A Pattern Language

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My wife gave me a book way back in the late 1980s when she realized I had a strong interest in buildings and architecture. A blog I wrote for Eloqua back in 2012 called, The Thoreau Guide to Marketing Automation, touches on that particular, and amateur, passion of mine. As an aside, the blog post was re-branded when Oracle acquired the company and soon after that event came erasure of my authorship. 🙂

The book, written in 1977, is called, A Pattern Language. It discusses societies’ building of their physical structures and the impact that collective and independent decisions have on fundamental needs of the human psyche. It was, and apparently still is, considered a bit of a bible by people who look at the bigger picture of how the most people-oriented communities function and are organically built, of how design and choice of construction materials can promote healthy minds, bodies, and relationships. The relevance for this post is that A Pattern Language was influenced by the then-emerging language to describe computer programming and design. One of the authors, Christopher Alexander, said, “A pattern language has the structure of a network. It’s an idea that comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people.” In other words, the best ideas are community-generated, and even though that might intuitively suggest there is no overall design, there actually is. Collectively, we’ve mostly built what we need by following an unconscious pattern of (building) evolution based on need, utility, and personal preference. A pattern language, if you will. Peril comes when organic need is superseded by abstraction, when there is too much form and not enough function, or when the well-being of humans is a lower ranked factor in design. The language breaks. It breaks because it no longer serves.

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I was reminded of this book recently when I observed our dog during one of our walks. Watch your own dog and the way they relate to the physical environment that is external to their home. They expect the familiar because they associate people and places with indelible imprints those things have made in their memory stores. The world works for them because our buildings, streets, garbage receptacles, trees, and people have helped our dog build a wealth of pattern-generated memories that enable him to conduct himself in the world without having full accessibility to our human language. He knows where he lives, he knows where he should and shouldn’t toilet, he knows about cars and trucks and skateboards, and based on their demeanor he even knows what type of person would most likely respond well to his greetings. He’s the recipient of a language that humans have physically built with their surroundings and in the way they individually present themselves to him on a daily basis through their unconscious behaviors. You might think your daily walk from the parking lot to the subway goes unnoticed but it isn’t. He’s expecting you. You might think your stumble at the curb went unnoticed. It wasn’t; it made him stop and stare. You broke the pattern. Your zigzag walk out of the pub at midnight may have seemed straight as an arrow to you but it made him stop and tilt his head as he tried to understand why you’re behaving differently than others. Patterns are rules (scientifically referred to as behaviorism) for dogs. They adapt but only when new patterns emerge. So if you continue to teeter towards your Uber ride night after night your doctor will take notice from the results of your next blood test but my dog won’t because that’s what he expects of you now.

Here’s where I bridge this blog to business.

Over centuries commerce developed organically from small transactions between a shopkeeper who had something of value that someone else (the customer) felt they needed to much more complex arrangements in which a company organized itself to sell more of a product to a broader market of customers. Sales became an occupation and these people sold through a small number of direct channels to prospects who were reliant on the salesperson for information and for all other aspects of the transaction, save for the actual decision to buy. Once they made the purchase it was up to the customer to figure out how to derive value from the thing they bought. A pattern had developed over a couple hundred years from the belief (and proof) that that’s how business is done and that’s how money was supposed to be made. It had become what we had all expected it should be. Until the pattern was broken.

Software as a Service (SaaS) turned that paradigm on its head and we see now that customers have taken control. Through the exponential power of the Internet they educate themselves and through the simplicity of the subscription model they can make easier choices to move from one company to another. Customers expect superior service and superior ease of use. Quickness to value is the new rule and software companies are now the dog tilting its head as it tries to understand why the old pattern has been broken. Patterns form a language that allows us to function, until the pattern breaks. Take it from Blackjack.
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About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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