The Problem with Patterns

Cn u ndrstnd ths wrds?

My guess is you probably “can understand these words.” The brain is remarkable at filling in the blanks and helping people make sense out of things. We all develop thinking patterns, and those patterns help us navigate the world quickly and efficiently, even with incomplete information.

You may have patterns for how you keep financial information for income tax returns, or how you go about solving a problem. There are patterns in speech, which is why Master Yoda, is a bit tough to understand. His pattern is different (and more confusing) than what most of us have learned. When first learning the alphabet, a child may not know if M is before or after K, until she sings the ABC song in her head, which is a type of pattern.

Patterns, routines, habits, they are all helpful … until it comes to creative thinking. Real creativity comes from considering things in entirely different ways which requires breaking free of the well-entrenched patterns and routines. How hard is that? Well, consider this. Quickly recite the months of the year in your head. That probably took 4 – 5 seconds. Now, see how long it takes you to recite those months in alphabetical order.

Knowledge of and experience with “the way we have always done it” forms a pattern of how things are supposed to be done. And that is the stake in the heart for innovation. You must become aware that “the way I have always thought about things” can be just as limiting to creativity.

Think about the issue of reducing concussions in football. Patterned thinking includes better headgear, immediate physician examinations on the sidelines, concussion protocol, and of course rules changes. Well how about taking away the helmets altogether? I would never suggest that as the perfect solution. However, I would offer that it forces an entirely different kind of thinking about the problem

Or, think about improving the traditional wheel chair – better battery, lighter but stronger, wifi enabled, maybe even a cup holder. Well, heresy of heresies, Merry Lynn Morris developed a wheel chair that did not have the two big wheels in back and smaller ones in front. Hers has 4 equal sized wheels each positioned like the sides of a square. The chair easily moves in all directions and is controlled by a phone app. Direction of movement is determined by leaning – forward, backward, or sideways. And how about this… the seat can be adjusted vertically, so the user can now be virtually eye-level with whomever is walking beside them (instead of behind them pushing). Couples can comfortably hold hands, and talking is so much easier.

Patterned thinking is one of the reasons we need diverse and different perspectives. We can be so comfortable with our conditioned ways of thinking, that we may not recognize we are trapped by them. Merry Lynn does not work for a wheel chair company. She is the director of dance at the University of South Florida. She wanted some way for students with limited or no lower body movement to enjoy dance. She was not caught up in the way wheel chairs had always been made or what the basic purpose of the chair had always been.

So if you want to start revving up your creativity muscles, get some people with different perspectives around you. And give them permission to point out to you, when you are mostly defending your preferred way of thinking about something, opposed to considering others. Who knows, you may discover a major eureka moment, when you are able to let a new way of thinking into your head.

All the best – and think differently!

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