and most can be helpful to understanding patterns in you and in others.

Understanding patterns enables you to more quickly find the solution (personal and organizational). Understanding patterns results in more efficient use of resources. Understanding patterns allows you to apply solutions from other industries and fields of study because patterns, at their root level, are not tied to a given industry or field of study.

While taking the above picture in my backyard, I realized that it would be hard to overestimate the impact pattern recognition has had on my life. I’ve been accused of having a photographic memory, I don’t. But I am a keen observer of patterns and work hard to use them for my benefit and those around me. It’s one reason I can get a lot accomplished in a short period of time. I’m efficient. I’m a “pattern guru” of sorts.

How about you? Do you recognize patterns? Are you working to improve your pattern-recognition skills?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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