Pattern Recognition: The Key to Accelerated Communications Performance

By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith


Critical Takeaways:

·      There are good communicators and there are great strategic communicators: what’s separating the good from the great is pattern recognition ability.

·      By practicing pattern recognition, good communicators become strategic communicators because they become more comfortable and confident in crisis situations.

·      Most situations have three finite resources to manage: time, money and people. You’ll never have enough people, but outstanding pattern recognition will allow you to manage the other two resources (time and money) more effectively.


The landscape of corporate communications can be broken down into two types of communicators:

  • Good communicators
  • Great strategic communicators


Let’s look at good communicators first.


Good communicators:


There are communications departments across the world where there are good, competent communicators. Good communicators can effectively manage typical day-to-day communications. They can handle normal activities they’ve seen repeatedly in their jobs and throughout their careers. Good communicators understand the tactics for moving messages to key audiences.


Great Strategic communicators:


Then there are strategic communicators.


Strategic communicators have the ability to see around corners. They see interesting opportunities in everyday activities. They know how to make these opportunities innovative and exciting—to the benefit of their organization and grow its reputation. Strategic communicators also have the experience to know what works in different situations, and they have the boldness to accomplish their goals. As you can see, there’s a clear gap between good communicators and strategic communicators.


Closing the gap: perfecting information:


In a crisis, it is critical that senior decision makers get perfected information. Too often we’ve been in crisis situations where people have said, “Twitter is blowing up!” and “This is going crazy on social media.” That’s not clear and useful information. With social media and the speed of the Internet, strategic communicators and senior leaders depend on perfected information from their team. Strategic communicators need to get good communicators up to speed as quickly as possible because information is moving so quickly, particularly in crisis situations.


So the question remains . . .


How can good communicators quickly accelerate their performance to be effective strategic communicators?




The solution: Learning Pattern Recognition


Finding a way to professionally develop good communicators and make them better in crisis situations is a real professional development opportunity and a growth opportunity for organizations that want to achieve “best in craft” level.

The key to making sure people give good information to their senior leadership team in as perfected a form as possible is to accelerate learning pattern recognition, a skill strategic communicators own.


What is pattern recognition?


Pattern recognition is the ability to see lasting patterns in data more clearly than other people do.


Because strategic communicators often have well tuned pattern recognition skills, they have the experience to know that this happened and more than likely that will happen —they’ve been there, done that. By practicing pattern recognition, good communicators become strategic communicators because they become more comfortable and confident in crisis situations. If teams are comfortable and experienced in high-stakes situations, seeing patterns becomes easier and will yield better results.


Can anyone learn pattern recognition?


Yes, absolutely.

Everybody can learn pattern recognition, and everybody does learn it throughout his or her lifetime. Some of us are better than others at learning pattern recognition, but we all can learn it. But how do we accelerate pattern recognition for corporate communicators who are increasingly being put on the spot in high pressure crisis situations?



Learn by doing


The way to accelerate learning pattern recognition is by doing, testing, making mistakes, and group learning. It’s much like you would do over the long term, but in a concentrated learning environment where you learn from yourself and from your mistakes. The learning is done in a gated garden, so no one can get in trouble. This is how you accelerate your crisis communications performance. The point to remember is that you can’t learn this from a lecture. You can’t watch a video on how to learn pattern recognition. You have to experience it and practice with it in order to gain mastery over it. I’m most excited about giving people experiential, on-the-job training in real time—it’s called active learning. That’s what we do in our real-time crisis simulations. It’s a real opportunity for active learning.


What happens to communicators if pattern recognition isn’t developed?


Without professional development in pattern recognition, communicators develop bad habits (or they don’t develop any habits).


The result?


They panic and don’t react in the most appropriate way. If you make it through your whole career to a point of leadership and you haven’t had pattern recognition experience, you fall back on what you’ve self-created as your own learning. In the heat of the moment, your insights and observations are weak and lack usefulness. The worst case of all? — Senior managers won’t depend on you because your insights aren’t valuable—you get marginalized and put off to the side.


But learning pattern recognition takes time and money


I hear you.


These are resources you may not have now. But consider this . . .


There have been a number of studies quantifying the cost of a crisis.


There are legitimate objections to doing these types of training—but compare it with the cost of doing nothing.


In many major corporations, senior leaders are making budget decisions.


They typically view training or professional development as a luxury. But here’s how senior leaders should think about it. If they think about learning pattern recognition in the context of true crisis communications, it’s self-serving to get their team trained.

That’s because everything is moving so fast in a crisis today that senior leaders need to make sure their team gets them the right information in the most usable way possible. That is what makes the leader most effective and useful to their bosses – the CEO or board of directors.


Learning pattern recognition is the secret to capturing useful information.




In most situations, there are three finite resources to manage:

  • Time
  • Money
  • People

You’re never going to have enough people—you always wish you had more. That’s a given.


But having outstanding pattern recognition will allow you to manage the remaining two resources more effectively: time and money.


Managing time


By having excellent pattern recognition in a crisis, you can manage your time more effectively while eliminating unnecessary information that’s counterproductive and slows down your responses.


Managing money


Pattern recognition reduces spending on external experts because you have the expertise in-house. Less money is spent correcting problems because very often people in crisis have to spend an inordinate amount of money to fix some self-inflicted wounds.


Let me ask you . . .


Are you confident your team is ready to respond with the right information to protect your hard-won reputation?


Does your team have the experience and pattern recognition skills to consistently make the right decisions?


Isn’t it time to develop your good communicators into strategic communicators?