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November 26, 2003 » 6:33 pm

“Turn Off Your Computer” and Other Pattern Ramblings

As I mentioned previously, Blue Oxen is finishing up its second research report. We spent several hours developing a survey for the report, and all of us were quite satisfied with the final draft. Then we e-mailed the surveys. Almost immediately afterwards, the three of us thought of several more questions we would have liked to have asked.    (CR)

The experience struck a chord in Josh Rai, who suggested there was a force there that manifested itself in several patterns. Last Thursday, he came up with a pattern as an example: Turn Off Your Computer. It’s both a pattern for good living — or as Josh called it, a “Martha Stewart” pattern — and also a pattern for knowledge work. I think the underlying force is one that crops up constantly, and is worth discussing. I also think explaining this particular pattern is a useful way of demonstrating the difference between a pattern and a force.    (CS)

Turn Off Your Computer    (CT)

Problem: You can’t remember whether you’ve finished all of your tasks.    (CU)

Context: You think you’re done with your tasks for the day — scheduling a meeting, sending an e-mail, etc. — but you have a sinking feeling that there was something else you were supposed to do.    (CV)

Forces: ?    (CW)

Solution: Turn off your computer. You’ll remember what you were supposed to do after the computer is off.    (CX)

Resulting Context: There is a sense of finality in turning off your computer that helps unclutter your mind, making it easier to remember whatever it was that you forgot.    (CY)

Rationale: You can always turn your computer back on. Remembering what you forgot before it’s too late more than makes up for the five minutes wasted in restarting the computer.    (CZ)

Related Patterns    (D0)

All of the Think Out Loud patterns tend to have a similar effect. For example, I often find that I discover all sorts of new insights and ways to express ideas after I submit a paper for publication. One way to trick yourself into thinking of these ideas ahead of time is to show your drafts to people. I’m generally reluctant to do this — as are many others I know — because I’m self-conscious of my writing. However, the payoff always makes it worth it.    (D1)

The software analog of this is Commit Early And Often. Checking in code not only allows others to review your work, it often frees your mind into solving previously unresolved issues.    (D2)

When I’m having trouble thinking through a problem, discussing it with other people often helps. In fact, I often figure out the solution myself right after explaining the problem. Sometimes, just formulating the problem in my head prior to explaining it leads to the solution. Nevertheless, I find it vital to have the person physically present.    (D3)

Pattern Ramblings    (D4)

In this particular case, we recognized the force before coming up with the pattern (although I still haven’t managed to describe the force usefully). I think of the difference between patterns and forces as analogous to the difference between patterns of language and the rules of language. Infants (and perhaps most adults) learn languages by recognizing and repeating patterns. We know nothing about syntax and semantic rules until we are taught them, at least not consciously. Nevertheless, while knowing the rules are not necessary for learning the language, they are valuable for understanding and evolving the language.    (D5)

Furthermore, we are good at recognizing patterns, but we’re not necessarily cognizant of them, and hence, are often not good at synthesizing them. Writing a good pattern is hard; recognizing a good pattern is much easier.    (D6)

We don’t necessarily have to be cognizant of patterns in order to apply them. However, it certainly helps. Comedians, for example, are applying patterns of humor. Most of these comedians are probably aware of these patterns, although they probably weren’t when they were merely funny people. People who aren’t natural comedians can learn to crack jokes once they are aware of these patterns.    (D7)

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