Recognizing Patterns

Gerwig 2014-09-24

Some of you have a great ability to see patterns. You see patterns in events around you at work, home and play. You see patterns in information, in decisions and in behaviors. Sometimes this ability can be extremely beneficial and at other times it can be very frustrating. Right?

If you have the ability to see patterns, you can often “predict” outcomes and behaviors with a high degree of certainty. You may not be able to do so perfectly, but if you’re good at seeing patterns, you can often see the outcome before others. Some of your friends, family and acquaintances may think you’re intuitive or perhaps even a bit clairvoyant. You kinda laugh it off. But in reality, you’re there’s an element of truth in what they say.

On the positive side, those of you who can see patterns in life, often make decisions more quickly. And you are more efficient than others because you don’t have to get all the way to the end of an analysis before you know the answer. You don’t have to read the entire paper to know where it’s headed and the conclusions. You don’t have to wade through all the data in order to make an appropriate decision. You recognize a pattern at play and you jump ahead. In fact, it’s almost like seeing ahead, to a degree.

I remember many quantitative courses during my academic studies where I would get to a certain point in the problem-solving process and I’d recognize a pattern. Immediately, I knew the answer. I could “see ahead” so to speak. Sometimes numbers would jump off the page. Other times the problems themselves were a pattern by the way they were arranged on the exam as strange as that may sound to some of you.

Yes, I see patterns in life. I see them in data, problems, photographs, behaviors, etc. And for the most part, I benefit from being a “pattern-recognizer.” It helps me reach decisions, improve personal productivity and cover a lot of ground quickly. Of course, there is risk in over-using patterns as well. There is a risk/reward trade-off (itself a type of pattern if keenly observed) that must be understood if the “pattern-recognizer” wants to avoid getting burned.

You see, though using patterns has a return reward, there’s also a risk. You can over-use patterns. You can jump to the wrong conclusion. You can overlook a key piece of data that changes the pattern. You can offend others because you can appear aloof, disinterested or impatient. You can make the wrong decision because you weren’t thorough and disciplined enough to dig into all the details before reaching your conclusion, not because you’re lazy, but because you already “knew” the answer.

Many of you reading this week’s article may not see patterns around you and, if so, that’s ok. Undoubtedly, you have your own unique set of skills and talents. But perhaps you recognize some of your colleagues, friends or family see patterns that you don’t see. If you know and trust someone who sees the patterns in life, ask for their input. Seek their counsel.

If you have the luxury of time, reading the entire white paper is likely to be beneficial. If there’s no imminent danger, a thorough analysis is generally appropriate. But there are situations when time is limited or constrained in a manner that requires a quick decision, an intuitive/gut decision, a confident decision based on the data you have. In moment like these, the use of patterns is beneficial. If you don’t see patterns, it is especially beneficial to have a trusted friend, advisor or family member who can lend you a hand.

How about you? Do you see in patterns? If not, do you have a close friend who does? What are the benefits and dangers of making decisions based on patterns? Have you ever benefited by using patterns to make a decision? Or been burned by doing so?

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

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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