Six practical ideas to transform your business with the power of pattern thinking

There’s a wealth of great ideas already around you. Here’s how to leverage them and accelerate your growth.

Today I want to share one of my favorite ways to make big things happen.

It’s called pattern thinking, where you look at what’s working for someone else and apply it to your own situation.

This is an idea I talk about a lot in my new book, How Leaders Learn.

I wrote this book to help you develop the habit I see in the world’s most successful people. They find ideas and insights everywhere, and then they pair those ideas with action.

How Leaders Learn is actually available for preorder now,and I’ve got some extra goodies to say thanks to anyone who orders before it comes out on June 4th. More on that in a minute!

But first, I want to tell you why I believe pattern thinking has been one of the most powerful tools I’ve used in my career.

Too often, we think the best ideas have to be these sparks of wild genius that no one’s ever thought of before.

The reality is much simpler—and that’s good news! Most of us aren’t geniuses! I know I sure as heck am not.

But I am curious, and I always have my antenna up for great ideas.

That’s the beauty of pattern thinking! You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just fine-tune the habit of finding OTHER great ideas, and then adapt them to your unique situation.

If you want to leverage that kind of thinking for your success, keep reading. I have six practical ways you can apply pattern thinking and bring the best ideas to bear in your business.

1. Gain a competitive advantage.

In my time in the restaurant business at Yum! Brands, I always said our competition was our greatest source of ideas.

You can innovate a lot just by looking at what the competition is doing and then asking how you can do something similar—and maybe even do it better.

In fact, my team and I would do what we called McDonald’s Immersion Days, where we just went into McDonald's restaurants for the whole day and observed all the smart things they were doing. Then we'd figure out how we could make those smart ideas work at KFC, Taco Bell, or Pizza Hut.

Many of our best ideas came from this practice, including Taco Bell’s famous “Fourthmeal” campaign.

You know your customers. You know the biggest problems that occur most frequently. Build on competitors’ ideas to solve those problems, and I can guarantee you’re going to be very successful.

2. Drive more innovation

One of the most common struggles I hear from leaders is that they want to be a more innovative thinker, but they don’t know how to develop that skill.

If you want to drive more innovation, I recommend you study great innovators and apply pattern thinking to what you observe about their lives and decisions.

In fact, I recently did this myself when I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk. Now, I don’t agree with some of Musk’s leadership tactics, but he is undeniably a disrupter. He knows how to completely upend a category, and he can see value in the marketplace that others completely overlook.

Pick up a copy of Elon Musk, or another biography of an innovator. (Isaacson has also written excellent biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, and Leonardo da Vinci.)

As you read about that person’s life and decisions, ask yourself …

  • What key principles does this innovator rely on?
  • How could those principles apply to my organization?
  • What might I need to change in order to make those principles suit my unique style and situation?

That kind of pattern thinking will help you spark innovation in your own way!

3. Fast-track your own professional development

One of my favorite opportunities to do some pattern thinking is in one-on-one conversations.

This is especially powerful as you’re looking for ways to develop yourself as a professional and as a leader.

Consider the people in your life who have roles similar to yours, but are perhaps in a different industry or life stage.

Sit down over a drink and have an open conversation about the strategies, challenges, and successes they’re experiencing.

You’ll be able to extract valuable insights that you can apply to similar situations in your life.

4. Make better hiring decisions

If you want to hire more great people (and who doesn’t!?), study what’s making your existing top talent so successful.

Organize sessions with your top-performing employees. Try to understand their motivations and  career aspirations. Ask them to share what factors have contributed to their success within your organization. As you have more conversations, you’ll start to identify some common patterns.

Use these insights to identify key traits you can look for in future candidates and to fine-tune the questions you ask in the hiring process.

For bonus points, consider how these insights apply to how you train and retain ALL your existing team members.

5. Boost your marketing.

If you feel like your advertising and marketing is stuck in a rut, then pattern thinking might be just what you need.

To apply it here, take a look at successful marketing campaigns outside of your industry.

For inspiration, you can easily Google your way to compilations of the best creative in all kinds of channels. Check industry hubs like Adweek and AdAge, and this weekly newsletter from Pearmill is worth your time, too.

As you browse, note what stands out to you.

Look for the common patterns or techniques among the ads that grab your attention. Then, get your team together to brainstorm ways to apply these insights, taking into account your own brand’s unique value proposition and audience.

6. Become a more confident problem solver

Most of these suggestions draw on patterns you’ll find in other people and companies.

But don’t overlook the importance of the patterns in your own life. They’re one of the most powerful sources of insights because they’re unique to who you are!

It’s especially helpful when you find yourself with a big problem to solve or a challenge to overcome.

Reflect on the significant goals you've achieved in recent years and the challenges you encountered along the way.

What behaviors, mindset, and problem-solving techniques helped you succeed? Which ones didn’t? How can you use those same approaches to address the challenges and obstacles you’re facing now?

When you’re brave enough to study your own patterns, you’ll have tapped into one of the most effective sources of pattern thinking.


As you can see from this list, you can spot great ideas and patterns anywhere:

  • Competitors
  • Books and history
  • People outside your industry
  • Your own team
  • Your own life

And here’s the real kicker.

You’re probably already spotting these patterns. It’s hard not to notice the successful qualities you see in other people and companies.

But if all you do is observe, you’re missing out. It can even hold you back, as those observations about others’ success might leave you feeling insecure or deflated.

Pattern thinking helps you move past that. You get to dreamabout how to apply those skills, qualities, and habits for yourself and your business.

It’s creative, it’s empowering, and I know it’s going to be a game-changer in the way you lead.

If you really want to tap into the power of pattern thinking, I go into much more detail in my new book, How Leaders Learn.

Here’s one thing I know for sure after years of leadership.

When we put learning at the center of everything we do, we can grow our careers, boost our leadership skills, and enrich our relationships.

But learning on its own isn’t enough. If we want to find success, we’ve got to be active learners—people who seek out ideas and insights and then pair them with action and execution. I wrote How Leaders Learn to show you exactly how to do that.

Pre-order your copy now before it comes out on June 4th, and I’ll send you:

  • A “sneak peek” excerpt with at least seven actionable things you can apply right away while you wait for your copy
  • A free video series where I teach you the fundamentals of how leaders learn
  • An exclusive behind-the-scenes interview where I get really personal about WHY this book is critical for today’s leaders

Pre-order How Leaders Learn today and get ALL these extras instantly when you forward your receipt to

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Tell me a story about a time you used pattern thinking to help yourself or your business.

Drop me a note in the comments below. I can’t wait to learn from YOU!

Your Next Step

Pre-order How Leaders Learn and start mastering the habit of the world’s most successful leaders. Send your receipt to and I’ll send you the first chapter and other great extras instantly.

[Pre-order now]