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Posted: November 28, 2012

Bellyaching up to Apple’s Genius Bar

...or, "Please don't make me learn!"

Julie Hansen

Like most people, I don’t go to the Apple store because I enjoy being steered around from one headset wearing hipster to another, but because I need help from…must I say it? The Genius Bar. One approaches the Genius Bar with a certain amount of humility and awe. After all, even the cleaning person at Apple could put my computer skills to shame.

The Genius Bar is stocked with people so smart that I imagine they are operating large, multi-national companies or small countries on the side and doing this just for fun. The geniuses are always surrounded by no less than a dozen people at all times, each anxiously awaiting “the answer.” But the geniuses remain cool. They are completely unfazed by your self-imposed crisis. An incorrectly entered command is met with the same level of calm as a dying hard drive.

I arrive at the Genius Bar once again because I have completely surpassed my working knowledge of my Mac (this does not mean much) and invested way too much time in a seemingly simply task like, A) synching to the cloud, B) editing a video or C) downloading an app. All I really want is a quick answer and a minimal attempt on the genius’s part to hide his or her amusement at my ignorance. Instead, my genius listens with the patience of Job (not “Job’s”, who I understand had very little in the way of patience) to my needlessly complex explanation of what went wrong. 

When I finish I tilt the computer screen towards him and wait for him to perform his magic. My genius regards me impassively then asks: “Where do YOU think you would find the answer?” Aargh! “I am not the genius!” I want to shout. Who cares what I think?! My thinking is what got me a seat at the Genius Bar! I try to throw the ball back in his court but my genius remains steadfast. It is evident that he will not be handing out an answer without some effort on my part. 

I want to explain that my brain is FULL. I am out of RAM or hard drive or whatever. I have hit every control/alt combination I can think of.  I have read as many how-to articles as I can stomach. I don’t want to learn how to do something I hope to never have to repeat. I feel like a four-year old struggling to tie my shoe, finally turning in frustration to her mother only to hear her say: How do YOU think you would make rabbit ears? Aaargh!

I’m a sales trainer. So I get it. He is forcing me to learn. In a Google, eHow world, the genius is asking me to think my way through a problem.  Is he concerned about my growth and development? Does he think I might enjoy learning about the inner workings of my Mac? Maybe. More likely he knows that if I leave without understanding how I got there and how to get myself out, if I don’t actually move the mouse and hit the keys myself, I will be back next month with a similar problem.

As a new sales manager I often felt like I was seated behind a bar as well.  Certainly not the genius bar, more like the answer bar. Salespeople would belly up to the answer bar, throw a problem at me (usually one that had been brewing for some time) and expect me to spit out a solution. Each “crisis” seemed to demand my immediate attention and expertise. And I was only too happy to provide it. If customer A says B, you say C.  Next!

Withholding the solution when confronted by a fellow human being in a state of panic is not an easy thing to do. It can feel like you’re wasting precious time to step back and ask them: “How do YOU think you might solve that?” Yet if we want our salespeople to make lasting change, that’s precisely what we need to do.  We can give them the quick answers (and sometimes that is necessary) but real learning, as Apple obviously knows, comes from helping them arrive at the solution on their own and then practicing applying it.

So I get it, Apple geniuses. But just once, when my brain is really on overload, could you show some compassion? Could you save the teaching moment for another time and simply reach down and tie my shoe?

Julie Hansen helps sales and business executives differentiate their solution and deliver winning presentations by leveraging proven performance skills from film, stage and improv.  The founder of Performance Sales and Training, Julie’s techniques have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM, Oracle, SAP and local Colorado companies to gain a competitive selling edge.  Julie is an international speaker, sales trainer and the author of ACT Like a Sales Pro!  Learn more about workshops and keynotes at, start a sales conversation at  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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Readers Respond

Julie, your article left me smiling. Thanks. I love going to the Apple store and genius bar. I've been an Apple fanatic since 1984 and am no computer genius! My last trip to the genius bar was because one of my obscure settings had been changed and I couldn't get sound to external speakers, which I needed for a presentation I was giving. The genius showed me the setting and we were both happy the problem was easily solved and I was in and out of the store in 10 minutes. All sales people could learn from the Apple retail sales philosophy. They are taught ... don't sell. Your job is to listen, understand what the customer's problem and solve it ... that's sales with integrity. Apple has created both disruptive technology and a disruptive mindset in customer service and sales. By TC North on 2012 11 28
It is interesting to know that while the technology has changed, user behavior hasn't changed from way back when, when I was sitting in the "consultant" window at college helping people with their programs. The job didn't require a genius. You had lines of people most of whom had the same problem. After solving a problem several times, it is easy to look like a genius. You are right, helping someone understand HOW to solve the problem without making them upset is the hard part. By John Unruh on 2012 11 28
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