08 July 2008

Retirement to the Apple Store

This column is not about retirement from Apple. It is about retirement to Apple.

San Francisco store: One Stockton Street. The Apple store in San Francisco resembles the store in Southlake, Texas, for about 10 feet. Then you reach the glass staircase. It leads to a top floor with just as much activity as below, plus a theatre. That’s theatre seating (really comfortable plush chairs) around a wall display. Experts on iPhones and iPods and even Adobe Photoshop present one-hour workshops nearly all day long, 7 days a week. (On one trip to the store, the projector wasn’t working so the expert led us to a work station for a hands-on tour of iWeb. We sat on stools and were slightly less comfortable, but learned a lot in that setting, too.)

Who’s retiring. It’s not that young workforce staffing the Genius Bar that I’m writing about today. It’s the gray-haired customers in the San Francisco store. The retired contingent is arriving for training. Whether weekend or weekday, gray haired customers are a noticeable part of the environment. They come for all topics. Some come with note pads. Most come with questions, happy about finding a venue for introductory lessons.

Retirement computing. I am reluctant to make assumptions about age and computing. I know old people who excel at WoW (World of Warcraft) and young people who fumble at a google search. Still, there are some givens that apply: those people in the stage of fluid intelligence can learn new computing strategies in one way… and those people in the stage of crystallized intelligence will learn in another way, probably building on previous knowledge (not necessarily knowledge about computers). People who are retired today were already in the crystallized stage when affordable (home) computing emerged. They were probably very purposeful in selecting hardware and application software, with a desktop CPU and email their primary concerns. Those early choices do not confine them today.

Crystallized and fluid intelligence. The neat thing about crystallized intelligence is that we keep learning after the shift from fluid intelligence in our 20s or 30s. The term crystallized is off-putting to some of my students, especially those residing in fluid intelligence. Fluid: learning is characterized by intuitive leaps, often without much structure. It’s what allows the young (primarily) to produce new theory. Einstein is the classic example, but only just an example. We all experience fluid intelligence and it is what allows us to explore as we learn. Crystallized: learning is characterized by scaffolding of ideas, building on foundational knowledge that we gained earlier. It is no less creative than fluid intelligence. In some fields, it is the preferred state: historians develop slowly and typically peak (academically) in middle and late age. Considering the types of intelligence can help us figure out how best to assist learning about computers. Apple’s theatre seating is a great fit for crystallized thinkers: they like to follow along, they like to see a display first, and maybe they just relate well to being taught in a lecture setting.

Venues for accessing beginner information. Why are the retired (with more boomers on the way, of course) flocking to Apple? For starters, the company’s stores are earning the reputation as the most helpful service sources for computing today. More important, Apple stores provide drop-in learning opportunities. Even the most accommodating community education source demands a commitment to schedule. Learn to surf the web, master Flash, and build your own website—all are available at low cost or free from community centers and colleges. But they are not drop-in. Only Apple keeps the appropriate teaching force—their sales force—on the job every day, ready to receive learners.

Meeting the training expectation. In smart fashion, Apple advertises to the young and then sells to all generations. For training on Apple products, does the San Francisco experience translate to other stores? Comparison to my store back home in Southlake is not encouraging. I’ve visited the Texas venue specifically for free workshops and never found them operating. Does it take a dedicated teaching space like the one in the San Francisco store? Yes, it probably does. At least for the crystallized thinkers, having that organized seating matters. If my Southlake store pulled out a dozen chairs and grouped them around a projector, would that suffice? Yes. It would also be the ideal place to point out to the small masses the concomitant lessons, like demonstrating the use of the DVI connector to the typical data projector. (Yep. That stumps a lot of boomers at professional conferences when they arrive expecting to make presentations from their MacBooks.)

No complaints. Hats off to Apple for recognizing the need for drop-in training venues. Special congratulations to Apple for making the San Francisco store the ultimate in that experience. And as more boomers have more time to partake of the offerings, my guess is that we’ll see growth in this style of customer support.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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