Pattern Interrupts in Business, Blogging and Bedsheets

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There’s a legendary scene from the movie Almost Famous where a battle-worn band some say depicts Led Zeppelin, its groupies and a cub reporter pile onto a tour bus after a brutal night that’s left everyone estranged. Everything, it seems is coming unraveled. Eyes cast out the windows in silence, when Elton John’s Tiny Dancer comes on the radio.

One by one, as the song plays, each person’s mood begins to turn from hardened anger to harmony. It’s not conscious, it’s not planned. It just happens. Patterned responses pent up over years dissolve.

The scene is pure magic. The transformation is powerful. In large, because, at some point in our lives, if we’re lucky, if we’re really tuned in, we experience something similar.

A momentary awakening to the utter lunacy of the patterns we’ve adopted.

And, though it’s taken years to wear those patterns into existence, in a heartbeat, we become unusually open to the notion that we can choose to respond differently. To create a new pattern.

In NLP, this “pattern interrupt” experience is created as a therapeutic mechanism. Applied to commercial settings, it’s a powerful tool to disarm peoples’ kneejerk defense mechanisms and programmed responses and open them to considering a new product, solution, approach or idea.

It’s something the best speakers, salespeople and marketers use on a regular basis…though some may be oblivious to exactly what it is they’re doing that’s getting such good response.

And, it’s something the top copywriters and bloggers do as well. Especially in writing headlines and adding design elements.

Can you tell what design element serves as a major pattern interrupt on this blog?

So, why do you care about all this? Because pattern interrupts give you the power to change behaviors, opinions, assumptions and decisions in the blink of an eye. Yours and others. In business and in life.

They also allow you to better see opportunities that are created on a more spontaneous, organic level all day long and dive into them to open doors and create opportunity.

Of course, the obvious question is – how to you engineer a planned pattern interrupt?

It’s something that usually comes at you as a total surprise. When the famous marketer, Frank Kern takes the stage at his trainings after a string of button-down shirted presenters have spoken, wearing a viking helmet, bare feet, an old t-shirt, wet hair and cursing like a sailor, the normal expectation about how a high-ticket professional speaker is supposed to take the stage is obliterated.

The audience’s normal glassy-eyed, half-asleep programmed response to speakers in a 500 person lunchtime-coma room is gutted. Their normal pattern has been interrupted by something completely unexpected, provocative and attention grabbing.

He now has a short window to continue to dazzle them, introduce new ideas and thread a series of continued pattern interrupts through his presentation to keep them from sliding back into the drone zone.

What about on a personal level?

Try this next time you feel yourself sliding into that same argument you’ve been having with your partner, lover or spouse in different forms for years. Before you get too deep. Get up, tear off your shirt, grab a can whipped cream from the fridge, spray a giant happy face across your stomach, then sit down to continue the conversation.

Go ahead, I dare you!

Guaranteed, you’ll get a very different response. A spontaneous, surprise-driven disarming. And, you can use that reaction as a moment of awakening to the lunacy of refighting the same fight and an opportunity to explore approaching the conversation a different way.

But, realize, too, a pattern interrupt is not a new pattern.

It’s only an event that breaks the stranglehold of the old, destructive pattern, giving you a window to introduce a new one. And, if you don’t take the opportunity, that window will quickly close, leading all to slide back into the same old, same old.

So, curious, have you experienced anything like this?

Have you taken it as a chance to change course?

Because, it only takes a moment…

Let’s discuss…

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19 responses

19 responses to “Pattern Interrupts in Business, Blogging and Bedsheets”

  1. Dan Holloway says:

    Jonathan, this is just freaky. Every single blog I’ve read today has had the same theme (warning – UK-specific culture references ahead). I’ve read a piece about the doyen of Modern Art, Charles Saatchi, an interview with Doug Coupland about Generation A, a piece on punk culture, and any number of articles on the Booker Prize.

    And you know what they all have in common? Pattern interrupts that become the new pattern. When the Sensation exhobition opened in the 90s it blew the art world apart; Generation X changed the way we thought about post-Boomers; current Booker nominees were once enfants terribles of teh literary world; punk hanged the way we approached handmade.

    They were all patter-interrupts.

    And we’re stll talking about them 10, 20, 30 years on. We’ve formed a new rut around them. The language I’ve been using all day is that we’ve freeze-dried the new. We’ve taken the wet, slimy, slippery, and surprising and turned it hard, dry, dull, predictable, and easy to handle.

    The other thing I’ve been saying all day is the moment we start talking about the new we’re already on the right track. The new is expeienced, and then moved on from.

    So there you go – high-ticket business presentation, and high art. They use different words, but the same rules apply.

    Oh, and as I’ve said before. I hate blogs like yours. I find them generalistic, anodyne, and exploitative. So the answer to your question, is the pattern-interrupt on this blog is you, because I love this place!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Oh man, you busted us all! We’ve been secretly in cahoots (sp?) for months, coordinating pattern interrupts, lol! It is interesting how nearly every innovation or massive shift in art, culture, science and beyond involve the element of monster pattern interrupts filled shortly after by new offerings.

      • Dan Holloway says:

        And almost all of these go on to create new patterns. I guess the key is something like Handy’ sigmoid curve – getting out on the up, befiore you’re in a rut and the creativity/freshness has died

  2. Jeffrey Tang says:

    A beautiful concept that reminds me a little of the idea of catharsis in Greek tragedy. Tragic plays were written to push the audience “over the edge” and allow for an emotional release.

    Pattern interrupts seem to approach the same idea from a different angle. Instead of amplifying the emotions and patterns that are already present, they create a release by breaking the pattern entirely.

    Comic relief, in a way.

    I think to some extent that effective pattern interrupts are difficult to plan in real-life situations. You just need the presence of mind to recognize a harmful pattern and break out of it.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Jeffrey, really interesting parallel to idea of catharsis, gonna think on that one for a bit

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Baker, Archangel_PR, Gado Wager, LarsChristianElvenes and others. Adam Baker said: An insightful article on pattern interrupts by @jonathanfields left me saying, "I am a golden god!!!!" – […]

  4. Bob Bessette says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    This post (and the YouTube) reminds me of one of Tony Robbin’s books that I read years ago where he specifically speaks about triggering a change in behavior by utilizing music. We all, these days, have access to music and with the push of a button our behavior can be transformed, as the band is in the video. Every morning, after waking up at 3:40 AM, I head to the gym. When I get there, independent of my energy level, I put on my ear buds and crank out music that energizes me. The trigger is immediate and my workout level increases dramatically.

    I like your use of color as a pattern interrupt in your post. I assume that was what you were getting at.


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Music can be a powerful pattern interrupt, plus it also often adds the elements of “anchors” that bring you back to a place, memory or feeling that became associated with a specific song years ago.

  5. Srinivas Rao says:

    This is a really interesting post for me because i’m going through Tony Robbins Personal Power II program for the 4th time and a few days ago I was reviewing the pattern interrupt concepts. It’s amazing how we forget how to use such a simple thing that is so effective. In fact, this has basically inspired a new series on my blog which I will start next week called “How to create an owner’s manual for your brain.”

    Another thing this reminded me of was an interesting commercial I saw on TV the other day. It was very inspirational, motivational, with all sorts of quotes and did an amazing job creating intense emotion. At the end when I expected to see a pair of shoes or gatorade, it turned out to be a commercial for the church of scientology. Pretty interesting use of a pattern interrupt.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Tony is an absolute master at this and he teaches it in many different forms in almost everything he does

  6. Renee Phoenix says:

    Really great teachers do this- my best college professors knew how to grab my attention at the beginning of class and then also knew what to do immediately after that to keep me listening and thinking. They were masters at shaking things up in my head. I try to do the same when I teach and I try to find people to hang out with who aren’t afraid to interrupt their patterns on a regular basis – in a constructive way.
    And it is so true – that window of opportunity to spark a change in someone’s mind is small. Challenges me to have something ready to say or write about after I grab someone’s attention.

    The photo in your blog header is a pattern interrupt for me – career renegades aren’t afraid to wear flowers on their feet every once in a while. Let’s me know that I can expect the unexpected when I read your stuff!

    Thanks for a great start to my day.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Absolutely, the few teachers I remember from my life have all done this on a regular basis. And, yup, you guessed the major pattern interrupt in this blog design – The fuzzy legs and flowered slippers. Can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve gotten about them. 🙂

      • Renee Phoenix says:

        John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, has an interesting take on using pattern interrupt (he calls it a “hook”) during presentations and lectures. He developed a model for his lectures based on research that says the brain can handle about 10 minutes of the same thing before drifting off into non-attention land. So about every 10 minutes, he has to finish a core concept and then provide a hook to reinforce the concept or help move the audience into the next 10 minutes. Interesting stuff for anyone in the business of teaching and presenting information.

        P.S.- I always figured the fuzzy legs and slippers belonged to you and admired your courage in posing for the photo. I have “killer rabbit” slippers that I’ve worn to class and coaching sessions – they always get a reaction!

  7. Ivy says:

    A couple of people mentioned Tony Robbins. I have to give props instead to Tom Robbins. His instruction manuals for pattern interrupt have helped me again and again.

  8. Amy says:

    Great post, Jonathan, as always 🙂 I saw a bumper sticker earlier today that said “You laugh at me because I am different. I laugh at all of you because you are the same.”

  9. Dan says:

    ‘…grab a can whipped cream from the fridge, spray a giant happy face across your stomach…”. Awesome Jonathan. I’m going to do this. I promise. And I’ll report back to you.

    Especially if my wife throws me out of the house.

  10. Heiko says:

    I am currently searching for a new concept for my business thesis and my attention just gotten here on your Pattern Interrupts, Jonathan. Your idea fascinates me in terms cannibalistic theories in business research. I find out that it may be surprising for me to apply your Pattern Interrupts in my thesis and hoping to get more information about this to apply in my thesis documentation and experiments.

  11. Niels says:

    “A pattern interrupt is not a new pattern. It’s only an event that breaks the stranglehold of the old, destructive pattern, giving you a window to introduce a new one.” This is really an excellent definition for pattern interrupt. This idea is really cool, keep updating. I’ll be visiting here more frequently.

  12. Taru Fisher says:

    I love Pattern Interrupts. I learned them when I was in NLP training. I really like using humor as a pattern interrupt. Someone recently said how something bad that had happened couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I responded with the question, “Oh, what would have been a good time?” It really stopped them in their tracks and they burst out laughing.