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November 15, 2023
Everyone needs someone who can connect the dots.
A person who can bring together a lot of pieces of information from disparate places, associate one idea with another, and ultimately reveal the big picture or salient feature in that mass of data.
In short, a problem solver. Someone who can understand something by piecing together hints.
Now, if you read any of the literature from personality inventories, certain people are predisposed as dot connectors. Those who index as extroverted and intuitive are often skilled at doing so. They have an innate ability to see how random occurrences and events are linked.
But even if that doesn’t describe your native wiring, there’s no reason you can’t excel at this skill. Hell, if computer scientists can teach artificial intelligence how to do this, then there’s reason we can’t do it too.
Allow me to take you through a series of questions you can ask yourself in order to more effectively connect the dots. It’s useful in virtually every aspect of life, so I encourage you to try them out in as many situations as possible.
What is latent problem behind the manifest problem?
There are almost always multiple level of awareness when it comes to human perception. There’s a what’s visible to us. What seems evident on the surface.
But buried underneath what we think of as obvious is also a covert issue. Some deep seated, longstanding and ongoing concern that’s been buried or ignored.
I remember when I first decided to give up sugar. It was brutal. There were acute withdrawal symptoms like headaches, sadness, fatigue and irritability. Because it is, after all, an addictive drug.
But eventually I pushed through those critical first few months and the cravings went away. Before long, I no longer even missed sugar.
Until a few years later, when I realized I needed to give up diet soda. Which was basically liquid sugar, just a chemically enhanced version of it. Same reaction. Withdrawal symptoms and all. It sucked. Soda was like a friend I had to break up with.
But I made it out alive. And now I can’t even bring myself to drink one.
What’s interesting is, I thought my problem was the addiction to sweets. But once I’d given up my second vice, I realized that was merely the manifest problem. The latent issue was about something else entirely, which was eating my feelings. Running from my inner experience. Using food to emotionally regulate in a dysfunctional way.
I never connected those dots before, until I quit a few habits and realized the substratum beneath my surface problem.
The next dot connecting question is:
What have I just received that would benefit from the other intel I’ve gathered?
My mentor taught me this when I started my career. He told me being a writer wasn’t the job, being a listener and an observer was. Writing was simply the primary creative vehicle for it.
And so, anytime you’re exposed to a new idea, you set aside time to figure out which cluster of information you should gather it in. Compartmentalization is a good word for it. Whatever you’re experiencing in real time, you also start rifling through the rolodex in your brain to tie together all the other related ideas in a unique relationship.
It’s one reason journaling is such a healthy and useful practice. When I sit down for twenty minutes every morning to purge my mental, emotional and spiritual gasket, everything comes out at once. Which makes it easy to connect the dots.
It’s like vomiting all over the kitchen floor, and then looking up to realize that there are some chunks of a sandwich over here, some bits of a salad over here, and bites of a bagel over here.
That’s compartmentalization. The more frequently and intentionally we practice it, the easier it becomes to connect the dots.
It’s one of the reasons my morning journaling ritual is so critical. It’s a psychological holding environment where I can free associate and take stock and tune into my feelings. Frankly, it’s hard not to connect the dots if you do that first thing after you wake up every day.
Here’s another question to trigger your dot connecting.
What anomalies might be suggesting a glitch in the matrix?
Scifi movie fans will love this one. Neo famously experiences déjà vu when he notices the same black cat passing the hallway twice. The team explains to him that this glitch in the matrix is a sign that something within the programmed reality has been altered, which also serves as evidence for the illusory nature of the hyperreal realm.
Their group is then ambushed by agents and tactical police.
Note to self, if you start to pick up on anomalies in your matrix, consider that to be a sign. Trust your instincts. If little things in your environment suddenly seem bizarre, unexpected or just plain off, follow those instinctive leads.
Like when your boss starts not inviting you to key meetings. Or when your friends all of the sudden stop replying to your messages. Or when you start receiving an abundance of creepy message on your dating app from dudes you would never go out with.
That should only happen two or three times before you mutter to yourself, huh, weird, déjà vu.
Prepare yourself. What looks like a black cat is actually a glitch in the matrix. There is something with your programmed reality. It’s either changed, or is about to.
Now, this doesn’t suggest there is an ambush right around the corner. But ask anyone who’s ever been laid off or broken up with recently. They saw the signs coming. Even if they didn’t consciously realize it. Those innocuous, small details were emblematic of a larger, overarching narrative.
If you want to get ahead of being railroaded, then keep your eyes peeled for anomalies in your environment. To quote the world’s greatest secret agent, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.
Remember, dot connecting is a skill you can practice every day. Regardless of personality, anyone can mentally create webs of connections to detect emerging possibilities faster. We can all improve our ability to draw lines between disjointed events and identify life’s underlying structure.
In fact, when you learn to treat it as a video game, then finding overlapping themes is seemingly unrelated elements becomes fun. Take it from the guy who wears a nametag every day. Now that I’ve been doing field research and collecting data for over twenty years, I can often predict when a stranger is going to say hello to me before it happens.
It’s not exactly a super power, but it certainly proves that this skill can be honed.
How will do you create structure and meaning out of other people’s collective ramblings?