Pattern Recognition

Pattern recognition is something most of us take for granted because it is part of our everyday lives and plays a significant role in how we make sense of things in the world. As humans, our brains are hardwired for pattern recognition because it is how we learn and solve problems. For example, if I give you the following numbers: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12, and I ask for the number that follows in that sequence, you will most likely say 14. The immediate pattern you might recognize is that each number in the series is increased by 2. However, what happens when patterns exist in complexity?

Pattern recognition is necessary for leaders to make sense of a complex world where problem-solving is not linear. Leaders with strong pattern recognition skills can see the connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information to make sense of the moment’s complexity. Identifying patterns provides information that leads to more informed decision-making. By detecting patterns, leaders can make sense of the past, understand the present, and anticipate the changes on the horizon in the future.

Developing this cognitive ability can be challenging but achievable over time. One key strategy for successful pattern recognition is to remain open-minded and curious by actively seeking new information and using observational skills to analyze the data points.

Pattern recognition in leadership looks different than pattern recognition in your day-to-day life. The patterns you need to be aware of when leading often require exposure to things beyond your areas of familiarity or subject matter expertise. It is the things you are not used to seeing that you need to sense and explore to determine if they are signals, patterns, or anomalies.

Here are six suggestions for exercising your pattern recognition muscles:

  • Understand the systems at play and the multiple dimensions and relatedness of patterns in each system. If you are unfamiliar with systems and systems thinking, take some time to familiarize yourself with the concepts.
  • Create feedback loops to elicit information from all levels of the organization. Each organizational hierarchical structure has an informative lens for collecting data, which can influence decision-making.
  • Be curious and explore things outside of your subject matter expertise. Read books and articles that interest you beyond your chosen profession. Engage in conversation and collaborative thinking with people outside your field.
  • Exercise the creative part of your brain. Engage in activities where pattern recognition is required, for example, puzzles, checkers, and chess.
  • Gain clarity of thought by setting aside protected time. Thinking time helps you step back to get a clearer view of your current situation and identify key challenges.
  • Be aware of what your brain might be tagging based on your biases. Avoid having your mind fill the gaps when faced with information that might be unfamiliar. Remain curious!

Recognizing patterns provides insight into the behaviors and trends that impact our organizations, enabling us to make informed decisions. By using patterns as a tool, leaders can navigate the complexities of organizations and businesses with more confidence. So, the next time you face a complicated problem, consider stepping back to recognize the patterns.



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