The Role of Pattern Recognition for Creativity

The Role of Pattern Recognition for Creativity

 When chemist and inventor Dmitri Mendeleyev initially proposed his periodic table, he recognized a few gaps in the pattern of elements. Mendeleyev predicted the existence, and even characteristics, of undiscovered elements based on the symmetric patterns of his periodic model. Intuitive and experienced, he was able to recognize patterns and consolidate predictions into a system. The ability to recognize patterns is based on not only the capacity to make connections between ideas and concepts but also intuition and experience. Intuition promotes imagination, which must be evaluated through reasoning. Unlike critical thinking, a process of natural, spontaneous, associative thinking does not require specific effort or logic. It derives from inclination toward a certain thought or behavior.

Intuition is more automatic than mindful. It relies on experience and accumulative attitudes. Intuition provides a conceptual framework of the actions required to fulfill a certain need. Intuition results from our brains’ method of subconsciously storing, processing, and retrieving information, thereby constituting a credible psychological function that warrants further investigation, according to a team of researchers headed by Professor Gerard Hodkinson from the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School (2008). Unconsciously, the mind observes details, identifies patterns, and defines opportunities. Imagination is driven by intuition when it comes to envisioning a particular project, proposal, or decision. Intuitive urges—immediate knowledge without the conscious use of reasoning—embrace uncertainty and doubt and cannot be implemented without imagination. Imagining possibilities is a powerful tool for discovery and inventions. It enables you to envision new concepts as well as connections among them. In the example above, Mendeleyev predicted the existence of undiscovered elements. Intuition, pattern recognition, and creativity are intertwined, and are all related to the discovery of new patterns, which is called innovation. Transforming instinctive realization of possibilities and pattern recognition may, after careful evaluation as shown in Figure 1, result either in innovation or in failure.

Figure 1: From intuition to Evaluation

A sense of intuition is extremely important for the creativity process. Intuitive minds are more receptive to unseen interrelations among remote conditions. Our ability to think is based on how we respond to stimuli and how one thought is connected to another. Imagination enables future-oriented impulses and promotes motivation and reasoning. The transformation of intuition into reasoning requires merging multilayered mental spaces and modalities. In the example above, Mendeleyev was able to turn his intuition into discovery because of his knowledge and ability to compare and contrast multiple characteristics of the elements. With no experimental evidence, he foresaw undiscovered elements by comparing properties and arrangements of existing elements. Mendeleyev was able to recognize a pattern of appearance of elements with similar characteristics with a regular interval between them. He revealed a gap between elements when he classified the existing elements in increasing order of the atomic masses.

Exact and approximated expressions can translate intuition into more formal systems, such as words, images, or equations. Once expressions are translated into a formal image, the process of recognition of regularities in data occurs. The term “recognition of regularity” overlaps with the notion of pattern recognition and it refers to providing a sensible explanation for all stimuli that match pre-existing patterns, while accounting for possible variations. It is also possible to recognize and predict, to a certain degree of complexity, a behavior or condition; when one of these is predicted based on previously observed patterns, it is called the merging behavior or condition. Intuitive knowing and pattern discovery may pertain to sensing discrepancies, gaps in knowledge, and other conditions. Pattern analysis goes beyond simple reasoning. It relies on logical relationships, computational capacities, and analytical responses but it also incorporates optimal responding (the best response followed by the most favorable outcome), unconscious evidence evaluation, impulsivity, cognitive regulation, and the ability to process complexity.

Via critical thinking, you can evaluate the quality and reliability of new ideas based on supporting evidence. Both intuition and reasoning are important for creativity, as demonstrated in the Figure 2. In contrast to the fast, natural, and insensible spontaneous ideas considered the hallmark of intuition, reasoning entails a logical and sensible method of analysis. A rational, interpretational, and factual argument comprises the capacity to make sense, implement logic, and verify facts. This process involves cognition and awareness. Understanding the logistic of reasonable arguments and justifiable conclusions, along with the ability to think sensibly, is essential for forming judgments and making conclusions. During this process, a complex concept can be broken down into individual problems that will be verified progressively.

Figure 2: The role of Reasoning and Intuition for Creativity


Creativity is rooted in imagination, which itself starts with perception. Perception refers to the interpretation of surroundings within the context of prior experience, thought, beliefs, and opinions. The brain reactivates neural pathways when past experience is reinforced. In order to break out of known patterns, you must deploy your attention differently. Change in the attention patterns promotes novel perception of the same surroundings. The brain tends to process and categorize raw data through the lenses of prior experience and prejudices. When you force your mind into a mode of imagination by manipulating familiar images or purposefully witnessing fresh combinations, you promote new insights. This is why new situations—traveling to foreign countries, trying a hobby you have never tried before—contribute to the process of breaking out of experience-dependent perception. New insight is rooted in unfamiliar conditions and different environments.

Conventional ideas are preconceived, while novelty arises from a fresh perception. Novelty is an organic process of growth and flexible elaboration of thoughts and questions you have confronted. You can boost your own capacity for new interpretation by questioning, which helps you reason through obstacles and find gaps and errors in existing knowledge. Opening your mind to the concept of complexity and new methods of questioning will help your brain perceive familiar entities in a non-habitual way. Perception refers to the ability to translate a comprehensive condition into subjective images through comparing stimulus with the accessible data.  Our perception is limited by our individual manner of receptiveness. Receptiveness pertains simply to the readiness and wiliness to receive. People’s manners of receptiveness vary in accordance to whether they are “open-minded,” meaning that they willingly accept new suggestions, or more resistant to different ideas. Perception based on receptiveness is more sensitive and sympathetic, allowing for the recognition of different perspectives. It involves looking at the same problem from others’ perspectives. Non-receptive perception is more ignorant, biased, and self-centered in nature. This type is also limited and fragmentary. One example of non-receptive perception is “sterile” perception, which is indifferent and disengaging in nature. It aims to neutralize the current situation without meaningful participation or care.

Creativity is rooted in an inventive perception of the images streamed to the hippo-campus through the five senses. New representations based on the impulsive rearrangement of sensory qualities and stimuli configurations may result in unusual mental representations. We are able to process feelings, colors, shapes, sounds, and other categorical data based on our identification of recognizable patterns and the meaning we assign to the data. Prediction of merging experiences is possible based on an amalgamation of heuristic and analytical thinking. When you imagine possibilities and then form a hypothetical concept, you may achieve an innovative mental model, as presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Imagination of possibilities as a base for mental modeling.

It is possible to predict the upcoming number in a sequence. It is realistic to forecast merging behaviors based on previously observed behaviors. The ability to find a pattern underlines our capacity to create. After Mendeleyev processed and classified data, he found an order and identified a pattern based on perception and experience. Perception and pattern recognition are two major categories of creative problem solving. Comparing these two categories can involve matching the models, functions, actions, or characteristics. Conforming the most productive or favorable chances that we create through the bridging of unrelated ideas is more likely to produce novel ideas. Free associations can produce contradictions that can be brought to the resonant qualities to be understood deeper. Once contradictions are reconciled and adjusted, a new concept becomes more accurate and transparent. Recognizing patterns helps people deal with complex situations.

When the brain finds patterns, it rationalizes, analyzes, and generates new feedback. Patterns are very important for creativity and predicting possibilities. When the mind links new experiences or knowledge to past experience or knowledge for the first time, new memories occur; therefore, consciously learning patterns and purposefully connecting new knowledge to existing data enables a deeper understanding. Multiple linkages promote new insight and boost associative thinking. When the mind recognizes patterns, its newly emergent perspectives give rise to critical thinking and problem solving. Critical thinking—which entails the process not only of providing answers to questions but also of questioning existing answers—is a cumulative function of analysis, judgement, questioning, probing, and thinking in creative as well as reflective ways (Darlington, 2011).

Looking above existing patterns makes the typical boundaries unavailable and thus increases the ability to easily generate a large number of responses and ideas (fluency) across different categories (flexibility), which in turn encourages improvisation or spontaneous creativity. Moreover, going beyond the existing boundaries shifts perception and will increase your number of interpretations. A high range of possible solutions changes the mind’s “template” for decision making. Finding new patterns means paying attention to new details and approaching a problem from a new perspective.

A provisional supposition based on reliable facts is a starting point for future exploration. People are best able to predict possibilities when there is a relatively stable tendency of occurrence of similar patterns. Scientific prediction of behavior, and conditions can be explained as justification of events that can be predicted to a certain degree of accuracy, followed by observation of the patterns. Projected outcomes can be extremely valuable for planning and progress. For instance, projected climate change based on scientific factors and observations is essential for making plans, both in social and economic sectors. Weather forecast is based on the previous weather patterns’ variability. Discovering new patterns in the community health trends can help predict the need for particular services. The analysis of regularity in conditions should consider the range of variance and errors. Different sources of predictability must be scrutinized in terms of accuracy and systematic errors.

Thinking creatively—i.e., thinking outside the patterns and growing parallel processes (the mind’s capacity to simultaneously process received stimuli with differing quality)—increases the likelihood of having novel ideas. In my manuscript Beyond Perception: A Guide to Creative Thinking, I explain the notion of thinking outside the box thus: “There is no box. You make your own box out of narrowed vision, limited perception, biases, and misconceptions. . . . Creativity makes a difference” (Zbarskaya, 2015). Thinking “boxless” allows contradicting conventional rules and going beyond common patterns. This technique spurs novelty based on reconceptualization and rearrangement of limitations.

You can harness your potential and induce self-growth by transcending the norms and finding peculiar patterns. While understanding the patterns and consequences, the brain designs new patterns. A combination of different patterns supplies the mind with various tools to take old thoughts down an unexpected route. These tools include changing and shifting directions for a better or more creative solution, disproving goals and rules, provoking new perspectives, or exaggerating images and expressions and breaking free from existing patterns. The techniques of comparing choices to predetermined criteria and creating conflicts between logical reasoning and previous information about the fact can be utilized to promote unusual decision making.

Stating an outcomes before you have actually observed it involves prediction, which is different from hypothesizing, in which projected reason is made based on limited evidence. Discovering patterns and building expectations based on these patterns is a cornerstone of innovations. The implication of basic knowledge and imagined possibilities can underlie envisioning the future. The ability to anticipate the expectations of conditions in hierarchical structures is based on decoding of sequences. In order to predict any behaviors in hierarchical systems, one must recognize the arrangements or patterns in the structure. This occurs in many different fields. Decoding of models of sequences can be utilized in poetry, computer programming, and science, to name only a few. Simply, the behaviors in complex structures can be also predicted by dividing the structure into simpler structures, recognizing the interrelations between them, and explaining sequences. Through analysis of sequential relationships, the mind can determine how the pattern may continue. Hypothetical predictions encompass chance.

Future qualities of hypothetical ideas can be forecasted based on the variation of every observation in the process. For instance, regarding the period table, Mendeleyev first placed elements in the table. He then realized that the atomic weights may be incorrect, because the elements seemed to be in the wrong place. Next, he analyzed the pattern, then leaving spaces for elements that were not discovered. Had Mendeleyev kept hypothesizing based on the observed varieties, he may have predicted another group of elements, called the “noble gases,” that were predicted at the end of the nineteenth century by Ramsay. This new discovery just proved Mendeleyev’s idea of the periodic table of elements right.

Some events are likely, and many of them are predictable. Prediction of achievements based on patterns of re-occurrence aids the mind and society at various levels. Weather forecast and traffic expectation are typical examples of predicting the likelihood of conditions based on observed patterns. Extracting information from data, defining patterns and forecasting possible trends refer to predictive analyses. Going beyond descriptive analysis and envision merging patterns of behaviors help to streamline and improve ideas, build models, and predict future results.

Combinations among reliable and unreliable ideas may also boost the occurrence of new thoughts. You can harness original thinking by forming reliable as well as unreliable arguments. A reliable argument is an inductively strong point with true premises supported by statistics and facts and rooted in shared values and beliefs. Reliable outcomes are attainable, measurable, and entail accurate results based on logistic progression. They justify reality and resemble factual connections. An unreliable argument is an unusual and unexpected course of reasoning with false premises to demonstrate personal interpretation of falsehood. An unreliable outcome is a personal interpretation out of bounds and norms. Unreliable arguments usually result in factual fallacies, but they also promote unusual connections and can boost new perspectives. In a combination of true premises with only one false premise or outcome, the outcomes will be unreliable. Nevertheless, these exercises are great for boosting creativity and should be utilized for opening your mind to new thoughts—even absurd ones.


Example 1: Two reliable arguments produce reliable outcome:

Reliable Argument 1: Flexible individuals are more likely to adapt to new situations.

Reliable Argument 2: Creative individuals are more likely to be flexible.

Unreliable Outcome 1: Creative individuals are more likely to adapt to new situations.


Example 2: The reliable and unreliable arguments produce unconvincing outcome:

Reliable Argument 3: In new situations, individuals are most likely to think in new ways.

Unreliable Argument 1: Individuals are most likely to feel confident in new situations.

Unreliable Outcome 1: Individuals are most likely to feel confident when they think in new ways.


Example 3: A combination of reliable and unreliable outcomes produces another unconvincing outcome:

Reliable Outcome 1: Creative individuals are more likely to adapt to new situations.

Unreliable Outcome 1: Individuals are most likely to feel confident when they think in new ways.

Unreliable Outcome 2: Individuals are most likely to feel confident when they adapt to new situations.


Unconventional problem solving is rooted in combining various points of view despite their reliability with intent to gain a new insight and imagine possibilities. Unreliable outcomes can be used to boost occasional flashes of insight and imagination. Reasoning is a necessary operation to determine the value of the newly formed outcome. Forming novel perspectives through an amalgamation of true and false arguments and conclusions along with the improvement of problem solving capacities through pattern recognition and critical thinking improve an ability to decide. It is essential to evaluate the patterns based on reasoning. Unreliable patterns may result in unreliable discoveries.

Patterns are not necessarily linked to regularity. They can pertain to irregular behavioral arrangements and randomly occurring events. Random or chaotic occurrences consist of patterns that were not recognized and decrypted. The capability to recognize existing or emerging patterns is essential for creative decision making and planning. Expanding your mind through analogies and pattern recognition enhances innovative thinking. Patterns should never be analyzed outside of their context. The realization of part-whole hierarchy with multilayered relationships and dependencies increase unity and integration of pattern-based coherence.

Realization of possibilities based on pattern-based predictions promotes inspiration and motivation, which transform into intuitive urges that help you discover novel configurations. The necessity of creative problem solving based on pattern recognition is rooted in the behavioral arrays of the complex and dynamic society. The ability to recognize these patterns, flexibly combine diverse concepts, and generate novel configurations benefits each individual in terms of societal adaptation and improvement. Pattern recognition serves processing, classification, exploration, discovery, and creative implementation, and it helps to raise consciousness and build comprehensiveness


Hodgkinson, G.P., Langan-Fox, J. and Sadler-Smith, E. (2008). Intuition: A fundamental bridging construct in the behavioral sciences. British Journal of Psychology, 99(1), 1-27.

Darlington, R. (2015). How to think critically. Retrieved from