What Is Modus Operandi?

Modus operandi is a Latin term used in English-speaking circles to describe an individual's or group's habitual way of operating, which forms a discernible pattern. The term is primarily used when discussing criminal behavior, but it is not exclusively uttered in this context. Modus operandi can also be defined as a specific method of operation.

For example, military strategists refer to an enemy's modus operandi when predicting the next threatening move in an armed conflict. Synonymous with the term "operating mode," modus operandi is routinely shortened to the initials "M.O.," in both written and verbal usage.

Key Takeaways

  • The term "modus operandi" is a Latin term that describes an individual or group's habitual way of operating, which represents a discernible pattern.
  • A modus operandi (commonly abbreviated as "M.O.") is mainly used to discuss criminal behavior and is often used by professionals to prevent future crimes.
  • Modi operandi may change over time, particularly by adapting to experiences as well as changing values.
  • Studying patterns, not just those of criminals, can aid individuals who study and pay attention to them, such as investors.

Understanding Modus Operandi

Groups of people or different societies often exhibit thought patterns or behavioral patterns that are specific to those cultures. These M.O.s may vary widely across cultural or geographic boundaries. Furthermore, M.O.s are fluid, in that they may change as values evolve or as demographic breakdowns shift within a particular society.

Individuals also often behave in the same way that they have done before, exhibiting similar patterns throughout their lifetime. Studying individuals and their decisions over time can lead one to predict an individual or business's next move.

For example, Warren Buffett has stuck to a similar investing pattern his whole life, which he has made well known through speaking engagements, interviews, and books he has written. If one were to study all of this material and eventually understand Buffett's investing M.O., they would be able to guess his investing moves in certain economic conditions and perhaps apply the same strategies to their own portfolios.

M.O., however, is most often attributed to criminals and crime syndicates and used to stop crime. Investigators, the FBI, and police organizations can utilize patterns in preventing crime and apprehending those that have or seek to commit it.

Utilizing Modus Operandi

An enemy's M.O. can be used by security experts to prevent an attack while it's still in the preparation stages. Known as "predictive profiling," this behavior is an extension of an M.O. that was developed by Israeli security forces in an effort to predict terrorist behavior, based on observing a group's or an individual's behavioral patterns.

Predictive profiling is successful after observing potential threats, examining situations or objects surrounding said threats, and developing an operational profile. Security forces then use the operational profile to predict the next threat. If a person regularly meets with a known criminal element, at a certain house, at a particular time of day, the operational profile may predict the time and location of that person's next visit.

Predictive profiling's logical conclusion is the prevention of a crime. Undercover security forces may confront criminal personalities at locations far from their houses to gather more information. If someone who poses a threat comes face to face with an authoritarian figure, they may become too scared to execute their intended criminal activity.

Examples of Modus Operandi

As an example, a Ponzi scheme's M.O. involves taking money from new investors and using it to pay off existing investors, to create the appearance that the latter group of individuals is drawing impressive returns on their capital investments.

A straight-A student's M.O. might be to complete homework assignments before they are due, achieve a perfect attendance record, and visit with professors weekly during their office hours.

An individual's daily routine may be considered an M.O. where someone follows the same order of activities, in an effort to regulate their lifestyles and live as efficiently as possible. M.O.s may also apply to business protocol. For example, when meeting a new contact, an M.O. might be to shake hands and make eye contact in order to establish a connection.