I often see patterns in my clients’ (and my own) actions. While mental shortcuts may be helpful to speed decision-making and reinforce comfort zones, they can lock you into unnecessarily tight boundaries. At worst, extremely patterned behavior imprisons thinking, actions and results. Let’s consider three patterns – deferring to planning, precedent or power – that often entrap decision-makers.

“What you do as an editor is search for patterns, at both the superficial and ever deeper levels – as deep as you can go…Putting a film together is, in an ideal sense, the orchestration of all those patterns.” –Walter Murch

Prisoner of the Plan

This prisoner spends an inordinate amount of time setting an overly complex plan, and once it’s set, he never changes it. So much work goes into the plan that the decision making process become burdensome, the plan becomes inflexible, and the team conflates the plan and the mission. Is your objective an actual outcome rather than checking off a series of activities?

Prisoner of Precedent

This prisoner likes SALT – Same As Last Time. She recycles prior action with no analysis of its applicability to the present circumstances (if a hammer was used last time, this must be a nail). Correlation is often confused with causation, and the historically popular decisions are preferred. Would crowds skating on a frozen pond provide comfort that the ice was secure or just add to the cumulative weight load on the ice?

Prisoner of Power

This prisoner blindly follows authority. He only does what he is told to do and does nothing until specifically instructed. The resulting organization is extremely hierarchical, people are cogs in a large wheel, and responsibility for thinking is constantly pushed up the levels (ironically, accountability is typically lost in these environments). Is there meaningful rationale in your action or are you simply following orders?

“To confer authority where capacity has not been developed is fatal to both government and business.” –Mary Parker Follett

As you embrace a new year ahead, maintain awareness of your patterns and the patterns in your environment. Intentionally adjust or eliminate the cycles that should be improved. Don’t be a prisoner of the pattern!