October 31, 2011 : Rob Saker

October 31, 2011 : Rob Saker

The alarm began its crescendo at 5:00 today. Fifth Monday of October. October 31, 2001. Halloween.

Shower. Dog. Coffee. CTA trains 7 minutes apart.

People flowing from exits through Chicago streets to their buildings.

Arrive at office. Meetings beginning on the half hour.

Our lives are a series of patterns. Patterns are structures of convenience, often based on logical, historical occurrences. They allow us to assign artificial structure to what would otherwise be chaos. Patterns allow an efficient assignment of resources, allowing those resources to be allocated to more challenging questions.

Patterns have enabled the advancement of humanity. Lunar calendars and sundials enabled our ancestors to farm with more predictable results. Miles, minutes, days allowed consistency in measurement.

The Model T was successful because of patterns. Prior to the machine line, itself a giant pattern, cars were manufactured individually and with greater variability. Mr. Ford’s patterns drove consistency and efficiency. Patterns are at best efficient controllers.

Society has mistakenly extended this approach beyond its useful application, and into the area of discovery. Sales reports by districts. Conversion funnels. Dating profiles.

But why? The most interesting opportunities are often outside the realm of hierarchical, constraining patterns. Do big sales occur because they are in District 33? Am I guaranteed happiness if I only date blonde haired, blue eyed, 36-24-36 women?

And yet we typically initiate our search for answers by first stating a pattern. “Liberal Democrat.” “Conservative Republican.” “Sox fan.” “Cubs fan.” Hierarchical patterns in this way limit our life experience by immediately excluding options or understandings that span categories. They’re intellectual crutches. They sacrifice the potential of that incredible outlier for the normalcy of the predictable.

Patterns in analysis are best used to explain common attributes from the ground up. After the event. What brings us together? What defined that great moment? What characteristics did an event have in common with other events? Opportunity exists in the nexus of these unmatched characteristics.

I spent today reflecting on my pursuit to remove the bias of bad patterns in decision making, instead embracing the possibilities held within the randomness.

The sun just set at 5:46, reminding me to leave to catch the 6:34 train.


About the author: Rob Saker is an Intelligence & Analytics leader presently with a large beer brewer in Chicago. Follow him at @robsaker. And yes, he gets free beer.

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