Recognising patterns and anticipating trends

Feature dossier

The success and often the survival of an organisation depends on the clairvoyance, the lucidity and the intuition of its Leader.


Saving jobs, profits or winning an election may rely on the ability to recognise patterns and to anticipate global & local trends.


The ability to identify early on that something is changing 'out there' gives an organisational Leader a better chance to react in a timely and adapted manner.


However, it is not easy to recognise patterns and to identify and anticipate trends. Only a handful of individuals possess this natural ability to receive, absorb or be exposed to large amounts of information around an organisation and to consequently:

  • Intuitively see through the chaos and
  • Somewhat 'predict the future'.

But in practical terms, how do 'recognising patterns' and 'identifying and anticipating trends' translate in simple terms?


Let's look below at every-day life examples.

Every-day life examples - patterns & trends

Pattern 1 - the ball game

A large number of people can sit in front of a ball game on television and, within minutes, they can explain the formation, the offensive & defensive strategy of each team.


This is a simple example of pattern recognition. There is no magic behind it.


The trick is that most people start playing and watching ball games from a very young age. They have seen hundreds of games, they have been exposed to numerous formations and offensive & defensive strategies.


Through experience, exposure and passion, they have learnt to recognise the patterns specific to their sport.

Above, a 4-3-2-1 (European) football formation and an attack strategy.

Pattern 2 - the crying baby

How can parents of a new-born baby make the difference between cries, which may be caused by:

  • Hunger
  • Soiled nappy
  • Tiredness
  • Stomach and intestinal pain
  • Acute, sudden pain
  • Many more reasons.

Through experience and exposure, they learn to use clues to recognise patterns and to identify the reason for each cry.

Examples of clues to recognise patterns behind a cry.

Trend anticipation - the turning car

Imagine a car driving in a desert.


There is no road, there are no tracks in the sand. At a first glance, there is no way to anticipate the direction that the car will take next.


However, you can see the wheels of the car turning to your left.


How can you predict that the car is about to turn?


This is a simple example of anticipation of a trend. There is no magic behind it.


Through experience and exposure, you have learnt that, if the wheels of a moving vehicle change direction, the vehicle eventually moves in the same direction and turns.

The football intuition or the intuitive communication with a baby may look like magic to people who know nothing about football or to people who have never taken care of a baby.


These skills, these abilities, this intuition have been developed through personal experience and hundreds of hours of exposure. To football fans or parents, the information is there and what it says is very clear to them, very obvious.

Patterns & trends - organisational context

We all have our particular talents.


Some people have developed a different intuition from a very young age, due to their personal experience: the recognition of patterns and the anticipation of trends.


Those people are immensely useful and valuable to organisations and even nations.


Their skill is composed of two powerful abilities:

(1) The ability to recognise subtle, imperceptible, medium-term clues in people's:

  • Behaviours
  • Actions
  • Attitudes
  • Performance
  • Expectations

and the ability to recognise the causes and the consequences of these elements.

(2) The ability to perceive subtle, imperceptible, medium-term changes in:

  • People
  • The organisation
  • The environment of the organisation
  • The performance of the organisation
  • The cohesion of the organisation

and the ability to anticipate how those elements are changing and in what direction they are changing.

To remain practical, let's compare this ability, this intuition to a game that many of us played when we were children.


Looking at the picture on the right-hand side, we all know from experience what is about to happen if the player directs the two blocks of square-shaped objects to the right-hand side of the game display:


The descending objects are going to fit into the available gap and, as a result, the entire structure within the red-dashed area will disappear.


The recognition of this pattern is intuitive. It would be hard to explain how one does it, because it seems very obvious.

Now let's look at this same display with a very different perspective.


Each shape of geometrical blocks has been assigned a key, corresponding to parameters and events pertaining to a given organisation.


Let's imagine that the structure within the red-dashed area is the future of the organisation.


What will happen if the two blocks of square-shaped objects drop into the available place?


The future of the organisation may disappear.


What can prevent such an event? The recognition of patterns and timely preventive measures.

A change in the external environment can take the form of: economic downturn, change of political climate, change of price of energy commodities, shift in public opinion, new laws and/or regulations etc)

To people with the intuition of organisational patterns, things appear as obvious as in the above game illustration. There is no magic behind it. Their personal experience has developed a different kind of intuition in their personality.


They can see all the events building up in a hazardous pattern and they can see the threats to the future of the organisation coming much in advance.

These people often face the lack of understanding, the opposition, the denial and even the rejection and anger of other members of the organisation.


Although there is no magic behind it, most people cannot even see that there is a pattern forming. So, how can one ask them to see that a new trend is emerging?


On the right-hand side, a group of events is figuratively represented as data scattered over two dimensions - for ease of mental visualisation.


To most people, this is noise: incoherent, random, blurred, murky, confusing, mundane, unimportant information.

To people with the ability to anticipate organisational trends, the data is perceived in a different light and it shows clearly:

  • The blue trendline
  • The shift in trend direction in the red-dashed area.

Bearing in mind that this representation is figurative, these two elements are invisible to most people.


The trendline may seem obvious by looking at this plot, but remember, this is a figurative representation. With events in the context of an organisation, it is not obvious at all.

Hence the lack of action / reaction when most people live through these same events, or hence the denial when they are told about the shift.

To prevent threatening events from building up to a structure that can endanger the future of an organisation, preventive measures must be taken:

  • Even before the events start emerging; or
  • As soon as the events start emerging - if their emergence cannot be prevented; and/or
  • As soon as the trendline starts shifting.

Ultimately, preventing hazardous events from building up requires:

  • A Leader who can recognise patterns and anticipate global & local trends; and
  • An organisation that trusts the intuition of its Leader.

Only such a combination can allow an organisation to weather any storm coming its way.

For more insight on the above topic, read book "Avoiding or Overcoming Organisational Inertia".

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