Patterns and Analogies

Cover photo for article 'Patterns and Analogies'

Patterns and Analogies

Finding the first [patterns] and making a connection with the second [analogies] is a favorite pastime of mine. It is an art that can have a profound and effective impact when I’m communicating. As a software delivery manager, I sit at the crossroads of competing perspectives and motives, and good communication is critically important to my success. I must be able to connect the macro with the micro, upper management and the front line. I have to establish a common ground. I’ve been noodling away on my “canvas” and feel like an image is forming and becoming clearer. With some trepidation, I want to share my work in progress with some hope that it resonates and can help others.

Everyone I work with has a deep relationship, an opinion ready to share, when it comes to driving. All of my coworkers do it—top to bottom, left to right. The mental picture I will quickly paint for you is a seamless collage, perfectly blending three core objects:

  • Intersections
  • Freeways
  • Surrounded by beautiful scenery

Maybe at first glance, the picture I’m painting looks benign. If this piece of art were on display, you would likely pass it by without any thought. But let me share the unique characteristics of these objects I’ve brought together.

When thinking about an intersection, with 100% accuracy, my peers think of the standard 4-way stop. It’s adorned by either a traffic light or traffic sign. Either way the understanding of what this represents is the same—Stop and Go. I know that this is my world. 99.9% of my driving encounters this. I can call out two clear examples of how this design frustrates me and makes me feel small and insignificant.

Example 1: The 4-way stop in the middle of nowhere with clear visibility in all directions—it is simple to determine the necessity of a complete stop. Even though there is not a soul in sight, I must come to a complete stop and then proceed.

Example 2: Red light at 2:00 AM—I’ve come to my complete stop and have determined that I am the only one awake, making a trip to Jack in the Box. Doesn’t matter. I still have to wait for cross traffic to turn red, then the phantom green light arrow for no one to turn in front of me before I can proceed through the intersection.

In both of these examples, my ability to use reason and judgement have been removed or removed without the possibility of a penalty (ticket from an overhead drone, traffic camera, or hiding police officer). It does not matter the condition or circumstance—the established pattern was violated, and justice must be served.

This design isn’t working for me on the roads and most definitely not in my workplace where I have high functioning and capable teams. Imagine if the intersection had more than two roads converging and how much more wasted time there might be.

But enough about this Antipattern. Anywhere there is an intersection, and regardless of how many paths are converging, I’ve placed a dynamic roundabout. This is something that starts to make sense. Upon approaching areas of convergence, the power is given back to me as the driver to determine how I approach and navigate the obstacle. I can slow down, merge, and continue on, oftentimes, never having to come to a complete stop!

Unlike intersections, the concept of freeways has less design nuance. The purpose is to provide the path for fast transit. The key features on my freeway are the following: divided, multi-lane, surrounded by soft shoulders and guard rails.

Everything I’m drawing attention to are rules. These carefully designed rules aren’t restrictions in the sense that they will slow you down. These rules, when respected and adhered to, allow for maximum speed! Take note that I did not mention a speed limit. Think of the German Autobahn.

When I know that the freeway I am on only goes one way, I don’t have to worry about oncoming or cross traffic. I will maintain my vehicle inside one of the lanes. Generally speaking, I should be in the right lane just in case someone else is wanting and able to go faster—it is understood that you do that in the left lanes. I’m also reassured that if something unexpected were to happen to me or my vehicle, I can pull over to the side to assess my situation. Having these rules properly identified, understood, and followed raises the speed potential for everyone!

But, unless you’re a professional driver, you may only get so much out of the sensation of high speeds or efficiencies of intersections. That is why my analogy or painting is set to the backdrop of beautiful scenery. It varies along the road what is surrounding you and me, but the constant that persists is beauty, however you define that—plenty of coastlines, desert canyons, forests and rivers, mountain peaks and overlooks.

Hopefully I’ve connected with you on a level that you can understand and also feel. It’s my job to create and establish the best environment possible. Antifragility is an antipattern. Resilient and dynamic is the way to go.

So, I’ll define and refine my set of rules. I’ll make every attempt to cut the ones that restrict instead of propel. I will encourage my teams to understand those rules, to connect the rule set with responsibility and accountability. Then encourage travel with speed.

I do my best to scout ahead and find the intersections in the work environment that bring us to a complete stop. I double down on getting those invested in the traditional design to see the benefit of re-architecting and putting in roundabouts. I don’t stop short of standing and pointing but will offer to do the work needed change the design.

Thanks for humoring me. I hope to see you in next edition of Arizona Highways.

our author(s):
Scott Matheny