Ming the Mechanic:
Finding Patterns

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Finding Patterns2003-09-28 15:44
16 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

I'm going to make a more concerted efforts to collect patterns. It is something that well summarizes something I care a lot about. I'm talking about patterns that make things work well, in contrast to patterns that don't work well. Uplifting patterns, transformative patterns, generative patterns, ecological patterns, synergetic patterns.

It is an activity that probably doesn't make sense to everybody. A meta level of dealing with the world. But patterns are essentially a way of successfully navigating an otherwise confusing world. A pattern is the way things are arranged. Without worrying too much about the exact things that are arranged, one concerns oneself with the arrangement they're in. Structure as opposed to content.

I know that very well from my work as a personal counselor. NLP is essentially all about patterns. Discovering what patterns people think in, and how they do things. And then either using the existing patterns for doing what one really wants to do, or adjusting the existing patterns so they work better.

E.g. many people have a pattern in their mind where they make clear pictures of something, and then they get a strong feeling about it, and then they tell themselves things that reinforce a course of action about it. If they make the clear pictures of something they actually want, and they get an energized feeling about it, and tell themselves encouraging things about it, they might be very productive and effective. But if they make pictures of what they don't want, and get freaked out about it, and then feed themselves pessimistic and discouraging statements about it, they might just be a mess. It is the same pattern, but depending on what content you put into it, it might be more or less useful.

Procrastination is a pattern that usually doesn't work well. One notes something that needs doing, and one places it out in the future somewhere, and then it feels like one has cleared space for doing something else in the present. The thing to do pops up once in a while, presenting itself with some kind of bad feeling, and one lessens it by again putting it out in the future. One can either change that pattern, by putting things into a different order, or one can use the pattern itself, and, through a kind of mental judo, realize that one can just procrastinate "later". Try it sometime. You can procrastinate tomorrow.

Anyway, now I'm also interested in patterns of personal organization, business, and group collaboration.

A website has things arranged in a certain way, and that way will greatly influence how people use the site, and what is accomplished. Apparently tiny details that are casually decided at design time might have enormous consequences later. For example, some things I've noticed are: If you make a list of people or weblogs, sorted by update time or popularity or something else like that, people will get into a competitive mode in order to end up on top of the list. And/or others will start feeling differently about the people who happen to be at the top. And I've noticed that if you list a bunch of items, like people or websites or weblogs, in one place, in one list, people will start believing that they have a relation to each other, even if they don't. If you put an item on top of a page, people will consider it more important than it it is at the bottom. Many of these observations are "duh, of course!" kinds of realizations. It is simple in retrospect, but not necessarily in advance.

Here's an article: "an Building Communities with Software" by Joel Spolsky about a number of the design issues in community software, which contains many intelligent observations. If you put a button people need to click on at the bottom of the page, below a bunch of entries from other people, it is more likely that those entries will be read. If you send people in e-mail responses they've gotten to messages posted in some forum, it is much less likely they'll go and browse around there. The design choices in Usenet readers makes for long-winded threads that people lose track of the start of. The mechanics of IRC groups makes for lots of effort spent on fighting for specific group names and handles. All because of the patterns things are arranged in.

Chris Alexander talked about "Pattern Languages" as it applies to architecture of buildings. And it has spread to software.

But we need pattern languages in all aspects of life.

There are patterns for organizations, which can be well represented in system diagrams. Gene Bellinger has an exellent page, "Mental Model Musings", containing lots of system diagrams for organizations.

Various good people are thinking about Uplift Pattern Languages.

For a while I would draw diagrams of patterns I noticed in a book I kept next to my bed, the same that I wrote dreams and good ideas into. I will continue that habit.


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16 comments

28 Sep 2003 @ 16:48 by vibrani : Where in this pattern diagram
do emotions fit in?  


28 Sep 2003 @ 17:01 by ming : Emotions
The one in the picture? I don't know, I didn't make it. It is one of those diagrams that is very satisfying when you think about things mentally, but which very well might miss some dimensions of life. Personally I'd say that emotions go through a similar information - knowledge - wisdom sequence. Emotions might happen at a disconnected level, where they are reactions to events, maybe out of place. Or they might be synchronized with the patterns that are observed as going on. Or might be at a stage of wisdom, where emotions are the integrated experience of what life is.  


28 Sep 2003 @ 23:35 by vibrani : Emotions
Or, maybe they are part of relationships? Yes, I agree, sometimes these diagrams are more focused on the mental aspects of life. Thanks, Flemming.  


29 Sep 2003 @ 01:59 by Andy @132.185.144.12 : The test of a pattern is utility
I too am a confirmed systems thinker. I can't help but seek out patterns and structures in just about everything around. But one thing has become more apparent over the years - the pattern is not the truth. It can sometimes be an extraordinarily useful representation, but no more. The pattern has value only insofar as it has utility. The minute we start believing the pattern is *true*, we start to fit our observations of the world into the artificial structure we have created, and so lose touch with reality. Data that fits the model gets noticed and reinforces the model; data that doesn't fit gets overlooked; eventually we lose the ability even to be aware of data that doesn't match the model, and our worldview becomes detached and unalterable.

I'm sure all of that is not news to you. And I'm not knocking the use of patterns. Pattern-making sits at the very heart of what it is to be human. Without it, we'd be unable to make hypotheses about the future, develop science etc; we'd be like the sheep in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide books, who wake up every morning startled at the sunrise.

All of which is just a long way of saying that sometimes things that don't fit the pattern can work, and things that do fit the pattern wont work. Life's funny like that...  



29 Sep 2003 @ 06:37 by lugon @80.58.19.44 : noise
There's also noise just below data.

And noise is important.

There was this medical research about people who can't feel their feet well (diabetes or something). A shoe-sole which vibrated with white noise would stimulate their proprioception a bit, so they would notice the floor better.

There can be too much noise, of course.  



29 Sep 2003 @ 06:55 by vibrani : Andy
I think you made some excellent points about patterns.  


29 Sep 2003 @ 12:58 by raypows : Emotions, Nature and Transformation
Thanks Flemming and Vibrani.

I'd like to think of my emotions as resonance patterns, vibrations that are created within my body, by my body as it's intelligence interacts with itself and the external world. Emotions being like the fundamental and overtones as the body plays itself through chemical interactions in its' system.

Simpler, yet, is if we build our communities adhering to our observations of nature and the inherent fibonacci and golden mean patterns that are pervasive then we have a structure for coherance and relation.

An elder earthbuilder once turned on the hose for me and said watch the water it will tell you everything you need to know. In permaculture one of the first things to do is watch the watershed on the land and observe it's interaction with gravity. That way you can design in accordance with the pre-existing pattern (which changes with erosion etc.).

I think if we follow our hearts and still our minds (whatever that takes for each of us) patterns reveal themselves; life transforming and relations building in accordance to natural law. A law still writing itself.  



29 Sep 2003 @ 15:57 by Seb @156.34.189.184 : Better yet
Scan your diagrams and post them. (yes, more work, I know...)  


30 Sep 2003 @ 12:47 by Troels Chr. Jakobsen @62.79.96.157 : SOC
Hi Flemming
From fellow dane - I'm just curious if you're aware of the theory of Self-Organizing Critical systems (SOC) - I'm a sort of pattern-man myself, and in my trade it is called dramaturgy, and I've learned that 'patterns' - i.e. dramaturgic models for the lay-out of a drama/film - are seldom very useful for creating new dramas, no matter how 'right' they are, what works are principles, and working from the perspective of character. SOC have been a great eye-opener for me, both in regard to theatre and to society as a whole. I've read Mark Buchanans "Ubiquity" and fellow dane Per Baks "How Nature Works". Both great books. Buchanan lives in france too.
yours Troels  



30 Sep 2003 @ 12:53 by Mike Owens @164.64.12.102 : Another Pattern Observer
Check out Robert Patterson's Weblog at [link] -- he also, in his own venacular, been studying social patterns.  


1 Oct 2003 @ 02:48 by Andy @132.185.240.13 : SOC - Question for Troels
Troels - I'm currently reading "Ubiquity" - fascinating book - I'm curious to know how SOC relates to the theatre?  


1 Oct 2003 @ 05:16 by ming : How Nature Work
I have Per Baks "How Nature Works" on my shelf too, and it looks great, but haven't gotten into it. Yeah, that's the kind of pattern knowledge I'd like to collect. But, indeed, sometimes we just need to know patterns so that we can see a way beyond them.  


1 Oct 2003 @ 13:13 by Troels Chr. Jakobsen @62.79.96.157 : SOC, patterns, theatre
In the reply to Ming: I agree about the need to know patterns to change or look past them, but SOC has some very interesting insights on the very big, unescapable patterns of nature.
In reply to Andy: There are different angles. I've written an introdoctionary article about it (in Danish though) - but stated shortly you can view the creative process in rehearsal as a critical system and learn something by it - that you can't control it, you can't predict the outcome, you can only control your intentions and try to fine-tune 'the system' and hope that a 'big earthquake' will be the result. And you can also view the performance and the interaction with the audience as a citical system and learn a lot from that along the same lines.
At the time being I'm doing a bit of research on how others SOC-systems behave at a detailed level (when described by scientists) and try to compare it to theatre in the hope to find/locate/invent some methods that can 'fine-tune' theatre-rehearsal and performance as SOC-systems.
Before reading about SOC I was already working with these issues - because of the problems you often experience when you're making theatre when you try to control to much (as we humans tend to do) - and this is a very long talk, because theatre is a very complex phenoma. So.. I let it rest at the time being. Hope it explained some things..
Troels  



1 Oct 2003 @ 14:39 by Andy @80.1.0.43 : Thanks Troels
Thanks -I think I start to get the idea now. The theatre, both performers and audience, comprises a system with interconnected components whose behaviour influences the behaviour of each other. That's one of the pre-requisites of SOC -yes? But I thought that, although you may be able to tune the system into the critical state, you still can't predict or control whether the outcome will be a minor tremor or a big earthquake?
(Apologies to Ming for hijacking this thread a little...)  



1 Oct 2003 @ 15:08 by Chris Corrigan @207.81.17.167 : Patterns in Organizations
Check this out:


[link]

we're beavering away on the fifteen properties of order.  



1 Oct 2003 @ 15:20 by Troels Chr. Jakobsen @62.79.96.157 : Exactly, Andy
No, you can't predict or control if it will be a real earthquake or a tremor - that's one the great insights from SOC - so my advice to fellow theatre-makers will be: Don't even try.
And that is along the lines of the wisdom from David Mamets "True and False - heresy and common sense for the actor", where he attacks Method Acting for trying to control those things, that can't be controlled, and suggests a different approach that seems more in tune with SOC.  



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