As part of our Masters’ Programme at Hyper Island here in Singapore we are exploring Start-up Innovation (one of 6 modules) and this weekend we are working together to explore Growth Hacking.

There’s lots written about Growth Hacking and I was keen to find a new angle on a topic that is in danger of losing its meaning.  I turned to an idea from architecture that also gained traction in the 80’s and 90’s in software development and project management.  That idea is Pattern Languages.

timeless-way-of-building-1100x1100-imaeah9ztv4gaaufProposed by American architect Christopher Alexander in a series of books including A Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language, patterns are generative heuristics or design rules that capture what makes a building, space or built environment worth living in.

Alexander urged architects to learn from ancient builders and to strive for buildings with “the quality that has no name”. His patterns captured the insights that we prefer living in rooms with “light from two sides”, “waist high shelves” and “deep balconies”.  Applying the rules when designing a building should generate buildings that people will enjoy living in.  This all seems perfectly obvious but Alexander’s response was to ask why then most architects designed buildings that ignored many of these qualities.

A search for “pattern languages” in Amazon or Google reveals the impact his work had on other disciplines and suggest ways that fashion designers, scrum masters and training designers can apply this way of thinking to their own work.

A pattern is a simple idea but can be deceptively hard to pin down.  Pattern language designers usually suggest a template with the following elements:

  • Name: a descriptive name to allow us to refer to and discuss each pattern
  • Description: detail of what the pattern does and the problem it solves
  • Context: suggestions as to when the pattern should be used
  • Examples: examples of the pattern in use illustrated with images if possible
  • Related patterns: other patterns in the language that are linked

Our task this weekend was to explore the literature for growth hacking and see if we could extract a similar set of generative rules; a playbook of ideas that could be applied to many different projects.  We used the pattern template above and you can download the first (very rough) draft of Growth Hacking Patterns here.

My students were divided into 4 teams to focus on different phases of the growth process: user acquisition, user activation (on-boarding), retention and network growth (referrals).  Each group explored published examples and tried to pull out the general lessons.  It is hard not to see the example as the pattern and I urged them to try to find at least 2 examples of any mechanic or tactic.

A second task was to apply this draft playbook to their own projects.  We used this as a quality control check on the patterns produced so far and as a way of generating further patterns.

Reflecting on this workshop I am convinced that this is a worthwhile approach to exploring this sort of topic.  It’s so easy just to make a list of what other’s have done and not to look behind, at the general lessons that could be applied. This pattern approach encourages us to try to formalise our thinking and define what we mean.  I’ll certainly repeat this session with future groups and build on the work we have started.

For more on Pattern Languages read Ola Möller’s piece on Medium. Ola, another learning card designer (and Hyper Island alumni), and I have clearly got similar mindsets and interests at the moment.


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