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Pattern Thinking

Pattern Thinking (known, in academic circles, as Systemic Thinking) is a simple


technique for making sense of challenging situations and developing simple
interventions for transforming them.
It has its origins in the Theory of Constraints (TOC), The Theory of Inventive
Thinking (TRIZ), Systems Thinking and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), but
is evident in most cognitive science and systems science arenas.
Pattern Thinking's underlying discovery is the Repeating Pattern
Phenomenon: challenging situations are driven by a single repeating interactionpattern. This discovery was first made by Gary Bartlett & Lynne Bartlett in 2000.
Pattern Thinking enables people to deliberately and systematically gain
significantly deeper insights into challenging situations and complex domains by
surfacing the interaction-patterns that underlay, drive and govern them. The
human brain is a pattern recognition and application engine - Pattern Thinking
merely provides a simple framework and process for turbo-charging the brain's
natural capability to see patterns and use them to intervene effectively, at the
pattern level.
Pattern-level Intervention enables ordinary people to deliberately and
systematically improve any challenging situation dramatically.

Dynamically-Complex Adaptive Systems

Challenging situations are challenging because they're dynamically-complex


adaptive systems:

They're made of many parts


That interact with each other
In ways that are conditioned by current and previous interactions

The behavior of a dynamically-complex adaptive system emerges from the


interactions between the parts of the system. There are many different
interaction types, the most commonly understood being:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Cause-Effect
Action-Reaction
Feedback Loops/Vicious Cycles
Conflict/Contradiction/Dilemma
Bottlenecks

These interaction-types compound the complexity and the natural response of


analysis (trying to make sense of things by breaking them into their component
parts) frustrates sense-making, rather than aiding it.

The Repeating Pattern Phenomenon


Challenging situations (which are challenging because they're dynamicallycomplex adaptive systems) are driven by a single interaction-pattern that repeats
at different levels throughout the entire situation.
These patterns repeat at the micro-level and at the macro-level - notice how the
patterns both make up and are made of similar patterns.
Most of these patterns are invisible to us, until they're pointed out to us, because
our society doesn't equip us to recognize repeating patterns very well. It's more
focused on teaching us how to recognize difference than similarity.
For example, we're taught - from an early age - to describe the difference
between 2 and 3, but seldom, if ever, asked to describe what's the same about 2
& 3. Our natural tendency is to analyze (make sense of things by breaking them
apart) rather than to synthesize (make sense of things by fitting things together).
We need to use these two techniques in combination in order to see the patterns
driving and constraining complex adaptive systems.
It's very difficult to see these patterns when we first enter a challenging situation
but, over time, we begin recognizing them - or at least learning how to deal with
them more effectively. We call it experience - and think that it merely knows
more stuff, but there's a deeper element of gaining more familiarity with the
underlying patterns.
Unfortunately, because we seldom recognize the pattern cognitively at the
conscious level, we seldom advance beyond getting better and better at the

things we've done before. The pattern becomes coded into our subconscious
and we take advantage of it, without necessarily comprehending it.
Deliberately finding and understanding the repeating patterns in challenging
situations provides us with ever-deeper insights and mastery.

Implications of the Repeating Pattern


Phenomenon
1. The ability to develop simple, counter-intuitive breakthrough solutions
on-demand
Because interaction-patterns repeat at all levels within the situation and
solutions are merely instances of a deeper, simpler and more profound solution
any solution idea, no matter how inadequate, is really an instance of the deeper
solution.
This means that the deeper solution can be surfaced by repeatedly finding the
pattern across solution ideas. Every solution idea no matter how inadequate
contains an essence of merit, or it wouldn't have even been thought of in the first
place. Combine and find the repeating pattern across three or more inadequate
solutions, and you're triangulating on a deeper solution that is currently invisible
to you.
Do this a few times in succession and you're in breakthrough territory relative to
your starting intuition, at least!
2. The potential for Systemic (Pattern-level) Intervention
Systemic Intervention is intervening in the challenging situation at the patternlevel (throughout the entire situation at once), rather than at only a single point. It
enables one to effect change massively throughout the entire situation by making
small changes to the interaction-pattern that's driving the situation, wherever that
interaction-pattern occurs within the situation.
Think of it as changing the DNA of the situation.
3. Quicker, easier and more reliable validation of the Intervention Solution
Checking an intervention solution for sufficiency is far easier than with nonsystemic intervention, because any interactions or patterns that don't follow the
interaction-pattern you've identified are indicators that you haven't found the
universal pattern for the situation, yet. Once every interaction and interactionpattern fits the universal interaction-pattern, you can be confident that the
intervention will be effective.

But there is an even more telling test of solution-power and effectiveness: The
Serendipity Test. The Serendipity Test is merely looking for evidence that the
intervention-pattern you've designed addresses additional issues and challenges
that you hadn't previously identified or targeted. The level of serendipity you
encounter is an indicator of solution-power: the more serendipity, the deeper the
pattern-insight and the more powerful the intervention solution because it is
obviously at a deep enough level to address an even broader range of elements
than it was designed against.
4. Quicker and easier enhancement of insights
Systemic Thinking allows insights whether diagnostic insights into the current
interaction-pattern or intervention-insights into what is needed to change the
interaction-pattern to be upgraded and enhanced very quickly and easily.
Merely add the new elements to the elements list and follow the same steps as
before, in order to refine the universal interaction-pattern and intervention-pattern
to reflect the newly identified elements that either hadn't exhibited before or were
missed for some reason.
Intervention insights are really a continuum (in that today's solutions are
tomorrow's diagnostics), so it's an ongoing process but, as you can see, is
hardly laborious at all, in comparison with most other techniques.
5. The potential for Systemic Collaboration
It is way easier to orchestrate the collaboration people, independently and
collectively, once they understand the instance of the single interaction-pattern
driving their part of the situation.
This enables diverse and dispersed groups of people to bring about quick and
massive situational change because it enables them to work in concert to change
the asymmetry/bias of the system/situation, without a high level of direct
coordination or even a high level of precision. This happens almost
automatically.
6. A widening of the Intervention Window
The intervention window for systemic intervention is way larger than for nonsystemic intervention, because pattern-level intervention doesn't require the level
of precision, timing, coordination and synchronisation that non-systemic
interventions require.
Better precision, timing, coordination and synchronisation do translate to faster
and truer situation transformation, but pattern-level intervention is far more faulttolerant and self-healing than single-point, non-systemic intervention, because
the intervention-pattern is effective pre-emptively, responsively and reparatively.

Pattern Thinking

Pattern Thinking is a very simple 3-step process:


1. List the elements (problems, solutions, pros, cons etc).
2. Find common themes across the list.
3. Find the repeating patterns across the common themes.
This method is applied both to diagnosis (determining what interaction-pattern is
driving the situation) and intervention (working out how to change the interactionpattern to change the situation as required). The general case is problem-pattern
then solution-pattern, as depicted below:

The popular free Smartphone App, 4 Pics 1 Word, illustrates the concept
beautifully. Check it out!
It may be a simple technique, but don't expect it to be easy at first! Sometimes it
takes hours and even days to find the repeating pattern. But in most
situations, it takes under an hour, once you've got the hang of it.

The trick is to suspend your disbelief that there is a single pattern. Until you do
that, you won't be able to bring yourself to really look for one. Looking for
patterns is different from looking for other things, because you only know what
you're looking for, once you've found it.
Even the most experienced practitioners can't see new common themes and
repeating patterns until they've gone through the process - which is the primary
reason that we don't look for commonality deliberately.

Pattern-Level Intervention

An easy way to understand the pattern-level intervention concept is by


contrasting it with conventional issue-level intervention.
Issue-level intervention is a consequence of the silo-effect in business. Each
department focuses on enhancing its own performance (the shapes above reflect
the priorities in each department). This is exactly what we would expect in a
stable environment - but in a fast changing world, this approach results in local
optimisation and a compounding of the silo-effect - and hence end-to-end
performance suffers.
Pattern-level intervention is different. Once the situation-wide Productivity
Pattern has been identified, one can develop local instances of that pattern and
intervene locally in a way that optimises end-to-end performance. (The colours
of the new, end-to-end Productivity Pattern map to the various departments,
which have now adopted an end-to-end performance priority.)
Sometimes this compromises - or appears to compromise - local performance,
but it doesn't take long for people to realise that global performance is what

counts. Very soon people start seeing local performance in terms of how it
contributes to global performance and the silo-effect gets reversed.

Example Productivity Patterns


Marketing

Disseminate and use need diagnostic frameworks that help


customers match their needs to our products and services

Sales

Identify and overcome common customer buy-cycle frictionpoints.

Distribution

Reduce stocking levels per SKU and increase number of SKUs


carried at the fringe - replenish frequently.

Operations

Design batching and streamlining to meet demand ratios. Use


handover-ready templates for all handovers.

Production

Accelerate and synchronise everything to the bottleneck


resource.

Projects

Move safety from the tasks to the project and minimise resource
and organisational task-switching.

Finance

Provide decision-ready reporting that separates fixed and


variable costs and highlights the impact over time.

Culture

Use engagement frameworks to help people develop the


capability to flourish in the new culture.

Management

Use intervention management frameworks to correctly


diagnose and direct focus.

Strategy Patterns

The most valuable fractals - or patterns - are strategy ones. In a sense,


everything is about strategy - but we have identified a series of simple patterns
that capture the essence of the strategy fractal:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Solution (the simplest strategy pattern).


Problem|Solution (providing a little context to the solution pattern).
Goal|Problem|Solution (GPS) [more]
Productivity Strategy Pattern (PSP) [more]
Comprehensive Strategy Pattern (CSP) [more]

These strategy patterns are the patterns across the interaction patterns in the
previous section.

Origins of Pattern Thinking


Systemic Thinking has its origins in:

The Theory Of Constraints (TOC) - Eliyahu Goldratt's brainchild [more]


The Theory of Inventive Thinking (TRIZ) - Genrich Altshuller's
brainchild [more]
Advanced Systematic Inventive Thinking (ASIT) - Roni Horowitz's
simplification of TRIZ [more]
System Dynamics (SD) - Jay Forrester's brainchild [more]
Systems Thinking - Peter Senge's simplification of System Dynamics
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) - John Grinder's and Richard
Bandler's brainchild [more]
Lateral Thinking - Edward de Bono's brainchild

[more]

Each of the above is a hugely powerful method in its own right and using any one
of them in isolation delivers significant benefit. Using them in combination
magnifies their impact - possibly exponentially.
Systemic Thinking takes things a step further, enabling people to capitalise on
the power of the repeating patterns that underlie these techniques - in concert
and in a fraction of the time they require.
Systemic Thinking has also been enhanced by - amongst many others

Just In Time (JIT)


Total Quality Management (TQM)
Lean
6 Sigma

Theory of Constraints (TOC)

TOC Overview
The Theory Of Constraints (TOC) is based on the assertion that the
performance of any system is constained by a very small number of
constraints (seldom more than one). The most often quoted analogies are:
1. The system-wide bottleneck and
2. The weakest link in a chain.
The constraint is caused by the locally optimal (instead of globally optimal)
resolution of a core conflict.
TOC comprises:
1. A set of powerful Thinking Processes
2. A set of simple but more meaningful constraint-related performance
measurements and
3. A library of specific applications/solutions for improving the performance of
different organisational functions like
1. Production
2. Marketing
3. Projects
4. Distribution
5. Strategy
6. Finance
TOC is Eli Goldratt's brainchild and he has authored a number of business
novels designed to convey an understanding of the principles, methods and
solutions, the best-known of which are The Goal (Manufacturing), Critical Chain
(Projects) and It's Not Luck (Marketing).

The Goal and Critical Chain are prescribed reading in nearly every MBA or
Masters in Project Managment.
There are thousands of TOC practitioners worldwide and an international
certification organisation (TOCICO - http://tocico.org) that oversees training and
qualifications.

Contribution to the development of Systemic Thinking


Although Gary and Lynne were familiar with Lateral Thinking and other De Bono
insights and techniques and had, shortly before got very excited by Systems
Thinking, discovering TOC was the real trigger for the development of Systemic
Thinking.
The most significant contributions made to the development of Systemic Thinking
by TOC were:
1. The Conflict Pattern - also evident in TRIZ (contradiction), Systems
Thinking (Decision-Point) and NLP.
2. The Three-Cloud Technique - a technique for finding the core conflict
within a complex situation. The basic idea is to identify three conflicts
("clouds" in TOC-speak) and use them to surface a generic conflict.
3. The Cause-Effect Pattern.
4. The Prerequisite Pattern.
5. The basic concept of their being a single constraint, which, on integration,
arrives at the conclusion of a single constraint pattern.
6. The idea of generic solutions - the TOC solutions are actually solution
patterns.

Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ)


TRIZ (pronounced "treez") is a methodology for deliberately and systematically
solving complex problems and developing new products. It's foundations are in
the discovery made by Genrich Altshuller who, in studying patent databases in
search of an invention process noticed repeating patterns within and across
engineering diciplines.
It has evolved, over time into an algorithmic approach to problem-solving and
product development.
In the mid-1940's Altshuller identified 72 generic solution patterns that are
commonly used across the various engineering disciplines. In a sense, this was
saying that there have been 72 unique solutions in the history of humankind! To
give you an idea of the validity of Altshuller's orginal work, the 76th solution was
ratified a few years ago.

Altshuller realised that these solution


patterns were all breakthrough solutions to contradictions between physical
properties sought. (For example, one may want to increase the volume of
something while maintaining or reducing its mass. We have found a number of
solutions to this problem, like using a lighter material or making the object
hollow.)

In a stroke of genius, Altshuller identified 39 properties that can be in


contradiction with each other and forty principles (ways of resolving the
contractions) which underlie the 76 solutions. He developed a table that enables
people to identify which of the principles have been used to solve the
contradiction concerned (e.g. find the cell at the intersection of the mass column
and the volume row) and see a list of the relevant principles.
This insight laid the foundation for the abstraction of the Creative Process for
Inventive Problem Solving depicted to the left.
TRIZ has been primarily focused on developing and applying a set of algorithms
(method patterns) for developing breakthrough products and solutions ever
since.

Contribution to the development of Systemic Thinking


The most significant contributions made to the development of Systemic Thinking
by TRIZ were:
1. The recognition of breakthrough solutions as the resolution of a
contradiction of properties required.
2. Inventive Solution Patterns

3.
4.
5.
6.

Patterns of Evolution
40 Inventive Principles
The Contradiction Matrix
The Creative Problem Solving Process

Advanced Systematic Inventive Thinking (ASIT)


Advanced Systematic Inventive Thinking is a simplified derivative of TRIZ,
developed by Roni Horowitz. Roni found TRIZ extremely powerful, but difficult
for non-experts to use and implement and so set about developing a simpler,
easier-to-use version of it.

Overview
ASIT reduces TRIZ to two primary principles and five idea-provoking tools:
1. The Two ASIT Principles
1. The Closed World Condition: For solutions to be truly creative, they
shouldn't require the introduction of anything new, but make use of
what's already there. This exacting requirement is the most
important principle of ASIT.
2. Achieving Qualitative Change: To truly solve a contradiction, one
needs to ensure that the effect of the main problem factor is
reduced or, even better, reversed.
2. The Five ASIT Idea-Provoking Tools
1. Unification: Find a new use to an existing component.
2. Multiplication: Introduce a slightly modified copy of an existing
component.
3. Division: Divide a component up in some way.
4. Breaking Symmetry: Turn a symmetrical situation into an
asymmetrical one.
5. Object Removal: Remove a component and assign its function
another existing component.
Even using these two principles and five techniques in the summarised form
we've listed them above will deliver instant benefit to any creative problemsolving exercise. A comprehensive application of ASIT will have an even quicker
and better impact.

Contribution to the development of Systemic Thinking


ASIT was still evolving when the Fractal Phenomenon and Systemic Thinking
were being discovered, but Roni Horowitz's insights into TRIZ and parallel
mission, contributed to Gary and Lynne's thinking. (Gary and Lynne started out
seeking to simplify TOC and, in the process came across TRIZ, while Roni set
out to simplify TRIZ and came across TOC in the process.)

The five ASIT Idea-Provoking Tools and two ASIT Principles are extremely useful
in the generation of solution ideas: in Systemic Thinking, one deliberately looks
for the repeating pattern across the ideas, whereas in ASIT, the combination and
integration of these ideas is more intuitive and less deliberate.

System Dynamics
System Dynamics is the brainchild of Jay Forrester. It's an analytical modelling
and simulation technique that represents causal loops within and the stocks and
flows of inventory through (around) a complex adaptive system, over time.
Forrester developed Systems Dynamics in the 1950s at MIT in response to GE's
(General Electric's) desire to understand repeating patterns and cycles in its
operations and employment cycles.
Systems Dynamics combines interconnected causal loop diagrams with stock
and flow diagrams using mathematical formulae. Practitoners use software to
animate the changing relationships between the various entities identified.

Contribution to the development of Systemic Thinking


1. The causal loop and stock and flow interaction-type patterns.
2. The delayed feedback pattern
3. The realisation that System Dynamics is an extremely analytical way of
synthesising interations between entitities

Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking (note the distinction between Systems and Systemic Thinking)
was popularised by Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline. Systems
Thinking is a simplified derivative of System Dynamics, but also drew on earlier
work in General Systems Theory, Systems Engineering and Systems Analysis.
Systems Thinking focuses primarily on the feedback loop interaction in complex
systems, but Senge's biggest contribution - in addition to simplifying and
presenting the idea to the business community - was to present eight commmon
system-archetypes (patterns) that occur frequently in complex adaptive systems.
The Eight Archetypes (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System_archetype):
1. Fixes that Fail (short-term symptomatic relief but long term exacerbation of
the problem)
2. Shifting the Burden (temporary short-term solutions that always always
seem more attractive than the fundamental solution)
3. Limits to Growth (diminishing returns as the system reaches its peak)

4. Success to the Successful (resources flow to the successful - not


necessarily to the best or most deserving)
5. Eroding Goals (short-term solutions make long-term goals untenable so
they are continually discounted)
6. Growth and Under-Investment (growth outstrips capacity and service and
quality suffers)
7. Escalation (vocious cycle of tit-for-tat)
8. Tragedy of the Commons (unintentional depletion of common resources

Contribution to the development of Systemic Thinking


1. The Feedback Loop
2. The Eight Archetypes (patterns) - and the pattern across them
3. The concept of focusing on interactions

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)


Neurolinguistic Programming is about programming one's thinking to overcome
common hinderances and achieve outstanding performance, using thinking
patterns adopted by successful people. It was developed by Richard Bandler
and John Grinder in the 1970s and was originally based on the study of 3 highly
successful psychotherapists:
1. Fritz Perls (Gestalt Therapy),
2. Virginia Satir (Family Therapy) and
3. Milton Eriksen (Hypnotherapy)
It has since evolved in a number of directions, including therapy, personal and
professional development and sports performance.

Contribution to the development of Pattern Thinking


The NLP concept played a signifciant role in the early development of Pattern
Thinking - both as a general concept that contributed to the discovery of the
Fractal (Repeating Patterns) Phenomenon and as a key component in the
Change Pattern. It remains - in it's various forms - an extremely useful tool in
helping one overcome Unconscious Incognizance (the primary Human Condition
Problem Pattern) and learn new approaches and ways of thinking very quickly.

Goal > Problem > Solution (GPS)


Introduction

Goal- Problem- |Solution (GPS) is a universal strategy framework. It's a simple


but very powerful way of creating strategic focus and alignment in challenging
situations and in achieving challenging objectives.
It is a simplified version of the repeating pattern across the Interaction Patterns
covered in the previous section.

The GPS Model

Goal Pattern:
The Goal element of the GPS defines the ultimate state sought for all parties
in the challenging situation we're seeking to address. The Goal Pattern is the
repeating pattern across all of the outcomes sought for all of the parties
concerned, immediately and into the future.
It's essential that we define the goal of any initiative clearly in order to secure
alignment on the destination we're heading for.
Get this one wrong and the remaining elements are at risk!
Problem Pattern:
The Problem element of the GPS defines the fundamental problem that all
parties face in achieving the ultimate state sought. The Problem Pattern is the
repeating pattern across all of the challenges and issues each party faces in
achieving the Goal Pattern - currently and into the future.
It's crucial that we are absolutely clear on the problem that has to be solved in
order to secure the goal we're seeking or risk solving the wrong problem and
not getting the result we're after.
Solution Pattern:

The Solution element of the GPS defines the universal breakthrough solution that
will solve the fundamental problem we're facing and secure the ultimate state
we're seeking. The Solution Pattern is the repeating pattern across all of the
solution ideas for overcoming the Problem Pattern (and local instances of it) and
achieving the Goal Pattern.
If we don't ensure that the solution is both necessary and sufficient to solve the
fundamental problem and secure our ultimate goal, we risk inadvertently
adopting something inefficient and/or ineffective.

How to build your first GPS

GPS's can be developed independently or collaboratively and are most simple


and powerful after a few independent and collaborative iterations. Don't expect it
to be easy at first - the process is designed to create deep insights than you
currently have, which is quite demanding from a neural point of view.
The basic idea is find the repeating patterns across the outcomes sought,
challenges faced and solutions ideas you've come up with.
In each iteration, complete the Goal wording first, then the Problem wording and,
finally, the Solution wording.
Use the same method to populate each of the entities in the model completing
the entire method for each entity before completing the entire method for the next
entity:
1. List the primary elements for each party in the situation (e.g. Customer;
Adviser; Staff; Company; Department; and or Shareholder.)
1. Goal: list the outcomes sought by each party
2. Problem: list the issues and challenges faced by each party

3. Solution: list simple solutions no matter how trite and insufficient


they are to the fundamental problem as defined in the Problem
step.
2. Draft provisional wording that encapsulates these elements in a single
phrase or sentence and applies to each relevant party:
1. Generate a few rough options as quickly as you can
2. Don't choose between the options. Instead look for wording that
captures the ideas in each phrase, rather than combining all the
phrases into one long phrase
3. Don't try to get it perfect, first time round!
4. Refine the wording iteratively until you're satisfied enough with it. It doesn't
need to be perfect and will constantly evolve and refine as individual and
collective insight develops.
1. Goal: 3-7 words, ideally.
2. Problem: 3-12 words, ideally.
3. Solution: 3-15 words, ideally.

GPS Worked Example


This is a very rough and ready example, to give you a feel for the concept.

Scenario
The scenario we've chosen is a common working environment one - because we
think that the insights will be of most value to you - although we don't know what
those insights will be as we write this!

Process for finding the Goal Pattern in the given scenario


1. Record your pre-exercise guess at what the Goal Pattern might be in your
situation.
2. List as many outcomes as you can think of.
a. Get everything that I need to do done.
b. Make a difference within my department and organisation.
c. Advance my career.
d. Grow my capability.
e. Win people's respect.
f. Make fewer mistakes.
g. Be more available.
h. Fewer meetings.
i. Arrive home with some energy left in the tank.
j. Bring other people to play their roles properly
k. Exceed customer expectations
3. Surface the Goal Themes across the outcomes.
Here are some common Goal Themes:

Have a positive impact


a. Get everything that I need to do done.
b. Make a difference within my department and organisation.
c. Advance my career.
f. Make fewer mistakes.
j. Bring other people to play their roles properly
Be a positive influence
b. Make a difference within my department and organisation.
c. Advance my career.
d. Grow my capability.
e. Win people's respect.
g. Be more available.
j. Bring other people to play their roles properly
Grow in mastery
c. Advance my career.
d. Grow my capability.
f. Make fewer mistakes.
i. Arrive home with some energy left in the tank.
j. Bring other people to play their roles properly
4. Find the repeating pattern across the common themes.
The goal pattern we've come up with is:
Get better and better at making a difference
Here, once again, are the common problem themes we derived the
pattern from:
o Have a positive impact
o Be a positive impact
o Grow in mastery
Compare the above - or whatever you came up with if it's different or better than
ours - with your pre-Pattern-Thinking view on things. Notice any difference?
The next step is to test the pattern and see if it "fits" the original set of elements.
If not, make modifications, as required.

The value in the exercise so far


The value in this exercise, so far, is that, once you realise that everyting you are
engageing in search of a single, worthwhile outcome, it makes things a lot
simpler, more attractive and easier to measure progress towards - as well as
make decisions against.

Process for finding the Problem Pattern in the given scenario


1. Record your pre-exercise guess at what the Problem Pattern might be in
your situation.
2. List as many issues within the situation as you can think of.
a. Not enough time in the day to do everything I have to do
b. Some aspects of my work are very tedious
c. Other people hold up the progress of my work
d. IT systems are not optimised for what we need
e. It never rains but it pours
f. Constant interruptions make it difficult to stay focused
g. I don't feel as if I'm really making a difference to the planet
h. I arrive at home exhausted
i. I am stressed about the growing backlog
j. Some customers are very unreasonable
3. Surface common themes across the elements.
Here are the common problem themes we surfaced within 5 minutes:
Work overload
a. Not enough time in the day to do everything I have to do
e. It never rains but it pours
h. I arrive at home exhausted
i. I am stressed by the growing backlog
Meaninglessness
b. Some aspects of my work are very tedious
g. I don't feel as if I'm really making a difference to the planet
Other people impact on my enjoyment
c. Other people hold up the progress of my work
d. IT systems are not optimised for what we need (IT people and decision
makers)
f. Constant interruptions make it difficult to stay focused
j. Some customers are very unreasonable
Inadequate business systems

b. Some aspects of my work are very tedious


d. IT systems are not optimised for what we need
4. Find the repeating pattern across the common themes.
The problem pattern we've come up with, on our first pass is:
Too much is outside of my control or, perhaps, Insufficient control and
influence
Here, once again, are the common problem themes we derived the
pattern from:
o
o
o
o

Work overload
Meaninglessness
Other people impact on my enjoyment
Inadequate business systems

Compare the above - or whatever you came up with if it's different or better than
ours - with your pre-Pattern-Thinking view on things. Notice any difference?
The next step is to test the pattern and see if it "fits" the original set of elements.
If not, make modifications as required.

The value in the exercise so far


The value in this exercise, so far, is that, once you realise that all the issues you
are facing all follow a common pattern, you can actively engage to overcome
them, in concert, by developing a solution pattern for the problem pattern.
In this case, we know that we need to find a technique, approach or solution that
will grant us more control over our circumstances. If we find a simple technique
that will put us more in control, we know that every single one of the problems
we're experiencing will be reduced significantly.
Check for yourself!

Process for finding the Solution Pattern in the given scenario


1. List as many elements of the situation as you can think of.
Once again, it's worth taking a stab at it before you do the exercise, so
that you can assess the value in the technique. The problem with insights
is that once you have them you have them and it's difficult to remember
what it was like to be in ignorance!
The problem we are trying to solve is the problem of:

"Too much is outside of my control" or "Insufficient control and influence".


Here is a list of off-the-top-of-the-head solutions:
a. Focus on things that are within my control - don't worry about
anything else.
b. Try to extend my control.
c. Get good at influencing things that are beyond my control, but
within someone else's control.
d. Give up: Don't worry be happy!
e. Become a control freak.
f. Target specific things that I want to be in control of.
g. Get promoted so that I am more in control.
A good way of generating solutions is to go through the problem list
and problem themes list and force out as many solutions you can
think of for each of them. We've restricted ourselves to one or two
per problem.
h. Get someone to share my workload.
i. Reduce or get my workload reduced in some way.
j. Create a simple "production-line" for doing the tedious stuff - and
churn through it.
k. Automate the boring stuff in some way.
l. Work with others whose delivery impacts on mine to help them
deliver on time.
m. Optimise my use of the IT systems - working around the constraints
they create.
n. Do everything possible to bring workload forward or push it back
when the busy time hits.
o. Accept the interruption but don't do the work immediately schedule it for when you've finished the current task.
p. Come in early or late to get work done when people can't interrupt
me - take time off when they're there for personal stuff or exercise
that I would normally do after hours.
q. Identify what areas at work are most in need of improvement and
make time to create improvements - even small incremental ones.
r. Get more sleep, exercise, relaxation, healthy food.
s. Refuse to let stress get to you.
t. Take frequent breaks during work time.
u. Organise a personal or team Working Bee to nuke the backlog.
v. Schedule time to find a smart way of catching up - there is always a
way.
w. Script responses to unreasonable customers in advance.
Whew! What a long list - and this is a just a first-cut!

Under normal circumstances, one might feel overwhelmed by the


length of the list - there are so many options and none is clearly the
winner. If one's using Pattern Thinking, however, there is no need to
worry, because the process will take care of it. The next step is to
surface common themes - which make things a little clearer.
2. Surface common themes across the elements
Here are the common solution themes we surfaced within 12 minutes:
Get focused
a. Focus on things that are within my control - don't worry about anything
else.
c. Get good at influencing things that are beyond my control, but within
someone else's control.
f. Target specific things that I want to be in control of.
o. Accept the interruption but don't do the work immediately - schedule it
for when you've finished the current task.
p. Come in early or late to get work done when people can't interrupt me take time off when they're there for personal stuff or exercise that I would
normally do after hours.
q. Identify what areas at work are most in need of improvement and make
time to create improvements - even small incremental ones.
u. Organise a personal or team Working Bee to nuke the backlog.
Shield myself
a. Focus on things that are within my control - don't worry about anything
else.
h. Get someone to share my workload.
i. Reduce or get my workload reduced in some way.
n. Do everything possible to bring workload forward or push it back when
the busy time hits.
o. Accept the interruption but don't do the work immediately - schedule it
for when you've finished the current task.
p. Come in early or late to get work done when people can't interrupt me take time off when they're there for personal stuff or exercise that I would
normally do after hours.
s. Refuse to let stress get to me.
Develop systems
j. Create a simple "production-line" for doing the tedious stuff - and churn
through it.
k. Automate the boring stuff in some way.

l. Work with others whose delivery impacts on mine to help them deliver
on time.
m. Optimise my use of the IT systems - working around the constraints
they create.
o. Accept the interruption but don't do the work immediately - schedule it
for when you've finished the current task.
q. Identify what areas at work are most in need of improvement and make
time to create improvements - even small incremental ones.
v. Schedule time to find a smart way of catching up - there is always a
way.
w. Script responses to unreasonable customers in advance.
Be intentional
a. Focus on things that are within my control - don't worry about anything
else.
b. Try to extend my control.
c. Get good at influencing things that are beyond my control, but within
someone else's control.
f. Target specific things that I want to be in control of.
g. Get promoted so that I am more in control.
h. Get someone to share my workload.
i. Reduce or get my workload reduced in some way.
n. Do everything possible to bring workload forward or push it back when
the busy time hits.
v. Schedule time to find a smart way of catching up - there is always a
way.
w. Script responses to unreasonable customers in advance.
Protect my attitude and energies
d. Give up: Don't worry be happy!
r. Get more sleep, exercise, relaxation, healthy food.
s. Refuse to let stress get to me.
t. Take frequent breaks during work time.
Optimise the use of my time
j. Create a simple "production-line" for doing the tedious stuff - and churn
through it.
k. Automate the boring stuff in some way.
l. Work with others whose delivery impacts on mine to help them deliver
on time.
m. Optimise my use of the IT systems - working around the constraints
they create.
n. Do everything possible to bring workload forward or push it back when

the busy time hits.


o. Accept the interruption but don't do the work immediately - schedule it
for when you've finished the current task.
p. Come in early or late to get work done when people can't interrupt me take time off when they're there for personal stuff or exercise that I would
normally do after hours.
q. Identify what areas at work are most in need of improvement and make
time to create improvements - even small incremental ones.
t. Take frequent breaks during work time.
v. Schedule time to find a smart way of catching up - there is always a
way.
Schedule things
l. Work with others whose delivery impacts on mine to help them deliver
on time.
o. Accept the interruption but don't do the work immediately - schedule it
for when you've finished the current task.
p. Come in early or late to get work done when people can't interrupt me take time off when they're there for personal stuff or exercise that I would
normally do after hours.
q. Identify what areas at work are most in need of improvement and make
time to create improvements - even small incremental ones.
t. Take frequent breaks during work time.
v. Schedule time to find a smart way of catching up - there is always a
way.
3. Find the repeating pattern across the common themes
The repeating pattern we found across the common themes is:
Deliberately program my attitudes, responses, time and approach to
ensure that I become more and more in control of my working
environment.
Here are the common solution themes we deduced the repeating pattern
from:
o
o
o
o
o
o
o

Get focused
Shield myself
Develop systems
Be intentional
Protect my attitude and energies
Optimise the use of my time
Schedule things

Compare what you've come up with, with what you started with. Notice the
difference in the level of your insight - pretty cool, huh?

Solution assessment
This solution pattern might not be perfect, but it seems to be an effective one
because programming will enable me to:
1. Gain ever-increasing control over my time, because it will enable me to
ensure an appropriate balance of effort between the important and the
urgent, between working in my role and working on my role and between
work and leisure.
2. Limit wasted effort on things beyond my control.
3. Cull the trivial, automate the mundane and structure the critical.
4. Enable me to exercise greater control over people who's delivery mine
depends upon, by bringing me to develop and negotiate an appropriate
delivery schedule and communication mechanism.
5. Engage intentionally in bringing the most valuable outcomes about.
6. Engage intentionally in improving my competence.
7. Engage with others in an ever-increasingly more effective way.
Please note that this is merely a first-cut - we've deliberately resisted refining it
further, to provide an accurate reflection of the level of quality required. In the real
world, one would continue to refine things as greater clarity and insight allowed.
Here is the full GPS:
1. Goal: Get better and better at making a difference
2. Problem: Too much is outside of my control
3. Solution: Deliberately program my attitudes, responses, time and
approach to ensure that I become more and more in control of my working
environment.

Using Pattern Thinking with other people

Individuals
One can bring individuals to gain deeper, pattern-level insights into complex
problems and challenging situations, by getting them to think of an alternative to
the solution they're pushing (or a few alternatives) and then asking them "What
do those alternatives have in common?"

Groups
Pattern Thinking is a very powerful technique in a group situation, because it
gives one the freedom - and motivation - to seek diverse perspectives on a topic

issue or situation and then ask the proponents of each point of view to identify
elements of other points of view that are in common with their own point of view or elements of their own point of view that are in common with other people's
points of view. This brings about a very different engagement from the
conventional one of defending one's own point of view so vehemently that all one
can see in anyone else's point of view is how it conflicts with one's own.

Common GPS Traps


General
1. Doesn't target all parties' perspectives. (Develop and integrate other
perspectives.)
2. Doesn't target short, medium and long term. (Develop and integrate
missing timeframes.)

Goal
1. Milestone-Achieved: An interim objective that is a step towards the
ultimate state not the ultimate state itself. (Will this satisfy us into the
future?)
2. Naive Nirvana: A universal ultimate state that is not specific to our
situation. (Is this specific to our situation?)
3. Mere Extrapolation: Aiming for what will probably happen even if we don't
do anything significantly differently. (Are we unlikely to achieve this unless
we do things very differently?)
4. Solution-Implemented: Aiming to have a solution in place, rather than an
ultimate state in place. (Is this an ultimate state or an implemented
solution?)
5. Problem-Solved: Aiming to have a problem solved, rather than an
ultimate state in place. (Is this an ultimate state or a problem-solved?)

Problem
1. Narrow Focus: Doesn't apply to all parties. (What problems do other
parties face?)
2. Short-term Focus: Once solved this problem will be behind us forever. (Is
there a deeper problem that this problem is symptomatic of?)
3. Symptom, Not Problem: Not adressing the root cause. (What causes this
problem? What does it stem from? What is it a symptom of? If this
problem was solved, what would be left to solve?)
4. Not a real problem: A problem that isn't fundamental to the human
condition. (Why do people find it hard to solve this problem? Why hasn't
this problem been solved yet?).
5. Person/department: identifying a person or department (like "Advisers",
"The boss" or "Customers") as the problem.
6. Problem Domain: identifying a problem domain (like "The economy") as
the problem.

7. Solution looking for a problem: working backwards to postulate a problem


that validates my pet solution.

Solution
1. Insufficiency: The solution will help, but will not solve the fundamental
problem or guarantee the outcome we're seeking. (How can we upgrade
the solution to overcome its weaknesses and impact on each of the
primary success measures?)
2. Ho Hum: The solution is no different from what we and everyone else
would have done anyway. (How can we make the solution more powerful
and effective?)
3. Complexity: The solution may work, but it's very complex and has many
potential failure points. (How can we simplify the solution?)
4. Slow: The solution will take too long to show results. (How can we
accelerate the impact of the solution?)

Productivity Strategy Pattern (PSP)


The Model

The Method

Comprehensive Strategy Pattern (CSP)


The Model

The Method

Origins of Pattern Thinking (Systemic Thinking)


Systemic Thinking has its origins in:

The Theory Of Constraints (TOC) - Eliyahu Goldratt's brainchild [more]


The Theory of Inventive Thinking (TRIZ) - Genrich Altshuller's
brainchild [more]
Advanced Systematic Inventive Thinking (ASIT) - Roni Horowitz's
simplification of TRIZ [more]
System Dynamics (SD) - Jay Forrester's brainchild [more]
Systems Thinking - Peter Senge's simplification of System Dynamics
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) - John Grinder's and Richard
Bandler's brainchild [more]
Lateral Thinking - Edward de Bono's brainchild

[more]

Each of the above is a hugely powerful method in its own right and using any one
of them in isolation delivers significant benefit. Using them in combination
magnifies their impact - possibly exponentially.
Systemic Thinking takes things a step further, enabling people to capitalise on
the power of the repeating patterns that underlie these techniques - in concert
and in a fraction of the time they require.
Systemic Thinking has also been enhanced by - amongst many others

Just In Time (JIT)


Total Quality Management (TQM)

Lean
6 Sigma

Root Cause Transformation


The Model

Method

Cycle Reversal
Model

The Method

Conflict Resolution
The Model

(Adapted from TOC's "Evaporating Cloud".)

The Method

Applying the Knowledge


The start
Gary Bartlett stumbled upon Eliyahu Goldratt's Critical Chain in 1997. Critical
Chain is a business novel on a counter-intuitive way of scheduling and managing
projects - one of a number of business novels and books that Eli Goldratt has
written on his brainchild, the Theory Of Contraints.
What attracted him to TOC - in addition to the counter-intuitivity of the solutions was the TOC Thinking Processes. Until then, he and his wife and thinking
partner, Lynne, had bashed their minds against challenges and apparently
intractable problems, using very basic lateral thinking techniques informed by
systems thinking until eventually the insight emerged. The Thinking Processes
offered a more robust structure and process that would allow one to gain the
insight reliably, within a far shorter period of time.
Gary read everything he could lay his hands on TOC, received training in its
application (Jonah programme) and began applying it in the telecommunications
company he was working in at the time.
The challenge
The New Zealand Goldratt Institute representative was sceptical of Gary's ability
to simplify TOC, make it more accessible to business executives and advance its
adoption within New Zealand, leaving Gary and his Lynne, no option but to try to
find or create something even more powerful - and even easier to use and apply.

Desperately searching for ways of enhancing the TOC concept, Gary discovered
TRIZ and NLP and developed deeper insights into the foundational techniques
and methods listed on the Origins page - and began integrating them into a
methodology that capitalised on the strengths and unique contributions of each.
It was exacting and time-consuming work.
The breakthrough
Invited to speak at the International Conference on Thinking in 2001, Gary &
Lynne tried to compress overviews of the various techniques and the evolving
methodology into a 40 minute presentation.
In trying to distinguish - over weeks - between the various methods it suddenly
dawned on them that the methods had more in common than in difference, for
example:
1. They all are designed to address complexity.
2. They all had identified structures and interaction-types within complexity
(conflict / contradiction / dilemma / decision, for example).
3. They all had a blend of system science and cognitive science.
It was a mind-bending insight!
What was most staggering, was how long it had taken for them to gain the insight
when, in hindsight, it was so obvious. Could there be similarity and commonality
elsewhere in the complex world that our civilisation is blind to, for some reason?
The Fractal Phenomenon
Tentatively - and very ineptly, at first - they tested the emerging insight out on
complex and challenging situations and began to see that there was even more
to it than they'd first suspected.
Not only was there commonality that had been invisible to them (and presumably
others - and possibly even the whole of society) before, but that this commonality
repeated throughout and across domains that had previously been siloed in their
thinking.
They called the primary discovery the Fractal Phenomenon - fractals are
geometric patterns that are similar at different levels of magnification.
The Systemic Thinking Technique
The next step was to develop a technique for deliberately and systematically
finding the repeating patterns.

Our society has equiped us to identify difference very well. But has done a
dismal job of equiping us to find similarity. (For example, from an early age,
we're taught to describe the difference between things: 2 and 3, black and white,
good and bad. But we're seldom taught to decribe the similarities between
things: 2 and 3, black and white, good and bad.)
Could learning to deliberately and unerringly see similarity unleash trapped value
and opportunity that our society is currently oblivious to? Could this perhaps be
the key, not only to personal and organisational performance, but also global
harmony and synergy?
The simple technique that they developed was really a technique framework:
1. List elements (of the pattern you're looking for - or any elements if you
don't know what you're looking for)
2. Find common themes across the elements (similarity between two
elements is a lot easier that similarity across a large number of elements)
3. Find the repeating pattern acorss the common themes.
The technique evolved over a period of time, not so much in fundamental
structure (as above) - that hasn't changed much over the years - but in terms of
methods for finding those common themes and repeating patterns.
A number of derivative techniques have arisen over time - but they all follow the
same basic pattern.

Popular names
Gary and Lynne discovered, fairly early in the piece, that many people had
difficulty with both:
1. "The Fractal Phenomenon" - not everyone knows what fractals are and
2. "Systemic Thinking" - some people think that it is to do with computers,
others confuse it with "Systems Thinking" and "Systematic Thinking" and
many people think that it means "to do with systems".
The challenge was to come up with names that ordinary people could understand
and use to convey the essence of the ideas - in spite of the ideas themselves
being elusive and having a "half-life of one sleep".
They eventually decided to retain the original names for use within academic and
practitioner circles but use the following popular names in everyday situations:
1. The Repeating Patterns Phenomenon for the Fractal Phenomenon and
2. Pattern Thinking for Systemic Thinking.

Applications
Systemic thinking has been applied successfully across a broad range of arenas:
1. Business (see prodsol.com)
a. Numerous sectors
b. Numerous organisation sizes
c. Numerous functional areas
d. Numerous situations
2. Education
a. Entire eduction system
b. Schools
c. Teachers
d. Pupils
3. Health
a. Hospitals
b. Clinics
c. Generals practitioners
4. Government
a. Politics
b. Cultural transformation
c. Central Government
d. Local Government
e. Recession response
5. Sport
a. Club
b. Team
c. Representative Sport
d. Coaching
e. Playing
6. Personal
a. Relationships
b. Personal/Professional development
c. Family
d. Wealth
e. Weight-loss
The most powerful application to date has been the Human Condition Problem
Pattern and Solution Pattern:
1. Problem Pattern: Unconscious Incognizance
a. We don't know what we don't know and
b. Much of what we do know - or think we know - ain't so
2. Solution Pattern: Alternative generating and integrating frameworks
a. Multi-option
b. Reverse-engineered

c.
d.
e.
f.

Frameworks,
Solutions
Building blocks and
Techniques

Upcoming Developments
Interaction/Intervention Pattern Library
Over the last 15 years, interaction/intervention patterns have been
identified/discovered/developed across a fairly large set of human domains:
individuals, professions, teams, departments, organisations, sectors,
communities, countries and our entire civilisation.
These patterns lie in the intersection between systems science (interaction
patterns in complex systems) and cognitive science (interaction patterns in
human behaviour).
Some of them are recorded in rough summary form here.

Universal Interaction Patterns


A set of universal super-patterns that repeat across these domains has emerged.
And a single repeating pattern (the human condition problem|solution pattern)
has emerged across these super-patterns.

Intervention Taxonomy
The patterns form a multi-dimensional recursive taxonomy. In other words, they
form a taxonomy (a knowledge classification and organisation system) that has
many dimensions to it (so it can be approached from many perspectives) and
refers to itself and repeats itself and other parts of itself, repeatedly.
The taxonomy serves as a diagnostic|intervention framework and is designed to
be and intended to become increasingly universal, in the sense of applying to
any and all domains of human intervention and interest. That is to say, a
universal framework of frameworks for everything.
This taxonomy is obviously a provisional one that is constantly being refined,
enhanced and extended as it casts light on a broader spectrum of individual and
collective human experience and endeavour.

Next Step
The next/current step is to publish this taxonomy in various forms - and open it
up to contributions and collaboration.
The idea is to make the discovery and its benefits more accessible to people by
removing the need for them to find/develop their own patterns.
Instead they will be able to browse the taxonomy to find the relevant patterns to
the most common situations and, through exposure to them, begin to find their
own patterns, almost intuitively.