A Grocery Store

Goal-Based Patterns

A Grocery Store

Enter Patterns, Enter Goals

To discuss learning patterns, we must agree on the definition of a pattern.

Before this project I would have defined a pattern as:

The internal organization of information.

Over time, my definition changed. Today it's:

Organization of information based on current goals.

Goal-Based Patterns

What's the big deal about adding goals to the definition?

Goals are at the heart of patterns. When I look at a situation with a goal in mind, I start organizing the information to fit the desired outcome.

For example:

Let's say I lived in the country and had a large yard. My vision of the yard would depend on my goals.

Landscaping. If I was trying to improve the property's appearance, I'd see places for trees and shrubs.

Slope. If rainwater pooled in front of the house, I'd see the yard as a drainage problem.

Trucks. If the goal was to find a place for my three, almost running, pickup trucks, I'd be looking for a way to clear out those rose bushes.

It's strange how our goals take over. Once we have a goal in mind, we tend to see everything from that perspective.

Being aware of goals is key element in pattern analysis. In fact, the pattern / goals connection turned out to be a major factor in anti-learning patterns.

The grocery store example adds a bit more complexity.

A Grocery Store

Walking through a grocery store you can find a Bakery section, a Meat section, a Frozen Food section, and a Fresh Produce section. The whole store is broken into categories, or patterns.

These grouping allow you to find a loaf of bread and can of peas quickly, almost effortlessly.

The different food sections are basic patterns at work.

In contrast, let's say the store had no categories, and the items were scattered throughout the aisles. You might never find that can of peas.

Patterns are key to efficient response. That seems pretty obvious.


The scattered grocery store model, however, is not that uncommon.

Whenever a new technology is introduced, you often get that same sense of being scattered. You don't know all the features; the unit locks up at random times; and the remote control has a better chance of turning on the coffee pot.

Once you understand the system and breakout the patterns, it becomes manageable. Until you get things organized, you will continue to search for that can of peas.

Enter Patterns, Enter Goals

We intuitively know that patterns are important. Faced with a random mix of items, we'll start creating patterns. Humans have an uncanny urge to organize. We can't help ourselves.

It doesn't take long, however, for our individually to get into the act. We all have different perspectives and goals. Not surprisingly, these can translate into conflicting organizations.

In a grocery store, for example, if we left the organization up to individual workers, we would have some unusual arrangements. Patterns would be driven by personal needs rather than customer service or profit.

Delivery guys. Heavy goods would be stacked near the delivery platform.

Sweet tooth. If the main organizer had a sweet tooth, the fancy pastries would be prominent.

Landscaper. If the administrators were trying to improve the property's appearance, they'd see places for trees and shrubs.

Manager. If the manager was dependent on the quarterly results for a bonus, high-profit items would be prominently displayed.

Ultimately, some mix of ease of storage, customer demand, and profitability would be most efficient. It may also be important to entice shoppers to travel through the store. If milk, eggs, and bread were in the front, many items would go unnoticed. Thus, floor layout could also be a factor.

So, it's not just patterns. It's about tying the right patterns to the right goals.


When the goals of the store manager and the delivery guy conflict, typically the profit rationale will win out.

What happens when the pattern / goal connection is either not obvious, or becomes distorted?

For example:

Let's say that store manager is graded on the appearance of the store. The aisles are clear and the arrangements artful. Customer traffic is high. As a result, he/she receives excellent performance scores.

With the time spent on appearance, the manager has little energy to follow-up on spoilage, high-profit items, and delivery costs. Reinforced with high evaluation scores, appearance remains the priority.

At the corporate level, however, profits are down. They tried firing managers with low scores, and that didn't help. The terminations hurt profits even more, but that was attributed to transition disruptions.

Other costs are cut, and the new profit levels acceptable.

In reality, a minor mismatch of goals and the resulting organization leaves the system broken. When someone with a better sense of the business enters the local market, the operation will not be able to compete.

The link between patterns and goals is not always obvious. Sure, a sharp auditor should spot the problem in a grocery operation, but in more politically mixed environments, conflicting patterns can persist.

What's next?

You now have a growing sense for the tie between goals and organization. We're almost ready to connect that principle to the learning process.

To facilitate that view, you should understand how these insights surfaced. The anti-learning concepts and suggested countermeasures stem from a yearlong learning experiment described in the next section.

Don't worry; the experiment is somewhat revolutionary in its own right. It's certainly not boring.

| AWSS Home | Previous Section | Next Section | Feedback: James Davis