How to Stop Solving Problems and Start Solving Patterns

Recognize and solve negative patterns or you’ll end up solving the same problems over and over.


The third time you have the same conversation, with the same person, about the same disappointing performance, you have a pattern, not a problem.

Pattern solving

#1. Point out the pattern.

Watch for a deja vu feeling. It may not be the exact same conversation. It just feels familiar. Point it out. “It feels like we’ve been here before.”

#2. Listen for fairy-tale thinking:

  1. “I just need to try harder.”
  2. “I’ll get it done next time.”
  3. “I need to be more disciplined.”

#3. Say hard truths.

When you hear, “I just need to try harder,” say, “I’m surprised you aren’t already bringing your best.”

When you hear, “I’ll get it done next time,” say, “What specifically will be different next time?”

10 considerations when solving people patterns

  1. Desire.
  2. Ability.
  3. Capacity.
  4. Commitment.
  5. Distraction.
  6. Purpose. Does the behavior or result matter?
  7. Expectations. How are expectations clear? Foggy?
  8. Clarity. How are goals clear? Foggy?
  9. Team composition. Are the wrong people on the bus?
  10. Management incompetence or confusion. When good people don’t succeed, consider the possibility that management is the issue.

Temporary measures

Breaking negative patterns requires leaders to institute temporary measures.

  1. Frequent reporting.
  2. Uncomfortable accountability.
  3. Consequences.


People need hope. Celebrate imperfect successes, even as you expect continued improvement. Hope energizes progress.

How might leaders recognize and solve negative patterns with people?