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Patterns can be subtle and powerful

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Patterns can be subtle and powerful

Scott Miker

Systems thinkers are always exploring patterns in their world. We look for recurring elements more than one-time events.

This is helpful because it helps us to better understand the underlying systems, structures, and mental models at play. When we see someone do something the same every time, we can identify it and understand the pros and cons of that behavior.

As the director of operations for a growing home medical equipment repair company, I am constantly looking for patterns. Because the business is too large to know everything that is going on, I have to use various tracking strategies to keep tabs on everything.

Many times this involves looking at reports. I pull data in certain areas and regularly look at that data.

This gives me a baseline understanding of where we are at any given point. From there I can see when a trend is starting that signals a breakdown in one of the systems we built.

Instead of hearing about a problem after it becomes a full-blown fiasco, I can spot a problem developing. The problem is in its infancy so it is much less powerful. I am able to address it prior to it becoming a huge problem.

Identifying problems early means that I am always looking for subtle patterns. Is there a trend starting that is causing something to get out-of-whack? Or is this just a one time anomaly or occurrence that has extremely low odds of ever happening again?

Scott Adams, founder of the Dilbert cartoon, said in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, “Some of the most powerful patterns in life are subtle.”

But most people ignore patterns and instead put all of their focus on events. They look for something to happen and then ask why. They wait until a problem surfaces before they start to explore the causes of the problem.

This is a mistake. By this point the problem has probably become somewhat ingrained and will be harder to fix the actions causing the problem.

Do you regularly monitor your health? Do you regularly weigh yourself to make sure you are within a healthy range? Or do you wait until your doctor tells you that you need to lose weight or your health is going to suffer?

If you are regularly tracking your health you will start to see patterns develop and then can take action to remedy the developing problem.

If you wait for the pattern to develop into a full-blown problem, it is likely going to be much more difficult to change.

This is why patterns can be incredibly powerful tools for improvement. We can stop setting a one-time goal and then assuming our effort and motivation will push us to success. Instead we can start to identify the patterns in life and align our recurring thoughts and behaviors so that we gradually build towards success.

The systems approach is much easier because it starts to correct issues before they become problems and allows us to control the direction we travel in life. It may take a little more attention to keep yourself on track but you will be able to quickly spot when something is causing a new problem that needs to be addressed.