How to Improve Your Pattern Recognition

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What is pattern recognition, why is it so critical to the pursuit of leadership, and how can you improve yours? Let’s dive in!

What is Pattern Recognition?

The full definition of pattern recognition, its various applications to leadership — in business and non-profit organizations — and examples of pattern recognition in action could easily take up 10,000 words and multiple posts. It’s that dense, that important, and that nuanced.

In fact, our own Les McKeown has done a fairly Herculean job of writing about it over the years, and I encourage you to browse these posts for more context:

But at a high level, pattern recognition is simply the act or the skill of seeing repeated (or repeatable), similar or parallel actions or data…

…and using it to inform the way you then take action.

More and more, pattern recognition is in the news for its application in software and algorithms. Yes, technology (and robots!) is becoming so advanced that it can quickly sort through millions of rows of data, filter the information and spit out informed content.

Examples in action include:

  • artificial intelligence and machine learning software
    • copywriting tools like Jasper and come to mind!
  • image analysis
  • data compression
  • social media feeds

But of course, it’s humans who have developed this software, and it’s humans who can apply things like emotion, empathy, emotional intelligence, education, interpersonal skills and more to the same pattern recognition skills.

Why is Pattern Recognition So Critical to the Pursuit of Leadership?

Well, first — the equation is, as Les McKeown says — pretty simple.

Make the right decision more often than you make the wrong won: you’ll be successful.

But the right decision — whether you’re the most senior executive, in the C suite or in a more junior role or early stage of your career — isn’t always obvious.

And as you move forward, you will likely find that the questions and decisions themselves get much more complex.

An interesting way to approach this, as you work on your personal and professional development, is to start looking for patterns in the types, or categories, of decisions that you face.

If you can do that, you will then be able to narrow down your pool of possible choices AND have more examples of good decisions from the past to lean on and replicate.

Instead of having 100 decisions to make, can you instead bucket those decisions into four main categories? And use a more simple “this has worked in the past so let’s try it again” approach?

I do want to note that your reaction to that proposition may depend greatly on your Predictable Success Leadership Style. Visionaries may say “what’s the point? I can always trust my gut!” while Operators won’t always take the time to process this kind of decision. Processors — by name and nature — may be more inclined to follow this pattern recognition process but won’t always keep the bigger picture in mind, or the importance of making these decisions quickly,

If you don’t yet know your leadership style, find out for FREE by taking the assessment linked below:


How Can You Improve Your Pattern Recognition?

You’re in the right place! The Predictable Success Leadership Center is a community of leaders at all levels, with diverse titles and experience, and wildly different leadership styles — but who all want to grow as people, as employees and as senior executives.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have been born with incredible pattern recognition skills, your North Star should be consistency. The more time you spend looking for patterns, the more you’ll actually find them. This is an active pursuit, not passive. So if you truly want to use this skill to your advantage, you may find it helpful to document what you’re seeing, hearing and feeling in real time.

After a meeting, even if you’re just a participant, jot down a few of your own notes (not just meeting details).

  • Who in the room participated, and how did they do so?
  • Did this meeting focus on action steps or decisions, or was it more of a brainstorm session?
  • In your estimation, was this meeting successful and necessary? Or was it a waste of time?

When you see good leadership in action, give yourself a quick cheatsheet for later:

  • What did this leader, do, say or decide that inspired you?
  • Did this leader have to get permission before taking this action, or did he or he have the authority and permission to act independently?

When you have had a particularly good day, what stood out?

  • Who else was in the room with you?
  • What projects, tasks or actions were you doing?
  • Were you primarily speaking, listening, acting or bringing others together?
  • What did it feel like to have a great day?

If you do this consistently — even if it’s in a messy format — you’ll be able to read your notes back and even in a short time, I expect that you’ll see some patterns that you can work with.

Maybe you’ll discover that you perform best when you work independently, but then present to a larger group for feedback and iteration.

Perhaps the best leaders around you share an approach to having difficult conversations, structuring meetings, or casting vision.

Or it’s possible that you’ll realize that you’re able to more clearly see the types of colleagues and team members you work best with (so you can then do everything in your power to be around that team more frequently).

In the end, the pursuit of leadership and personal growth is one that may take you decades, and doesn’t always have an end or a final win. But if you are committed, optimistic and acting with integrity, this particular approach will certainly speed things up!

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