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Software developers have created an encyclopedia of reusable routines they call patterns, under the notion that many systems perform similar functions and so should probably use the same processes to accomplish them. They repurposed this idea from the field of architecture, where Alexander proposed what he called A Pattern Language to describe otherwise indescribable common design aspirations. Both ideas seem founded in the modern notion that reinventing wheels constitutes wasted effort. Might as well leverage others’ work.

The BriefConsultant doesn’t think like this. While it might seem perfectly possible to classify any observed activity into a pre-existing grammar of actions, I find little leverage in this pigeonholing. BriefConsulting seems deliberately inefficient because it isn’t interested in pattern matching, but pattern pulling; patterning.

Apparently random action lacks only a cohering story to bring it into coherence. When Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain discovered that he’d been speaking prose all his life, he was patterning, discovering his own story rather than merely replicating another’s. Because the purpose of every BriefConsulting engagement might be characterized as insight rather than solution, reinvention doesn’t mean wasted effort. Insight rightly reinvents wheels because it’s not about efficiency but impact. My Monsieur Jourdains benefit from the sparkling experience their own discoveries bring, even if they’re nothing new to anyone else.

Mary Catherine Bateson wrote about this effect in her delightful Our Own Metaphor, where she described a group of scientists learning together. Assimilating each others’ ideas produced novel discoveries. Since my first career was as a songwriter, I equate patterning to the construction of a song. What starts as a simple observation expands into a wholly unique story. There is no step-wise guide for where to start or where to go next. Each resulting song seems as unique as the way I construct it. Words first? Melody first? Neither? None of that matters when sitting in the shadow of the finished piece, and it only distracts when searching through shrubbery for a thread that might bind together a chaotic-feeling experience.

I sit with the mess, not in it. I’ve entered with my BlankPage, then begin my observing. I am sensitive then for how things fit together or don’t. I notice when the words match the music and when they do not. I have a sense, never reduced to pattern language, of coherence, and am extremely sensitive to incoherent couplings. I am trolling for threads, sorting and provisionally selecting, much as I do when seeking the rhythm of the phrase to follow the phrase that left me thinking I might be writing a song. We are writing a song together, my collaborator, more accustomed to experiencing his difficulty, inevitably much less experienced in lyric construction and melody emergence.

Neither of us could possibly know if this will work this time. Patterning, like that BlankPage, provides little more than potential, which might be plenty when compared with the stuckness accompanying any difficulty serious enough to ever consider consulting over with even a BriefConsultant. I trade in potential and deal almost exclusively in insight, that sublime experience one feels when their understanding shifts and they surprisingly feel powerful again.

Those of us who compose songs recognize this feeling as the same one that overtakes us when the great frustrating mystery that was so recently an apparently unfinishable song emerges as our latest anthem elevating our experience. I’m never certain who bears responsibility for this emergence, though I say I wrote the song. Writing, though, rarely mirrors simple transcription. I am not copying then concatenating anything out of any encyclopedia, but proposing and connecting unlikely relationships between stumbled-upon elements observed with a particular mindset in play. I am patterning.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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