About Ideas, Patterns + Indicators

We’re creating a Library of Ideas, Indicators and Patterns that support a living planet and society because we believe reference lists can be extremely helpful in creating a living present + future. We call our list an “Ideas Library” for short because “idea” is broad word with a long history and it encompasses the terms indicator and pattern, both of which are a “mental impression” (or idea). However, an idea is not necessarily an indicator or pattern. Each of which have more specific form.

What is an Idea?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers the following definition for “Idea”: 1. a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action. 2. a concept or mental impression. 3. the aim or purpose. Late Middle English (sense 3): via Latin from Greek idea ‘form, pattern,’ from the base of idein ‘to see.’

What is an Indicator?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers the following definition for “Indicator” that fits our use: a thing, especially a trend or fact, that indicates the state or level of something.

What is a Pattern?
Humans excel at pattern recognition and we each use patterns daily, but we are rarely conscious to the fact that we are using them. While patterns can simply be “the way things are done,” they can also be used to guide change, communicate appropriate action and imprint emerging solutions.

The human capacity for Pattern recognition has made them an essential part of how people + designers participate in the world and shape solutions. They are particularly helpful for creating and engaging in wholistic thinking, systems thinking + complex problem solving. Patterns can be used to organize the parts + pieces of complicated situations into a recognizable, elegant and manageable structure.  In short, they support the kind of thinking and solutioning we all need to thrive in a rapidly changing world filled with growing challenges, complexity + amazing wonder.

“The more life-giving patterns there are in a <project> the more  beautiful it becomes.”
Christopher Alexander 

On the other hand, patterns can also be a powerful deterrent to change or creativity if they are used habitually or if they are blindly employed. It is important to consciously recognize and test patterns, both new + existing, for their salience to any particular situation.

Click here for a definition of Architecture and Computer Science Patterns on Wikipedia>

Here are some of our rules for using patterns:
1. Use only patterns that are vital + alive, not all patterns are appropriate for a living world.
2. Use patterns like modeling clay: Mold them to your situation, but don’t stretch them until they break.
3. Pick the right patterns:  Depending on the context, a pattern may or may not fit your situation.
4. Mix them, match them and make them your own. Fill in the blanks by creating more.
5. Last but not least: Layer patterns together so you can to create rich, diverse, living solutions.

The term “Pattern” means different things to different people. For us, a pattern has intelligible form and structure. Patterns may or may not be physical or contain a geometries. They can be simple or complex. They may reach across scale, time and distance. Patterns may be visible though physical structure, words, geometry, diagrams,  pictures, mathematical formulas, music and other forms of order. In other words can take many forms. The patterns we created have a clear descriptive name, an intent or problem statement, an analysis of the problem and a list of actions derived from the patterning methods developed in “A Pattern Language”

What is an Action List? 
Sometimes we develop Action Lists instead of patterns. Action Lists contain the starting material for a pattern or even several patterns, but fall short of the clarity and completeness being sought in a pattern. They contain ideas + indicators.

Click here for Atul Gawande’s TED Talk “How do we heal medicine?” on the importance of action lists (checklists)>