Reviewed by Sep 30, 2020| Updated on
Modus operandi is a Latin term used in English-speaking circles to describe the usual way of working of a person or a community, which constitutes a discernible pattern. The term is primarily used in the discussion of criminal activity but is not used solely in this sense. Modus operandi can also be described as a unique operating system.
Military strategists, for example, refer to the modus operandi of an opponent as they foresee the next dangerous step in armed conflict. Synonymous with the term, "operating mode," modus operandi is, in both written and verbal use, regularly shortened to the initials M.O.
Groups of people or different communities sometimes display thinking or behavioural patterns that are unique to specific cultures. Such member organisations may differ widely across cultural or geographic boundaries. Also, M.O.s are dynamic, in that they can change within a particular society as attitudes evolve or as population breakdowns shift.
The M.O. of a Ponzi scheme is an example. This means taking money from new investors and making use of it to pay off current investors; this generates an illusion that the latter group of individuals are making good returns on their capital investment.
Another M.O. example—a student perhaps completing homework assignments before they are due, maintaining a perfect attendance record, and visiting teachers regularly during their office hours.
In an attempt to manage their lives and function as effectively as possible, an individual's everyday routine can be called an M.O., where everyone follows the same order of activities.
Company policy can also refer to M.O.s. For instance, an M.O. when meeting a new contact, this may be to shake hands and make eye contact to make a connection.