Rubio on Rails: My Experience with the Apple Genius Bar and Going Off Message

As a lover of politics and technology (and a little bit of mayhem), I don’t think there’s been a better time than the one we are in right now. The American presidential campaigns are proving quite raucous, giving voters lots of entertainment and a fair share of trepidation. Meanwhile the tech world is producing its own great drama with the unicorns getting slaughtered, all while really cool new technologies attempt to rise above the fray and “get elected” by the markets. I pity the poor soul who doesn’t like politics or tech, because it’s so, so hard to hide from either at the moment. Let’s first examine politics and some recent lessons.

My father was a campaign manager and political fundraiser and he taught me that most elections are great lessons in business because they provide amazing teachings every day. Some of best contemporary instructors are actually the debates themselves — before, during, and after. They’re about messaging, positioning, strategy, and tactics. What “product” do the candidates have? What’s their value proposition? And how are they going to reach consumers/voters? It’s all great stuff, which is why I enjoy watching political debates as much as I like watching HBO’s hot (and wickedly funny) tech series, Silicon Valley.

So given all this background, I was rather surprised when I watched a recent Republican debate (I also watched the Democratic debate) in New Hampshire and witnessed some very bad miscues (or a series of them) from candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio. When pressed on issues, most frequently from the somewhat acerbic New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Rubio repeated the same token sentence.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, spars with Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right as Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson listen during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by ABC News at the St. Anselm College Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

“Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing…”

Rubio couldn’t get off this message and he echoed the same response over and over again. It felt like the movie Groundhog Day. And he did it again and again.

“Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing…”

The lesson?

Know when to go off message. It will make your customers happy.

In business or in politics, message is important, but not sacred. Know when to use it.

In the Senator’s case, it lost him the debate and resulted in a poor showing in the subsequent New Hampshire primary. Long term? Let’s see what happens at the Republican Convention and in the November election.

Now let’s fast forward a couple weeks to yet another popular, well-lit venue in New Hampshire. This time, it’s the Apple Store in Salem, New Hampshire. The visits there are fun because (1) I have to walk by the empty Microsoft store and ask “what were they thinking?” and (2) I believe the Apple Store is the new playground for Millennials and their digital offspring. Full disclosure: I’ve been a Mac user since, gulp, the 512KB Fat Mac, in, double-gulp, 1984, though I actually used an Apple Lisa before that.

The reason for my visit was to have Apple re-repair an older Macbook that sort of came apart because its battery decided to double in size and destroy the keyboard, trackpad, and case. This had been one of our son’s machines prior to demanding the requisite Macbook Pro upgrade (Intel i7 processor, 1GB SSD, etc.) before running off to college. The old machine served him well and he produced one EP and two LPs on it, so it has some sentimental value. That aside, my wife is an avid cook, who has gone insanely digital and wanted to requisition this old machine for her massive recipe collection. Naturally, she’s scanning these recipes with OCR, adding meta data, and organizing it into Google drive. “Digital kitchen” she says. She also works in ad tech but has gotten significantly geekier since working in the Cambridge Innovation Center and watching Silicon Valley.

Off to the Apple Store and the Genius Bar my wife and I went. Apple agreed to fix the unit, but made me pay the $129 for the new battery. That was fair since this computer was well-beyond warranty. When we got the unit back, not only wouldn’t it boot, but it also had a new and unusable trackpad.

People are served at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store 5th Avenue in New York June 24, 2010. People lined up hours in advance hoping to snag one of the "limited" quantity slated for retail sale only. AT&T will begin selling the iPhone 4 at retail on June 29, on a first-come first-served basis. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCI TECH) - RTR2FNF0

I left the unit with the Genius Bar team member and received a call the following day:

“Mr. Ciampa, this is Namey Withheld, from the Genius Bar at the Rockingham Mall in Salem New Hampshire. We can’t fix your unit because a sensor indicates water damage. That’s why it won’t boot, but you can pay $749 for a new motherboard.”

“That’s insane,” I reply. “The unit is only worth a couple of hundred bucks.”

Namey Withheld replied, “We can’t fix your unit because a sensor indicates water damage. That’s why it won’t boot, but you can pay $749 for a new motherboard.”

Damn, I thought. Is he pulling a Rubio on me?

“Sir,” I said, “I have a graduate degree in Computer Engineering, worked for several computer companies, and was a Unix Software Engineer, the same operating system foundation for MacOS. I may have a partial clue what I’m talking about. This unit booted before the battery blew up.”

“We can’t fix your unit because a sensor indicates water damage. That’s why it won’t boot, but you can pay $749 for a new motherboard.”

My goodness, I’m at the Republican debate and I’ve become Chris Christie, but hopefully a more svelte and kinder version.

“Dude, please redo your work and the unit should boot, or at least attempt to. I can fix it from there.”

“We can’t fix your unit because a sensor indicates water damage. That’s why it won’t boot, but you can pay $749 for a new motherboard.”

Man, this guy can’t get off script or bump it to somebody who can. Next he’s going to call me President Barak Obama. I stand firm and demand the work be redone. The following day I get a call from you-know-who and he tells me that the machine is now attempting to boot. That’s a good thing because now it’s likely a disk issue, which is easy enough to fix. But…

“Your Macbook won’t boot because a sensor indicates water damage. That’s why it won’t boot, but you can pay $749 for a new motherboard.”

Slight change in message, but he’s still on script. I have no choice; I have to pull a Donald Trump.

“Leave it! I’ll will do it on my own.” Geez, I have to get angry and finance my own campaign: my Macbook repair campaign. I get the Mac back, drop in a $65 SSD from Amazon, and the once-destroyed Mac relic now has a prominent place in our kitchen. Of course, my wife says it’s incumbent upon me to help scan decades of recipes with her. “Yes, Mrs. Digital. I will accommodate.” Naturally, we shared the Google Drive docs with our kids, who immediately demanded edit access, not just view access. Turns out they learned something after all and had many of their own recipes to add. Glad I stayed on the parenting message.

In parting: Dear Apple. I do love you. But one more thing you may want to tell the folks at the Genius Bar:

Know when to go off message. It will make your customers happy.

Digital Kitchen Mac

Photo credits: Boston Herald, International Business Times, Rob Ciampa

Recipe credit: Jane Ward

Coffee next to the Kitchen Mac: George Howell

Political affiliation: Fiercely independent

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