Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Planning Matters Even at the Grocery Store

I’d stopped at a large 24/7 grocery store shortly after 6:00 AM one morning to pick up a few things on my way to the office. I like to maximize my time, and I can get in and out a lot faster in the morning than after work. Until this particular day.

Apparently a lot of people had the same idea because there were EIGHT people in front of me when I got to the only check-out line that was open.

Even though other employees walked by and saw the back-up, no one took quick action to remedy the situation by opening another register. But that was only part of the problem…

It took about 30 seconds for me to discover the reason for the bottle-neck. The fellow checking out had a cart-load of groceries. I’m talking about a full cart. Enough food to feed a family of 12 for a week.

What happened next was the real kicker, though, after the cashier finished running all the items through the scanner and gave the guy his total.

The final straw

He didn't pull out his credit card or hand her cash. Instead, he mumbled something to her and then shuffled over to the ATM machine. He didn’t have enough money with him to pay for his purchases! He alternated between pushing some buttons at the machine and looking back at her.

Meanwhile, the people in line were ready to revolt. Based on their attire, they were all heading into work, too. Like me, they thought they’d make a quick stop and be on their way in short order. Some expressed concern about getting in trouble for arriving late, and their agitation increased with each passing second.

Mercifully, another register finally opened and some folks stampeded to that line. A supervisor rescued the first cashier by adjusting her register so she could check out the next person while the first guy continued to wrestle with the ATM machine.

It was quite a circus.

Since I try to avoid getting upset over things I can’t control, I mentally stepped outside the fray to ponder the situation.

The man with insufficient funds clearly lacked the skill of PLANNING.

I wondered what it must be like to fill a shopping cart with food knowing you don’t have the money with you to pay for it. I was curious if this was his approach to each trip for groceries – wait until the total rings up and then withdraw the cash you need on the spot to pay the bill.

Truly a just-in-time payment plan.

Maybe it works well for him, but it seems like a tough way to live.

And what I thought about most was the total lack of concern about the impact his lack of planning had on others. He seemed totally oblivious to the people standing in line behind him and the frustration his actions generated.

So, what does this mean for you?

The capacity to think things through and anticipate the fall-out before taking action is a critical skill that every person needs to develop. But clearly not everyone does.

And those who don’t are guaranteed  to cause problems for others along the way – and experience some personal negative consequences, too.

It starts at home, with parents encouraging their children to consider what might happen if they follow path A. Or choose A instead of B.

Asking questions that require kids to develop critical thinking skills and imagine future consequences is a key parental responsibility. And it’s something the best teachers, coaches and leaders try to develop in those under their guidance.

Planning requires the ability to project what might happen down the road if you take a certain course of action.

The benefits? Fewer mistakes and less regret. And fewer times that others will suffer because of something you’ve done. Even at the grocery store.

P.S. Coincidentally, my business partner Denny Coates has a post today about his own experience in a grocery store check-out line. It's a fascinating read: "Mentally Challenged - Was it Bad Hardware, Bad Software or Bad Data?"

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