How awesome would it be if you could partition your brain in the manner of a computer’s hard drive?
You could devote 7% of your brain to operate in foreign languages, 5% to cooking Italian food, 5% to knowing kung fu, and let’s say 23% to seduction techniques, just for starters. The sky’s the limit! Especially after you devote 5% of your brain to learning how to pilot a helicopter.
A modular brain would be so much easier to manage. You could selectively delete all unnecessary pop lyrics, reality TV show trivia, and the films of Zack Snyder. I would, however, suggest retaining the meta-memory of hating his movies, even though you no longer remember what they were, so as not to repeat your mistake. With the cleared up space, you could now set aside 5% for learning to play blues piano!
We’re only up to 50% at this point. The world of your brain is your oyster!
Meanwhile, your actual noggin is an undisciplined soup of useless details. You don’t remember where your car keys are, but you can’t get that stupid lick of Katy Perry’s “Roar” out of your head. You know the one. It goes, “Whoa, whoa! Oh, oh, oh, ohhh!”
Actually, writing the words out and picturing her vocalizing them helps me realize why that’s memorable. It’s not fair; my car keys can’t really compete with that. They’re all like, “That bitch.”
My point is, personal computers don’t learn yet, they get programmed. You can almost instantly add or subtract functionalities or data, and I find that enviable.
Full disclosure, I geeked out like this long before I worked for Apple. I thought in silly, technical metaphors. But that was before I was trained to use them, before I was trained to communicate in the capacity of a repair technician and customer service provider.
My jokes have been recruited by the corporation. Maybe I should be flattered for being weaponized.
I often wish I could partition what happens in my Apple Store from what happens in the rest of my life, but it never works out that way.
One of Us
I’m a joiner. I like playing team sports. I was in a lot of clubs in high school and college. It wouldn’t have been hard to predict I might like the idea of joining a company with visible team spirit.
However, I’ve since read a lot more about the psychology of joining. For example, college fraternities and sororities traditionally haze their pledges, which means they torture them.
Oddly, there is a phenomenon by which the brain deals with the difficulty of cognitive dissonance by realigning interpretation. In other words, the pledges unconsciously convince themselves that if they’re putting up with this much crap, it clearly must be worth it! Because otherwise, they’d be crazy, and the brain is quick to say, “No, no, you’re not crazy at all.”
I don’t go in for that and never have.
On the other hand, I do take an awful lot of abuse from certain customers while I’m wearing my blue shirt and white lanyard. Is helping the nice customers worth dealing with the lunatics? Plenty of company critics would accuse me of being brainwashed, or of having “drunk the Kool Aid.”
To them, I’d say, “What? You’ve never had to stay in a tough job before?”
Going to work for Apple is polarizing, I will admit that. Customer service irrevocably changes your perception of people. You either know what it’s like, or you don’t.
I’m not saying it’s so dramatic a life transformation as serving in the military or having kids, but I don’t have to, because my coworker Duncan has done all three, and he says it’s on par with that.
“You can describe anything to any old person,” He says, “But that doesn’t mean they’ll really get it. Not if they haven’t been there, done that.”
So, it worries me when small ideas, so-called best practices, seem to creep from your work life into your home life. I worry about incompatibilities, maybe full-on corruption.
For example, two years ago, Forbes broke a story about Apple’s so-called Steps of Service, detailing how employees learn acronyms as mnemonic reminders for how to deal with a potentially distraught customer. Starbucks apparently uses L.A.T.T.E. The article revealed Apple uses A.P.P.L.E. Approach, Probe, Present, Listen, End.
During my first group training as a new hire, my instructor laughed that she had been using the steps of service to improve how she communicated with her own boyfriend. She knew it was super geeky, but it worked. If they had an issue, she had a blueprint for how to engage with him and to productively cover all her bases.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how unnatural that seemed. People normally learn social habits through observation, imitation, and only when necessary, trial and error. And this begins before we can even speak. As a species, we’re obsessed with each other, with propriety. Standards are upheld, if not by direct confrontation or criticism, then by isolation or character assassination. At least, that’s what I learned in fourth grade.
So how crazy is it to learn that companies fund studies where observers have analyzed “successful” interactions in order to systematize a teachable list of behavioral best practices? I hate that that happened! Truly. But, since it did happen, I desperately want in on whatever it is they think they learned. How could you not?
That’s the lure of joining a big company, isn’t it? That it can get you things you can’t get yourself. Tools, privileges, discounts, healthcare? The free hoodies are anti-climactic, but I’ve never seen anyone turn them down.
I decided I’d try the steps of service with my own girlfriend. If she had a problem, or something to vent, I made sure she knew I was listening. I tried harder to consciously gauge what response, if any, she required. She noticed the change.
On the other hand, when I went to her with my problems, she seemed curt. In her defense, that had always been her approach, more practical and action-oriented than empathetic. However, I found myself resenting the fact that she wasn’t even getting to the first letter in the mnemonic!
Being in customer service made me a better boyfriend, but also more attuned to what I wasn’t getting. I was better, but bitter.
Maybe this helps explain why so many coworkers hook up. Well, I know that happens everywhere, you schtup whom you see. But with Apple, because of the pervasive corporate culture, there’s even more of a sense that you have a baseline of shared values. That mnemonic is like a safe word to invoke: Turn on your trained empathy, baby, I need it tonight!
It’s fascinating that people believe they could partition their minds or their lives.
I highly recommend reading articles about video game addiction. Or don’t. I’ll summarize the best parts right now. In brutally honest interviews, players describe how they feel their true selves are allowed to emerge. They feel their real identity is the online adventurer, not the mouse-clicking meat bag in the chair. That’s just a life support system, a vessel incidental to their experience of time.
I’m sure they’d disagree vehemently, but weekend warriors are not all that different. Those guys at the sports bar, so buttoned up at work Monday to Friday? Come Saturday and Sunday, the team jerseys come on, and the monster comes out, usually with some tasteful battle cry like, “Bro’s before Ho’s!” or “Posse before Pussy!”
Guess what profession has an inordinately high rate of nicotine addiction? Doctors.
Doesn’t it seem like identity partition is the norm? Don’t we all put on different faces or operate under different rules at different times? Operational flexibility is so crucial that we don’t even notice the switchovers.
My Lead Genius is a professional musician when he’s not working in the store. Or, he’s always a professional musician, he just happens to also work in the store. I asked him how he juggled his commitments. I may have actually said “his identities.”
I said, knowing he’d get me immediately, “Man, I feel like my brain’s partition between home and Apple operating systems is breaking down.”
“JK?” He grinned. “Don’t flatter yourself. First of all, you’re not a Mac. You’re like, barely an iPhone. Working at Apple is not an operating system. It’s just one part of you. One part of many. Turn it off when you go home, man. Live your life!”
It dawned on me.
“Oh my God, I get it!” I said.
“Working at Apple isn’t a partitioned operating system!”
“You can shut it off. It’s in a subfolder.”
“So,” I said, “It’s an app!”
My Lead looked at me long enough to need to blink once or twice.
“Go take a break!” He grinned, “Before I partition the crap out of you, fool.”
A Shout Out to Apple Haters
If you ask an Apple hater what bothers them, and you won’t have to ask because they can’t wait to tell you, whether or not you work for Apple, it’s rarely the company’s products or its maddening profits.
Nope, haters don’t address (or can’t appreciate, or try to ignore) the company’s socially progressive board, its vertical business integration, its savvy financial positioning, its streamlined distribution, its uncanny prediction and steering of technological tastes, and its powerful transformations of music, video, interactivity, and industrial design.
Haters instead focus their rage on what they perceive to be a smug corporate culture. That way, they can hate on one target Genius at a time, one sour interaction that proves they’re justified in a pre-emptive strike. Trolls unoriginally echo the classic whine that all schoolyard bullies provide, “I only hate them because they think they’re better than me!”
Fortunately, I’m not in the Apple Store right now, so I can be honest.
You know what, angry guy? Apple IS better than you. Its employees and technologies do more good for more people in 10 minutes than you could do in 1,000 lifetimes. Yes, even if you work in I.T. The company’s not more important than say, a person like the Dalai Lama, or Pope Francis, or Bryan Cranston, but yeah, it’s a LOT better than you.
I’m sorry if one of my coworkers offended you, but I’ve been in retail long enough to know for a fact that the people who claim to have gotten horrific customer service are usually horrific customers.
Haters crash your forum, because they don’t have their own. I love that hate is all haters have. All they can process. They screech, Anyone who likes what we haters don’t like must be a brainwashed IDIOT! Anyone who dares to disagree with someone like us, someone brave enough to spit vitriol anonymously on a comment board, should not be allowed to LIVE!
To you, my brave trolls, I say, “Take a breath.”
It’s going to be all right.
Calm down before your mom comes upstairs and asks why you’re beating your keyboard (or anything else) again.