I’m a German-Canadian who made the shift to Europe more than 20 years ago, and have since been delving passionately into the rich history and culture of the continent. My background is in politics, psychology and philosophy, which I spent 10 years studying and four years teaching in Toronto. Today I work on the soft facts side of business (what Tom Peters calls the 99.9% of implementation), supporting companies in strategy facilitation, organizational change, and leadership development, and I have done consulting and implementation for organizational change projects in many countries, mostly for German companies with subsidiaries in Europe and Asia.
To make sense of the challenges I work on, I favor pattern recognition over analytic methods, as the tasks I am given tend to be complex rather than complicated. For all its apparent seriousness, analysis suffers from confirmation bias, and tends in a complex world not to solve the problems it attends to, but rather to exacerbate them. The more we optimize, the more fragile we become, (as Nicolas Taleb describes in his current book), and analytic approaches not only reach hard limits but also themselves become risk factors we need to consider.
The alternative lies in a revitalization of entrepreneurial decision-making in all areas of life. Whether we face challenges in business, in our social lives, or in politics, the environment or civil society, our striving for efficiency exposes us to risks we cannot afford. In truly machine-like settings, optimization works. Yet few of our current challenges are that simple. For entrepreneurial tasks, the creative process is better, in that it uses, translates, and recombines patterns of insight and behavior developed through trial and error over years of collective human experience in successfully mastering existential challenges. Through pattern recognition processes, we can make sense of our complex world in ways that go beyond the problem-solving capacity of analytic techniques.
This blog is devoted to exploring sensemaking through pattern recognition on three levels:
1. Neurology and Neuropsychology – Thinking is embodied. For neuropsychologists like Antonio Damasio, the “self” comes to “mind” in an emergent process of self-organization, based upon the perception of our own body states and the emotions they are translated into. Accordingly, our thinking, motives and decisions have to do with reasoned calculation in only a limited sense, and much to do with biologically evolved pattern recognition mechanisms that have helped us to survive and to thrive over time. To understand business challenges, I follow the insights of neuroscientists, behavioral economists, and trauma therapists among others, to understand how we can work with our evolved capacity to deal with complexity through pattern recognition.
2. Organization, Leadership and Social Interaction – The methods and models of 20th Century industrialization are a drag on the shift to the knowledge and creative economy of the 21st Century. I explore the “big shift,” as John Hagel and John Seeley Brown have called it, from “push” approaches to the “pull” logic of the truly market-driven economy in a world of information transparency and social interconnectedness.
3. Politics, Demographics and the Environment – Much of the drama we can observe in our lives at the social and individual scale resolves to understandable patterns from greater heights. I follow discussions of how geography, demographics and the environment determine our options for action, and what effects these have on us.
This blog is my small contribution to making sense of a quickly changing world, and to understanding the evolutionary pressures for development on our businesses, ourselves as individuals, and ultimately on our politics and societies.
Any contribution of ideas that advance our common project of development, or questions that we could enjoy discussing, are welcome!