A few years ago, I read the book Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. I don’t want to spoil it for you by giving away the plot, but something stuck with me—enough to read this book again for inspiration—was how the characters in this novel have special abilities. Realistic ones. One character could visualize the movement and patterns in crowds, giving her the ability to seamlessly weave through people for quick escapes. Another man was blessed with infallible emotion-recognition skills, making him a human lie detector. They had super powers but not necessarily supernatural ones, as Jess helped me summarize. (Thanks, Jess!)

I thought of Brilliance immediately when I read the Fast Company article, How Entrepreneurs Can Harness The Science Of Intuition To Make Smarter Decisions. The piece explains how two entrepreneurs, Suzy Batiz, inventor and founder of Poo-Pourri, and Jeff Sinelli, CEO of Which Wich, were able to make big decisions because of a single aha moment. One passage stuck out as particularly insightful:

“Psychological researchers point out that our brains take in and process an enormous amount of data from the environment. The vast majority of it is hidden from our conscious view, but is still very present in our brains and constantly being processed in the background. When thinking entrepreneurially, our brains process this data in search of pattern recognition. Three or four well-known pieces of information are combined to create something new. Intuition” is what we call pattern recognition applied to a much larger reservoir of information in our subconscious. It is often experienced as a flash of knowing, and it is often transmitted to our conscious attention through older parts of our brains, specifically through emotion and bodily sensation.”

Experience + Pattern Recognition = Intuition (Gut Reaction)

Much like the characters in Brilliance, Batiz and Sinelli are able to mentally process experience and data and have a physical reaction. In other words, they have realistic super powers. And what a useful one to boot. In marketing and advertising where we’re making multiple decisions throughout the day—and not just for ourselves, but for our clients as well. A piece from Predictable Success, How to Develop Pattern Recognition Skills, outlines this concept perfectly. (I’ve summarized it below, but do yourself a favor and read the whole article, too.) 
  1. Study nature, art and math. Patterns occur most overtly (and most perfectly) in nature, art and maththink of the Fibonacci Sequence, the circuits of the planets, the tides and the seasons, the shape of a snowflake.
  2. Study (good) architecture. Man’s closest approximation to the beauty of nature’s patterns is in our greatest architecture.
  3. Study across disciplines. All great patterns, as with all great truths, are transcendent. You’ll know you’ve found a pattern worth holding on to when you can see it has an immediate, intuitive and unforced application across disciplines.
  4. Find a left-brain hobby. For you it might be doing crosswords, playing Words With Friends, or Sudokoit doesn’t matter, so long as your brain is getting a couple of hours every week when it receives gratification and reward for the discovery of patterns.
  5. Don’t read (much) in your own discipline. Do yourself a favor, step back, and view your industry from afar. Cease trying to be an insider, and cultivate the mindset and perspective of an outsider. You’ll see more, understand more, know more.
  6. Listen for echoes and watch for shadows. Patterns are seen not in the decisions you make, but the shadows they cast. You know you have the makings of a pattern when two or more very different decisions cast a similar shadow.

All of this got me thinking: If our brains are constantly taking in enormous amounts of data, what can I do to filter out bits and pieces? As a graphic designer, I tend to think and comprehend visually through color, composition, pattern, shape and form. What would happen if I altered the way my eyes take in information? 

So, I’m working on an experiment. Nothing new or revolutionary by any means, but I’m hoping if we try it here at Black Sheep we might be able to fine tune our pattern recognition skills in an innovative way. (Or at least look cool while doing it.)


— Illustration and Sheepspo by Bill Ferenc