Attractor patterns are particular kinds of recognizable patterns that can help us understand our systems. They are the “traces” that are left in the system as a result of movement of its agents. Three types are critical.
POINT ATTRACTOR PATTERNS
Appear to converge toward one spot. Examples include traffic patterns that move the same direction at about the same speed; children planning for their first day of school, and patterns of listening to and purchasing a musician’s work. We can use point attractor patterns to increase the coherence in a system or to focus the system’s energy on one event or outcome. Creating a strong container can draw people together. Decreasing the number or degree of differences in the system can increases point attractor patterns. Finally we can use language, or incentives, or rules and regulations to shape point attractor patterns toward a desired focus.
PERIODIC ATTRACTOR PATTERNS
Occur in repeating cycles. Examples include activities around planning for seasonal products, behaviors and rituals related to payday and budget development, and regular attendance in a faith community. Many cultural practices and rituals are also examples of periodic attractor patterns. In human systems we use periodic attractor patterns to increase agreement and certainty, pulling people to greater coherence and stability.
STRANGE ATTRACTOR PATTERNS
Emerge when there is bounded space that provides unlimited possibilities within. One example is the variability in particular relationships. Everyone has a general idea of what it is to be a mentor, but every mentor/mentee pair shares a unique relationship. The general definition is the boundary, with the multiple realities providing the unlimited possible patterns within. Often when we feel hemmed in by rules and regulations, it helps to think of them as strange attractor patterns. When we think of rules and regulations as point attractor patterns, we see them as delineating our only options for action. We believe they prescribe the only things we can do. If, on the other hand, we think of rules and regulations as strange attractor patterns, that opens our options. We see the rules as the boundary, and recognize that we have full creative opportunity within that boundary.