Pattern recognition, quantified self and big data

May 26, 2013

The creative era we live in is an age of unprecedented possibility compared with the industrial age. Major shifts are taking place: ideas matter more than money and as there are more people with good ideas than there are people with money, new opportunity spaces are being created. Industrial workers used to do as they were told. Today, knowledge workers negotiate solutions in active interaction with their peers. We also used to think that organizations outlived workers. The organization came first, and people served the organization. Today, workers´ careers outlive organizations, profoundly challenging our thinking. People have to come first, creating a revolution in work related social structures.

Companies are not managing their employees’ long-term careers any more. Workers must be their own HRD professionals. With opportunity comes new responsibility. It is up to the worker to construct the narrative of working life, to know what to contribute, when to change course and how to keep engaged – for much longer than we have been used to. To do those things well you have to develop a new understanding of yourself and what you are actually up to.

PatternThe schools and workplaces of the industrial era were organized on the assumption that there is one right way to learn, or to do things, and it is the same for everybody. To improve was to subscribe to this ideal, the goal somebody else gave you. After that, the task was to know where you are, and (try to) close the gap.

This is where the biggest changes are taking place. Instead of the industrial era’s generalizations and abstractions about what is good for you, or what five steps everybody should take, it is now time to cultivate a deep understanding of the context, the unique, particular situation you are in. Who are you and where do you come from? What kind of relations are the building blocks of your life? Reflecting on your reality should be the starting point of any effort to change things. This is also where we are often at our weakest. It did not matter in the past because most decisions were made for us. But now people can, and must, choose. The new task is to be able to make these choices on the basis of our own particular strengths and our own sense of belonging.

Most of the choices we make each day are believed to be the products of well-considered, rational decisions based on knowledge, but they are not. They are repeated patterns, habits. We are not conscious in the way we think we are; we do most of the things we do on autopilot.

Habits in an individual’s life are a natural consequence of our neurology. Patterns in the brain emerge because of repetition and learning. When patterns emerge, the brain stops participating fully in decision-making. The brain stops recruiting prefrontal areas, allowing consciousness and attention to be potentially focused on other tasks. The brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. It is the same thing in organizations. A community is always a collection of routines and habits. The aim of these patterns is the same as in the brain, to make life easier and more predictable.

The problem here is that neither the brain nor the people in a tightly knit community can, in the end, tell the difference between a bad habit and a good habit. The patterns repeat in a self-reinforcing way. Repeating patterns, not reason, are the root of how we behave.

Although each situation means relatively little on its own, over time, the patterns of our life have an enormous impact on our creativity, productivity, health, well-being and happiness.

We all know that the primary thing that causes change is a major crisis! It may be the first heart attack or a sharp, deep drop in revenues. It is remarkable how fast people then find the ways to live in the right way, or how businesses suddenly start to deal with the “burning platforms” they could have tackled a long time ago.

I don’t think that people and organizations really have to wait until something serious happens to them to fix things. I believe that the productivity suites of tomorrow are going to be a combination of sensors, big data and quantified-self technologies. When used together, these create totally new opportunities for live feedback, daily reflection and iterative change. And, most importantly these opportunities are based on our own unique context and our own unique storyline.

Managing yourself is first and foremost about pattern recognition. It is essential to remedy the things you do repeatedly, that don’t serve you and the life you want to create.

It is about changing the focus from what we should be doing to what we actually do!

More soon!

Thank you Katri Saarikivi

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8 Responses to “Pattern recognition, quantified self and big data”


  1. […] recomendable artículo de Esko Kilpi (vía Stephen Downes) sobre la importancia del reconocimiento de patrones y la creación de bucles […]


  2. […] it was a link to Esko Kilpi’s blog post Pattern recognition, quantified self and big data. In his post, Esko […]


  3. Agreed! Another thing our brains do is make it difficult for us to observe our own patterns. As Kahneman says, bias often needs be pointed out by others to help us see so perhaps it’s quantified-self technologies with observations and feedback from our groups.

    Watching how people react to engaging and challenging unexpected events can offer insights into bias and patterned responses. Exercise the unexpected!


  4. I totally agree. During my process of change after facing myself I concentrated on thinking who am I and where I come from; what kind of relations are the building blocks of my life? Then on the basis of answers I asked myself a third question: To where I naturally am heading in my future? The “S”-tattoo on my frist reminds me of these questions and the value of be aware of myself: I need to stop and face the answers time to time. This is important, because the change is continuous. I learn and grow and so does change the answers to these questions.

    Thank you Esko for these words. They make my thoughts and learnings of myself totally clear. I feel more and more confident – I am doing the right things for me. :)

    -Satu


  5. […] Pattern recognition, quantified self and big data by @eskokilpi […]


  6. […] are plenty of people who can say this better than me. Esko Kilpi is one. A latest post from him is a really interesting take on why we need to focus on who we are, what we want, how we […]


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