Same and Different

Same and different is a way to identify patterns in what may seem to be random activity. In our book, Adaptive Action, Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization , we define patterns as similarities, differences, and connections that have meaning across space and time. When you begin to identify those things that are similar and different in your sticky issue, you begin to name the patterns you see.


You can use Same and Different when a sticky issue has you stuck, unable to move forward. At those times you often lose your ability to discern patterns in the chaos of the moment. Unless you can identify patterns, though, you have no hope of identifying the underlying dynamics that hold you stuck. Using models /methods like Same and Different helps you see realities in your system in a way that informs your decision making and action taking.

So What?

By engaging in open dialogue about how they are the same as or different from each other, members of your group can gain insights into their relationships and interactions. You can use the model to get to the heart of your challenge. This activity engages you in naming patterns of similarities and differences, identifying unnamed containers in the midst of larger group, and differences that matter, even though they may not be recognized.

Now What?

Use Same and Different in your next sticky issue to:

  • Name patterns that keep you stuck and patterns you can leverage for help.
  • Explore the implications of those patterns in the context of your sticky issue.
  • Take wise action to amplify patterns that move you forward and damp patterns that hold you back.

Related Resources

August 15, 2013 HSD helps you "make sense of the mess" that is the chaos of your life. Consider how the challenges and opportunities are the same or different from each other. Consider what differences really matter in your life. Consider your perspective. Consider form and function. Consider the impact of time. Watch this lively discussion of how these kinds of questions can help you make sense of the chaos in your life.


Power used to be simple. It was held by men with wealth or position. That was true when the world was simpler. Boundaries were clear; societies were (or considered themselves to be) homogeneous; and relationships were simple and direct. For some—particularly men with wealth or position—those were the good old days.
I encourage people to look for the "difference that makes a difference," but that is much easier to say than to do. Here are some examples of how I have used differences to make a difference in the past couple of weeks.
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