Structure Blindness

Back to 'Human Limits' index


Why should there be any concern about 'Structure Blindness'? If this is something that exists at all? It doesn't sound like something that would concern people, on a day-to-day basis. Is it a meaningless technical term?

'Structure' or 'Pattern' is processed on an unconscious level, or if it is searched for consciously, then it is ignored once it's been recognised. What 'structure' actually is can be described by answers to questions like: what are the 'rules', how does this 'work', who is 'in charge'. You may notice yourself asking these questions when you end up in a new situation.

If you don't ask questions in a new situation then you are probably making automatic assumptions about what's going on. This may work, particularly if the setting is sufficiently similar to one you've dealt with before. Or, if those already there are generous in helping you fit-in.

In a broader sense, big problems occur where there are complex social structures, involving history, motivations, and rules to handle abuse. There is often a human drive for 'simple' (unthinking) answers/solutions, and these don't tend to handle complex problems well.

Dangerous situations particularly arise when things change, or don't work properly. This is because the structure, the underlying logic, is 'invisible', because it's evolved over time, and's never been recorded. This may result in ineffective behaviour; big problems typically occur when starting new things or stopping existing ones.

There are considerable issues of how to go about explaining structure. Because it isn't something most people tend to think about, most of the time, they don't have the words, or aren't used to using them in that particular way. There is likely jargon, specialist language. The 'normal speech' explanation may need to lean heavily on examples, which can be misleading, and then there's the need to untangle specifics from the general point.

The ability to recognise structure is trainable, and may be related to 'thinking outside the box'. There also may be connections with the idea of 'meta', as in meta-data, meta-rules, meta-logic.

There are mental tools for handling structure. Some are 3Ws, 5Ws, 5Ws+H. Others are ergonomic analysis: stake-holder, requirements, functionality; combined top-down and bottom-up analysis; such approaches as working out what the 'mission statement' is; and what are the available resources. Then there's analysis by analogy.

One problem with trying to do this sort of work is that you may run into various human cognitive limits. There are traditional tools, like subdivision, and the 'black box' approach, and more modern ones, like multiple-views analysis, and process analysis. It is important to realise that any one technique will have its own flaws and limitations. Traversing complex structures, mentally, is learn-able, and there may well be IT support tools to assist. In fact, this may be trainable, though (mid-2015) no particular courses are known of.

The question of how to handle 'structure' may have some relationship to beliefs, religious and otherwise, and moral or ethical codes. Once these are learned or acquired, possibly at a very early age, then the 'structure' behind them may never be looked at. However, a belief or code of ethics which has been effectively understood is far stronger, and more easily conveyed to others. And, if you've a firm understanding of the structures you run into in life, and how they've changed, or need to change, they're likely to work much better for you.

5Ws on Wikipedia

(c) ROMsys Ltd, July 2015, permission given to use for non-profit making purposes

Back to 'Human Limits' index