Perceptual Patterns — Try this exercise!

I just saw a great talk by truely amazing John Kotter , who among other things talked about the power of perception to shape our reality.

Try this exercise (really, try it!). Take out a piece of paper and draw the face of a watch — basically a circle. Now write the numbers on the watch in roman numerals, starting with noon at the top. Your objective is to have a sketch of a real watch, something you have seen many times before. If there is a watch or clock around, please avert your eyes.

Go ahead, do it. I’ll wait.

Don’t scroll on until you’ve done it.

Ok, now take a look at a nearby roman numeral watch if you have one handy, or at this picture if you don’t. Notice any differences between your sketch and the watch?

Noticed it yet?

Nearly everyone writes the numbers following the Roman Numeral pattern: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, etc. But watches don’t actually follow this pattern — most use IIII instead of IV. It is something we have seen many times, yet we fail to realize the difference.

Once the brain learns a pattern, it tends to lock on to it. This is very efficient for the routine. But people also apply these patterns outside the context where they apply, usually with disastrous results.

For strategic portfolio management, the biggest missapplied patterns come from project management, a context of delivery and accountability, to sitautions where the purpose is identifying and improving economic value.

For innovation, well innovation is all about breaking the old patterns and creating something new.

We cannot help ourselves, everyone does this naturally. So when we move into new contexts, we need to be vigilant that we do not let our old assumptions and patterns get in our way.