What Can You Learn About Learning — From Starbucks? (Would You Like Whipped Content With That?)

StarbucksSometimes, it’s a little hard to get your head around how you could implement new media channels into your existing education efforts. So this is Part I of a 435-part series entitled “What Could You Learn About Learning?” (My apologies to Stephen Colbert.)

I’ve picked five random things that are trademarks of the folks with the little green mermaid, and I think each can be used to remember a simple truth about pushing knowledge into little lizard brains. Let me know what you think.

First, Do One Thing Well

The online world is full of people who do everything — and nothing. It’s hard to define what they’re offering, hard to remember who they are, and hard to focus. Does your knowledge transfer experience map to that? Do you offer classes, online, offline, synchronous, asynchronous, job aids, reference materials and fireside chats?

Quantity isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s devilishly hard to create multiple learning models that actually complement and support each other. Start your move to new media by just producing a podcast. One podcast, about one course. When you’ve got that down solid, apply what you’ve learned and do another. Don’t rush off to video, or blogging, or thought-transfer pills.

If you’re in that much of a hurry, hire somebody who’s done this a lot to guide you — and even then, keep an eye on him.

Give Them A Consistent Experience

There’s a reason that the “next” button is in the lower right-hand corner on lots of e-learning products. (No, there isn’t really any data that suggests that’s the “best” place for it.) The reason is that most designers put it there, so we’ve come to expect it. That’s why toast comes out of the top of the toaster, shoes lace up in the front, and cats always have their butt facing you.

60 MinutesSo each video you create should have a common intro and outro, a similar introduction, even a similar look and feel surrounding the content. Think “60 Minutes” or “Publisher’s Clearinghouse” or “How My Toilet Works.” Sometimes knowing exactly what to expect is very comforting. Having to figure out a new system often just breaks your focus and becomes annoying.

Every Starbucks I’m in, there’s one stop to order and one stop to pickup. The products have the same names, sizes, and ingredients. And there’s always somebody sitting in the comfy chairs.

Allow Me To Add The Spice To My Experience

When I’m in Starbucks, I know there’s no chance that I can add fries. But I do know that I can have extra flavors, less milk, cinnamon, room for cream, or even soy milk. So I can really make “my drink” within the bounds of what’s available. Can your learners customize their experience, while still sticking to the “be consistent” rule? Can they add something, remove something, or customize the size?

Adults want to control their learning experience, and push back pretty hard if you present it as one-size-fits-all. That’s why the web has had such an impact on how people take in knowledge. We expect that it’s ok to start with Chapter 5. We want to look at the finished bookshelf before we start assembling. Going to a hotel without seeing the room in a preview is no longer ok with me.

Let Me Know What’s New, While I’m Waiting In Line

Filet ‘O MermaidEvery Starbucks has a little chalkboard sign, where the barristas put up a little note about what’s new. It might be a Pumpkin Spice Latte, Christmas Mint Cookies, or Filet of Mermaid. (Ok — I made that one up.)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t often take them up on it. But I like to know that there are choices available — in some ways, it makes mine feel a little more valid. It lets me know that it really is ok if I want to have the hazelnut syrup today. And I have confidence that each time I visit, there will be freedom to select just what I want.

I Don’t Want To Feel Your Pain

Whether I’m in the drive-up window or at the counter, I rarely have any idea of what’s going on behind the curtain. I’m sure that some days the steam is too hot, the milk is running out, or the microphone for the drive-up is not very easy to hear.

But I don’t ever hear that. Everyone I deal with is positive, smiling, polite and focused. Compare that experience to most other food experiences (heck — compare it to quick lube shops and Home Depot) and tell me what you see. When I’m in the middle of learning, I don’t want to hear that your server is unavailable. I don’t want to create a blog post and lose it in editing. I just don’t care that you’re upgrading the site and I can’t find the podcast anymore.


What could you learn from Starbucks? Who else do you learn from?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Howard Gutknecht June 27, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Starbucks culture is driven by a short list of “Green Apron” principles. You can look them up. Number one is “Be Welcoming”

I wondered abou this. I used to have a trade show training that began with teaching the principal: Warm Welcome.
This doesn’t come easily for some. Me sometimes.


Dick Carlson June 27, 2007 at 8:47 pm


Here are the principles:

1. Make it your own
2. Everything matters
3. Surprise and delight
4. Embrace resistance
5. Leave your mark

I couldn’t find a copy of the little green book, but you can buy a book with all the principles at Barnes & Noble.
The Starbucks Experience


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