Gary Bartlett's Blog

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Pattern thinking – the secret of genius

The secret of genius is pattern-recognition and application, because underlying each complex system and challenging situation is a very small set of simple repeating patterns.   It’s called the Repeating Pattern Phenomenon (the more technical name is the Fractal Phenomenon).

These repeating patterns drive and govern system or situation behaviour.  Once one can “see” the repeating pattern within a complex system or challenging situation one is able to intervene at the pattern level. 

Pattern-level intervention secures dramatic improvement in end-to-end, whole-system performance, because it impacts on the entire system/situation.

On top of this, it seems (contrary to what one might expect) that the set of repeating problem/solution patterns is relatively small.  The implicatoins of this are astounding.  Can you see why? 

It might seem as if the genius is developing brand-spanking-new solutions on the fly, but that’s not actually what’s happening.  What’s really going on is: the genius is recognising a problem-pattern seen elsewhere and adapting and applying the appropriate solution-pattern to the new situation.

Anyone can learn to recognise and adapt patterns – deliberately at first and, in due course, automatically – using a simple technique called Pattern Thinking. Pattern Thinking  can be applied in nearly any arena, to secure genius-level insights into nearly anything, but the problem/solution is the most common arena. 

Here’s how to surface and develop a problem/solution pattern (be warned, it’s deceptively simple!): First, the problem-pattern:

  1. List all the problems and issues you can see in the situation you want to improve (at least 5).
  2. Surface common themes across your list.
  3. Find the repeating pattern across the themes – this is your problem pattern.

Second, the solution pattern:

  1. List all the solution ideas you can think of to the problem pattern – no matter how trite (at least 7).  If you’re battling, list a couple of solutions to each of the problems and issues you surfaced in the problem-pattern phase.
  2. Surface common themes across the soltution ideas.
  3. Find the repeating pattern across the common themes (integrate the solution themes into a single simple solution)

Do you notice the growth of insight you’ve experienced?  To improve the solution, repeat the process, adding more issues and problems and more solutions to the lists in the first step of each stage.

I’ll blog more on this and related techniques in due course but, if you want to find out more in the interim, there’s quite a bit at


20 October 2006 Posted by | Genius, Genius in review, personal productivity, Productivity, Productivity/Tools, Strokes of Genius, Technique, Techniques, Thinking, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment