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SFGate talks with the father of "patterns"

To be a good builder, you need a feel for what surrounds you. Christopher Alexander knows. [SFGate.com]

Berkeley's Christopher Alexander -- author of A Pattern Language -- talks with Chron art critic Kenneth Baker in a 2-part feature discussing his career and his 4-volume collection, The Nature of Order (official book site)

When he switched to architecture in his student years, Alexander recalled, "I decided I had to determine what this -- architecture -- is. So I said I'm going to start with very, very tiny stuff, where I could say 'I know this' ... what kind of things can I write down that I really know? Some were close to trivial, like 'wouldn't it be nice to have a shelf outside the front door so you can set down your packages while you look for your key?' Of course it's not truth, but at least you can say, 'that might be useful, it might be pleasant.' Anyway, it was the mid-'70s before I finished with the whole 'Pattern Language' story ("A Pattern Language," Oxford University Press). ... Then I realized that this stuff is great but when you start facing the question of form, it's too vague on that subject. So I started looking at the forms of things from the point of view of the impact of that form on us."

Alexander's writing on patterns in architecture later informed the thinking of Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham, the Gang of Four, and beyond, and is acknowledged as the basis for what became software development's Design Patterns. He also sounds like a really interesting guy to talk with.

As my del.icio.us might suggest, I'm interested in starting a discussion soon about the possible productivity patterns that might be out there, and how we might use our wiki to collaborate on building them. Seems like a great way to abstract some of the things we've all learned into a tool-agnostic overview of "things that tend to work" -- and maybe just as importantly, identifying the antipatterns that seem to work but don't. I could have really used those myself over the past few years.

More on this soon, but I'd definitely appreciate lots of help and input from you pattern smarties on this if it appeals to you. For now, feel free to drop comments here if you have high-level thoughts, good links, or suggestions for learning more about use of patterns outside architecture and software development.

goeth's picture

This concept will accelerate the...

This concept will accelerate the adoption of GTD beyond comprehension. I first read "A Pattern Language" when we were building our home in 1996; our home has dozens of the patterns from Alexander's book... this was by accident, not design. People continually comment on how warm our house feels, they never want to leave. This comes from the patterns. The secret though, is the compression of the patterns. If you just stack up a bunch of the patterns when you build a home, and they have no continuity, no integration, then you won't have the same look/feel--i.e. you won't have a pattern language.

The pattern language, as explained by Alexander, has a distinct structure to it... you really need to read the book to understand this.

Here's the kicker. The patterns are instinctive, at least for those who have traveled more than a thousand miles from their home! Once you read an individual pattern, you are struck by how natural it seems.

Okay, what does this have to do with GTD? Everyone is struggling with implementation! If a pattern language could be developed, that leveraged GTD concepts, adoption would be immediate. GTD is difficult for many to implement because it does not "feel" natural. A pattern language would allow individuals to build a workable GTD model, one that fits them, and follows the basic tenets of GTD.





An Oblique Strategy:
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