Looking for patterns (where they don’t exist)

What do Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter all have in common?

That's right: They have brand names that revolve around repeating a letter. Two "o"s in the first three and a double "t" in the last.

Human beings are pattern-making machines. That's a key to our survival instinct–we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future.

Which is great, except when the pattern isn't there, when our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don't matter.

One of the problems of using the past to predict the future is that we sometimes fall in love with the inevitable coincidental patterns that can't help but exist in any set. But that doesn't mean that they work for predicting the future. Past performance is often no predictor of future results.

And yet you wouldn't know that from all the meetings we have arguing about things that can be clearly proven to be random artifacts.

The real danger of false pattern matching is that it helps us avoid the real work of digging deep for a genuine understanding of human behavior and the organizations that succeed.