Pattern Disruptors

The brain works best when it has a pattern to recognise. When we are young this is how we multiply the capacity to learn. Rather than seeing everything as fresh and having to decode it, we search through our neurone connections for something that resembles what we are seeing. So, when we see a dog, we will make connections to any previous experiences of dogs and that will give us a wealth of information about dogs – what they look like, how they act, whether they are dangerous etc. This can be helpful for learning, but it is also important to ensure that we live safely.

So far so good! Problems arise with this though, when we come to realise that sometimes patterns do not serve us. These patterns, for example, can help to build phobias. Thus, an unpleasant experience whilst at a height at a young age can contribute to a fear of heights in the future.

I am laying this out in a simplistic way to illustrate the point. We build patterns over time and these can be incredibly useful or they can develop inhibiting loops which are not so helpful.

In our relationships with others we form all sorts of assumptions based on information. Thus, when someone tells us what they do for a job we will make judgements about their character based on that information. Sometimes this helps, often it doesn’t. We will also sometimes form judgements based on the way someone looks. If they resemble someone we already know we may think at a sub-conscious level that they will be similar. This is clearly bad logic!

When the pattern formed is unhelpful, or leads to bad logic we need to introduce pattern disruptors to dislodge the loop so that we think afresh and are able to start with new sets of assumptions. There are a number of ways we can do this. Examples would be:

  • Renaissance as a strategy (see earlier blog post)
  • Proactive steps and actions to disrupt the pattern
  • Encouraging reflection – time spent considering the pattern will help to unpick bad logic
  • Distraction techniques – designed to stop the brain from following the loop
  • Physical connection such as tapping or pressing fingers together to distract thinking and disengage an existing loop

Many of these techniques can also be adapted more broadly to tackle wider issues of organisational change where groups of people are working within patterns. Peter Senge’s work in this field (The Fifth Discipline), which looked at loop patterns and disruptors, is particularly useful.


Also published on Medium.