Genius or Not, We Learn Best Together

Matthew Bischoff recently shared some lessons they’d learned from a brief stint working at an Apple Store. This post resonated with me for many reasons, not the least of which because I recently left my own brief job at an Apple Store and learned the same things even though our experiences were separated by years and many hundreds of miles. Here’s a small bit that really stuck out:

JB taught us that there was no way we could know everything there is to know about every Apple product, let alone every app that runs on them, and every way they can fail. He taught us that rather than making up an answer, guessing, or shrugging our shoulders, we should instead say, I don’t know, let’s find out”. Admitting that we didn’t know was the first step. Then, we were to find out together with the customer by walking over to a Mac and looking up the answer or pulling in another employee who might know the answer.

When I started working the Genius Bar, I thought of myself as having a leg up. I’d followed Apple products and culture obsessively for, gosh, well over half my life. So I knew the ins and outs. I was already the go-to person for resolving most technology-related problems, but my specialty was always Apple gadgets. And then I stepped behind the Bar.

Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty good at my job — helping countless customers diagnose and fix their mobile device issues — but it’s hard to anticipate all the ways someone can make an unexpected turn with their phone, watch, or tablet. And harder still to translate what they think is happening to what is actually happening, and then explain it back in a way that makes sense to them.

My go-to method went hand-in-hand with Matthew’s takeaway: learn and explore together. Folks are always more amicable and open to listening when you (1) acknowledge that these things are indeed complicated, and (2) involve them as part of the solution rather than fix it without explanation. So, for example, when folks belittled themselves, saying they were dumb when it came to technology, I found myself often admonishing, Give yourself some credit; this is a supercomputer you’re operating every day. But no one knows everything about them, not even us geniuses.’”

I tended to use the same language to explain the solution as my customer did to describe the problem, even if it wasn’t technically correct. Folks who made it to the Genius Bar were those who had lived with an issue long enough that they’d taken time out of their busy lives to have it fixed. They weren’t usually looking for a lesson in computer nerdery.

However, my favorite customers were those who were interested in learning more than the bare minimum. They brought their excitement in along with their broken or malfunctioning gizmos. We’d talk about how they used their phone to take pictures of their kids or create music or how their business had grown to depend on the efficiencies brought by modern computing. They’d paid good money for something they thought to be the best” and wanted to get as much out of it. So I’d take the time, probably more than my managers preferred, to show them a few tips and point them toward resources where they could learn more on their own.

In the end, it was one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. I had a new outlet for my enthusiasm for these products that have become integral to our daily lives while helping people in their hour of need and did my best to build them up in the process. The stakes were relatively low for me but made an outsized difference for the folks who came in. I left most days feeling both proud of what I’d accomplished and appreciated by my customers. I learned a little each day and became more able to help more people.

And it was that opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and collaborate with other members of the Apple team to resolve them that set my experience there apart. I was absolutely encouraged to, as Matthew put it, make better mistakes tomorrow.” And I try to carry that sentiment forward now in everything that I do.

Matthew’s entire post is worth much more than the few minutes it takes to read it.

Go to the linked site (Matthew Bischoff // →


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