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Have I properly identified the patterns?

We recognize melodies by tracing the pattern of sounds rather than by counting the number of notes. People who count focus on the quantity of things, by asking, “How many?” or “How much?” But people who detect patterns ponder the relationship between things by questioning “How do things connect?” Pattern perception lies at the foundation of human experience.

For example, as consumers, we recognize a pattern in the pricing of items. Take electronics, for instance. We know that we’ll pay a lot more to be the first to buy the latest hi-tech gizmo than those who wait to purchase the item. The high prices will eventually fall. Yet not all patterns are as easily discerned. Most patterns are hidden in a lot of clutter. One of the most important tasks of pattern detectors is to separate the clutter and random from the truly significant.

Experts, for example, see patterns that others do not. The chess grandmaster, for instance, detects forces at play between pieces that the novice simply doesn’t see. Experience, experimentation, and education can enhance our ability to detect patterns. But it all starts with the recognition that understanding something means pondering the connections, not the quantities. It may well be the single most important skill humans possess.

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