Most businesses fail not because the managers are dumb but because when situations emerge that defy their logic and preparation, they cave. This is why it is said that business is not for the faint-hearted. What is more, street smarts are more likely to succeed in business than book smarts. However, at the top of the chain are the book smart who learn how to also be street smart.
Human beings are creatures of routine. From childhood, we are trained that two times two always equals four. We are not allowed to ask why or to offer an alternative. We are told that getting an A in school is what makes you successful in life and so our whole life in school is aimed at getting that A — other skills be damned.
We go to work the same way every day. We like things to be just the way they have been. We love routine. When things are different, we get uncomfortable. When the sugar bowl is moved from where we are used to it being, we get upset.
When someone else sits in our favourite seat in church, we get upset. When we get a new teacher in school, we get uncomfortable. Think of all the things that can change and get us upset. Why are we like this as human beings?
The human brain has been trained since birth to identify patterns. That is why as a baby grows, it will associate an adult stretching out their arms with being carried. By the time we are young children and are learning the multiplication tables, our minds are going through the most intense programming ever. The result is that we become experts at recognising patterns. That is why we can instantly recognise patterns such as faces, language, and signs.
The benefit of good pattern recognition is that we can recognise objects and situations very quickly. If I start to count and I say 2, 4, 6 … without really thinking about it, your mind gets into the loop and knows instinctively that the next number is 8, 10 and so on. Once the mind has identified a pattern, it latches on to it quickly and will continue in that direction instinctively. It does not need to think about it or conduct any form of analysis. The moment the mind identifies the pattern, it automatically follows it through.
Once our brains have caught on to the logic behind something, it then becomes our natural way of analysing. That means every new situation will be viewed in the light of a previous one and this is where the danger lies.
When faced with something that does not tie in with our logic or our programming, we get confused. So instead of a number sequence of 2,4,6, …. if I said 2, 6, 42, 1,806, 3,263,442 …. we get confused.
The truth is that even though the second sequence of numbers is a pattern, because it is not a pattern we understand or are familiar with we get confused.
The brain naturally reacts to everything and anything it is not used to. Whether the reaction will be positive or negative depends on whether the brain has been trained to be change-compliant or not.
Someone will see the second sequence and immediately discard it because it does not make sense to them. Imagine the number of opportunities that we have thrown away because they do not make sense to us at first. However, as we study the second sequence more carefully we can see the pattern. The first number is 2. Multiply 2 by itself and add it to 2 and you get 6. Multiply 6 by itself and add it to 6 and you get 42. Multiply 42 by itself and add 42, and you get 1,806. Multiply 1,806 by itself and add 1,806, and you get 3, 263,442
So, we see that even though this was a pattern, because it was not an immediately obvious pattern or one that people deal with on a daily basis, many people will get turned off once they see it whereas if they took time to accept it and then work with it, they will ultimately see that there was a pattern hidden there somewhere.
No matter how disjointed the changes may appear to be, human beings have been given the unique ability to make sense out of nonsense. This means that even when there is no pattern at all, we still have the ability to develop something sensible out of it. Everything depends on the readiness of our minds to accept change.
Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks