Creating Patterns


Yesterday I was mowing the lawn and I got to thinking…again. (If you’ve read earlier posts, thinking on the lawn mower has come up before.) Every week, the lawn gets mowed in one of two directions to help prevent wear and tear. Each direction creates its own pattern. These patterns are then visible for a few days until the grass gets long enough to mow again, then you create the next pattern.

Even though patterns are based on repetition, some stand out more than others. I believe we’re inclined to see patterns, to set up expectations of how situations will play out. From our salivating at the thought of a favorite restaurant to our dreading a dentist appointment, we’ve created patterns in our minds. When something happens outside the pattern, it can prove jarring. Whether it’s good or bad depends on the pattern breaker.

We associate change with certain types of companies—technology, health care, automotive. These companies are in the business of breaking patterns and creating new ones. But this behavior puts companies at risk—if they fail to deliver, to create a successful new pattern, it can be almost impossible to recover. Another company will fill the void and create a pattern that people get attached to.

One way that pattern breakers might enjoy long-term success is by maintaining a strict pattern in specific areas of their companies. For instance, keep customer service consistent. Establish a standard, if seemingly boring, pattern and stick with it. Customers are more willing to risk your service or product change if they know reliable problem solving is available.

Consistency in key areas won’t kill your business. Every aspect of a business needn’t induce an adrenaline rush. I believe that creating patterns in areas like customer service, finance, and account management can build a long-term foundation for any potential business. Give customer patterns they identify for everyday issues even if your ultimate goal is to create a brand new pattern of services or products.

I don’t want to guess about every aspect of my interaction with a company. I may go along on the wild ride that represents the new product, but leave me a pattern in customer service that doesn’t make my head ache. Don’t change the menu options every month to stay “fresh.” Don’t change your logo every year to compete with the new guy. In essence, break the pattern when it makes sense and not for the sake of change.



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June 2007
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