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How Pattern Recognition Drives High Performance

Every week since the start of our thought leadership series we have revealed the building blocks required to achieve successful organizational change and transformation. Each article reflects the value of critical thinking, data, process, strategy and operational readiness required for organizational success and achievement.

This week, we explore (and emphasize) the importance of pattern recognition and its role in any organizational change, pivot, and transformation. Pattern recognition is of value even if you do not plan to effect any change or transformation; it also relates to improving existing performance.

Pattern Recognition 101

Pattern recognition is a popular term defining the power of AI. In this sense, machine learning enables the search and identification of recurring patterns with approximately similar outcomes. The Wiki description is “the automated recognition of patterns and regularities in data, and the field of pattern recognition is concerned with the automatic discovery of regularities in data through the use of computer algorithms and with the use of these regularities to take actions such as classifying the data into different categories.” Edwin Hancock, editor in chief of Elsevier adds, “Pattern recognition is a mature but exciting and fast-developing field, which underpins developments in cognate fields such as computer vision, image processing, text and document analysis and neural networks. It also finds applications in fast emerging areas such as biometrics, bioinformatics, multimedia data analysis and most recently data science.”

Pattern Recognition in Practice

Pattern recognition represents two distinct areas. The first is the human ability to leverage critical thinking skills and analysis to connect the dots to reveal a pattern (repetitive behaviors, data, actions) and bring forward the upstream and downstream impacts and consequences of those changes, actions, and decisions.

Our subconscious mind is responsible for our flight or fight response mechanisms. It is always assessing and seeking patterns to reveal how they have an impact on our personal safety. As we pattern seek and eventually recognize a pattern, we then determine if we are safe, subject to a threat, or need to act to ensure a different outcome. We often overlook the ability of the mind to connect the pieces of a pattern together in both our lives and in work.

The second role of pattern recognition involves the power of technology and data via artificial intelligence, algorithms, and machine learning to aid our own mental processing and allow us to extend the limits of what we as humans can ingest and process. Applied pattern recognition gives us the ability to take large sets of data, the scale of which exceeds human mental processing, and reveal and recognize patterns.

Pattern Recognition at Work

Okay, that’s all a mouthful! But there is also a school of thought that pattern recognition is crucial to leadership skills and setting strategy. Simply stated, the process of pattern recognition involves matching the information received with the information already stored in the brain. So, recognizing patterns enables us to predict and expect what is coming and what the impacts and consequences may be. Every decision, both professionally and in life, has upstream and downstream impacts and consequences. We typically make decisions the same way we communicate based on our personal knowledge, values, and life experiences. Decision-making in that regard becomes highly subjective without the recognition of gaps in knowledge. Critical thinking can help fill in the gaps and reveal what may be impacted by a decision.

There is also a trap in making decisions solely in isolation. The folly of simply looking to solve one specific problem in a larger system without understanding where it fits into the whole and without the input of an inclusive team equates to playing with a house of cards. Applied pattern recognition is, by definition, systemic and requires multiple observers and input.

The Science of Pattern Recognition

There is a bridge between the science of psychology/neuroscience and business strategy facilitated by pattern recognition. Basically, pattern recognition involves how the human brain processes intelligence, language, imagination, and invention, all reinforced by emotional experiences. “In psychology and cognitive neuroscience, pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory. Pattern recognition occurs when information from the environment is received and entered into short-term memory, causing automatic activation of specific content of long-term memory,” according to Wiki.

W. B. Kirchner, CEO of Kirchner Group adds, “In psychology and cognitive neuroscience, pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory.” Noted neuroscientist and executive director of the University of Arizona’s Simulation Technology and Education Center, Dr. Allan Hamilton, believes that deep learning can be applied to complex behavior recognition. “We are currently working on AI applications that analyze interdisciplinary team interactions. He adds, “We score them for leadership skills, communication, delegation, and team feedback using validated assessment tools. The goal is to be able to analyze team interactions in real-time and on the fly.”

Hamilton’s think tank of engineers, healthcare professionals, and IT specialists is also using AI to analyze how empathetic physicians are in their interactions with patients. Hamilton sees two significant avenues in which applying AI to leaders, their behaviors, and skillsets would be useful. “First, one leader is never good at all things. For example, you may want to analyze and isolate leaders who are good at successful mergers versus leaders who are good at IPOs” Hamilton explains further, “Secondly, I may need AI and one data set to help guide, say, the leader of my diversity efforts and a whole different set of information and analysis to help another corporate officer who is heading up our company’s global efforts to reduce of our carbon footprint. Besides that, AI could help a company keep track of how well various initiatives are unfolding. It gives folks informatics so everyone focused on the right stakeholders, benchmarks, and timelines to the objectives realized. I believe there is much to understand about patterns and the meaning and value of data by employing thick data to provide guidance to use and break down big, hard data.”

It’s important to keep in mind that the application of pattern recognition is effective when conclusions and decisions are not biased by personal experiences that influence and skew outcomes. We find that many leaders are guilty of imposing their own experiences on an organization without taking into consideration the multiple experiences and perspectives of a diverse workforce. Executing on strategy and operations with the benefit of applied pattern recognition requires the ability to separate one’s ego from the demands and needs of the group.

Applied Pattern Recognition and Leadership

According to leadership expert Beáta Kalamár, “Effective leaders have great pattern-recognition skills, and over time build pattern libraries in their minds that enable them to easily spot trends, detect shifts in the organization and look at issues and opportunities from a much greater distance.” In fact, she contends that “one of the biggest challenges many leaders face as they rise to the top is shifting from seeing themselves as problem-solvers to pattern recognizers.”

Consider your own experience. Do you recognize patterns in your marketplace? How does your organization respond to these patterns? Do you evaluate these patterns and respond systemically? And just as important, do you recognize the patterns within your own organization? How do you respond to challenges and well as successes?

Applied pattern recognition is key to good decision-making. What differentiates good decision-makers is the ability to see lasting and recurring patterns and then use this intelligence to activate success.

Applied pattern recognition is a skill that can be learned and a valuable tool for leaders. Think about the possibilities when managers and leaders are enabled by pattern recognition:

  • To see opportunities and landmines that others don’t.
  • With the ability to come to a practical solution more quicky.
  • To manage dynamically evolving situations and people.
  • To maximize workforce talents to source problems and build strategies.

According to authors Eric C. Hansen and Ron A. Carucci, there are four basic pattern categories to master: historical, horizontal, economic, and cultural, each with cautionary caveats:

  • Historical relates to predicting how well an organization may perform based on past successes and failures. This measure falls apart when is leader has selective memory of the past!
  • Horizontal recognizes behaviors across an organization, both positive and negative, that influence performance. A common leadership weakness is to focus on behaviors that reinforce their own beliefs in what works … or doesn’t.
  • Economic assesses a variety of data sets (sales, industry trends, purchase patterns, p/l etc.) to reveal what of significance emerges. Roadblocks occur here when short-term thinking clouds long-term strategic planning.
  • Cultural includes how an organization communicates internally, engages employees, manages performance, and leverages the overall health of a workforce. Many leaders defer this analysis to HR or department heads instead of taking ownership of the culture and claiming accountability for its operations.

In each of these four categories, implementing a sustainable system of metrics and measurements helps optimize performance and prevents a myopic view of the business and human capital. And integrating data into the mix enhances pattern behavior that has results.

Applied Pattern Recognition + AI

We must never lose sight of the fact that humans are the creators and programmers of technology. So far, AI and machine learning are limited and controlled by what we tell the machine is important, identifying attributes and defining what these attributes mean. Humans also control the measures and metrics used to assess, analyze, and recognize patterns revealed by AI.

Consider facial recognition technology and systems. If humans only program one race of humans into an AI system, the results are only one view of what humans look like, Even worse, machine learning then makes assessments of that one set of humans to develop a more universal pattern. This is a data bias, and the output is faulty and shortsighted.

Applied pattern recognition can be enormously helpful, but its value ultimately rests on humans – in their minds and actions. We cannot stress enough that developing personal and professional abilities to identify, analyze and recognize patterns remains paramount to organizational success driven by change and transformation.

Data Patterns

Organizations often believe that once they have data, it will be a silver bullet in driving performance. At 2040, we often find that organizations rely on data to solve a problem or immediate need. However, without the clarity of a baseline, it is difficult to understand how that data represents upstream and downstream connected points. What’s also missing is the human factor to interpret the data patterns into meaningful intelligence so that it represents the reality of an interconnected system of the organization and its relationship to its customer base.

The Pattern of Transformation

How does pattern recognition relate to organizational transformation? The great innovators leading change have thought, conceptualized, and determined a path forward considering all the various moving parts. They are good at pattern recognition in considering, knowing, analyzing, and connecting all the parts of the system. They also recognize how patterns determine upstream and downstream impacts and consequences.

They are eager to introduce change and begin the process of transformation having personally understood and connected the dots to bring forward clarity. However, what they often miss is that their colleagues may be at a very different level of acceptance and understanding of the desired transformational change. That’s when innovators demonstrate “pattern recognition blindness.”

While the innovator or change agent has processed and accepted the path forward, others may just be starting to process what the parts are, what the patterns may be, and what potential upstream and downstream impacts may present. The disconnect often leads to early failure, defensive posturing, and conflict.

For leaders to effectively help stakeholders in the organization get on the same page, it takes rigorous discipline to recognize the patterns of stakeholders’ include resistance, understanding and recognition of where they stand in the pathway to change. It’s important to empower individuals to develop recognition of their own patterns and then systematically help lead them forward with shared understanding and clarity, and yes, pattern recognition in common.

Action Plan

Applied pattern recognition can enable humans to fully account for, understand, and grasp behaviors, systems, parts, and processes that lead to relevant and accurate analysis of the upstream and downstream impacts and consequences. Being aware of how to recognize patterns, seeing the patterns and then using them as tools for change leads to successful transformation. Remember, pattern recognition is a team sport; change cannot be imposed, it needs the “wisdom of crowds” to understand the patterns and use them as critical intelligence, strategically and operationally.

Get in touch with us!

2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues.  We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.

Onward and upward from the 2040 Team

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