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US Army Corps of Engineers geologist and cartographer Harold Fisk: Meander Map of the Mississippi River (1944)
"Give the Patrun a silly name and see where that leads."

Us consultants types often speak about organizational patterns of behavior, just as if an organization could behave. Often (as in always), a consultant type like me will stroll around a workplace simply observing. We might linger to chat with folks as we meander around, but any observer observing this observer might readily conclude that we're aimlessly wandering. We're actually aimlessly collecting clues to what the people working within this place do when they aren't aware of doing much of anything at all. The consultant was invited in, usually under false initial pretenses, because someone's experiencing a difficulty. Successive improvements have typically failed to completely reverse disappointing results, so the consultant's engaged in a late-stage attempt to finally get a handle on it (or resolution's described in one of an infinite array of hackneyed non-descriptive phrases, each of which essentially screams, "We have no clue what to do.) Neither do the consultants, at least not at first. A walk-about might provide a few clues, though, as certain patterns might come into sharper focus. Later, sitting with the client, the consultant will engage in another "Did you notice?" conversation, where some scales might start falling from over the client's eyes.

Though organizations, not being people, are incapable of behaving, certain patterns of engagement or outcome strongly suggest the presence of some underlying behaviors.
We consultants metaphorically employ the behaviorist language anyway, understanding as we do that no client hires us to discuss complicated philosophies. For most intents and purposes, organizations might be studied as if they were capable of behaving and most every resolution comes from individuals within the organization changing something, and individuals, whether alone or in concert, have certainly proven themselves capable of behaving, and even of changing behaviors sometimes. The root cause of the so-called problem often seems to lie within a certain kind of pattern of behavior, repeated seemingly endlessly and also, essentially, unconsciously. Few seem to see the underlying pattern, though most might complain about its presence. Everyone fancies themselves at least semi-prescient, so the consultant will chat with everyone s/he can, if only to achieve the sort of relief accompanying finally getting the story out. Most of these stories won't be worth warm spit in terms of resolving any difficulty, but one should never discount the absolute value a decent listening provides.

The patterns, whatever they are, probably started out as a past difficulty's proposed solution or a once-clever adaptation. Repeated, this solution/adaptation became a pattern. Further repeated, it became what I refer to as a Patrun, a run-away pattern beyond the conscious awareness of pretty much everyone. Could those people see, they would almost always steadfastly refuse to so mindlessly repeat the Patrun, but their vision's obscured by the very banality of the behaviors reinforcing the outcome. They genuinely feel as though they personally ain't don't nuthin' troublesome. An ounce of awareness often becomes the pound of cure the client expected the consultant to deliver. The consultant, however, dare not simply provide a solution, for who would believe a simple 'just stop doing that' prescription? No, the resolution simply begs to be dressed up somewhat so that people can easily buy into it while becoming just that little bit more conscious. This transference of findings is a deeply dark art that deflects most explaining. Leave it for me to say that these implementations always remain iffy and often seem absurd. Sometimes, the consultant will suggest one of an array of 'more diligently do the same' suggestions, the purpose of which is solely to induce an ounce of awareness into the repetitions. Once a little more aware, Patruns often simply disappear.

People, too, seem endlessly capable of producing altogether too much of a good thing. Yesterday's coping mechanisms might well become rituals over time, repeated for reasons long ago left behind, but repeated religiously. We are each capable of inducing powerful trances upon ourselves and largely powerless to intervene to interrupt their replication. Spouses and friends might usefully intervene, but they face the same iffy possibilities our clever consultant faces. Simply naming the suspected monster only rarely interrupts replication. Think of a Patrun as a habit run amok. One does not simply give up smoking because some loved one suggests they should. Sending someone off to a desert island without their trusty smokes might work, but who can afford to finance such an intervention? Positive results might result from enforcing a few ordeals into the mix. Ban smoking indoors, as many places have done, and for a time, smokers will hang out beneath an outside awning. Their habit, which once provided moments of respite and reassurance, becomes an inconvenience, and some choose to stop smoking. Patruns, though, might be habits on steroids.

Rendering repetition into an ordeal can seem sort of cruel. Offering an alternate improved convenience might help. The purpose of any intervention into any Patrun might just be simple disruption, not perfection in any of its many guises. Breaking the supporting system can result in a following more conscious reconfiguring. Rather than seeking to improve—the tritely typical intervention—one seeks to break the system instead, anything to interrupt the unconscious replication of the same old Patrun. Most Patruns respond to terribly simple interventions, complicated ones tending to confuse or further induce more than awaken. A monster might be dreaming inside. Who wouldn't rather dream than stream consciousness? Patruns hold powerful narcotic properties, and might well have become a form of addiction. Cold turkey or off-weaning? Neither strategy guarantees satisfaction. Identifying the Partun's only the beginning. Spontaneous recovery's possible if all parties can stomach the underlying absurdity of the situation. The results might well be gravely serious, but they're almost always better resolved with light hearts. Give the Patrun a silly name and see where that leads.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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