Patterns, Perception and New Thinking

I read a great story recently by Paul Valerio on the Fast Company’s Co.DESIGN website that illustrated how patterns are the key to human perception. For me personally it was also a reflection on the creative process and how our common environment can make it difficult to perceive things in new ways.

The article was titled What Astronauts And Toddlers Can Teach You About Consumers – When observing and measuring consumer behavior, tune into the noise and the patterns that drive human perception.

One little-known quirk of the Apollo moon landings was the difficulty the astronauts had judging distances on the Moon.  Without “noise” familiar to them the data their minds were trying to process was too pristine. All of the “noise” essential to creating the patterns their minds needed to process the data accurately was missing. And patterns are the key to human perception, especially for experts.

The lesson is that patterns drive perception more so than the integrity of the data that create the patterns. We perceive our way through life; we don’t think our way through it. Thinking is what we do after we realize that our perception has failed us somehow. But because pattern recognition is so powerfully efficient, it’s our default state. The thinking part? Not so much.

Conversely, when searching for new solutions and approaches to problems we are familiar with, the noise patterns that frame our existing perceptions can limit our ability to see things in new ways.