Improving Learning & Development @ Apple Retail


I don’t care how retail companies spin it: for retail store employees, learning and development is LAST on their list of importance. Even when they invest a ton of money into Learning & Development, they don’t make the appropriate decisions to make their Retail Stores into an environment of learning for their store employees. It’s a place of transaction (and experiences that support transaction), and that’s how Retail has been designed for years. This includes things like connecting the store to the internet.

The Apple Retail Stores were some of the most well-thought out, beautifully designed stores in the entire world. But even they didn’t factor a space for learning and development into their design. This was my team’s challenge.


When Apple Retail started designing their internet connections for stores in 2001, they had a simple design: Two “T1” lines for the operational & secure internal Apple traffic (we’ll call this “back of house”) & two “T1” lines for the customer Wifi traffic (we’ll call this “front of house”). This amounted to 3 Mega Bits Per Second PEAK throughput for POS transactions, inventory control, emails, etc and 3 Mega Bits Per Second for customers who wanted to test machines and get online. Those stats weren’t bad back then because we weren’t an “HD-4K-8K” driven universe with massive videos and files coursing through the internet. Today by comparison, the 5G network AVERAGES 100+MBps; that’s 33x the amount we used to have on Broadband into Apple Retail.

Myself and Joe Ferry setting up the “back of house” Genius Bar machines in 2005 before the opening of Apple Store Staten Island.

Our Point of Sale & Genius Bar Macs were all wired into our “back of house” secure traffic, as well as any machines that were controlling our inventory and operations. Then, almost as a design afterthought, our training machines were placed on the “back of house” network. Due to the fact that Apple Stores had to lock down security because the network handled all money transactions and inventory, you could not place WiFi devices (AirPort or AirPort Express) onto the “back of house” network to extend it. So we used iMacs in a small and cramped area to “learn.”

This is an example of tethering in one of our flagship stores in 2006. While there seems to be a lot of space in the “back of house” in this example, most of it was used for the heavy moving of inventory. The Training Area was sandwiched inside the break room, and the machines were tethered to an aging network. This particular store had over 700 employees.

Fast forward to 2007. The internet was now in the hands of everyone with an iPhone. Some of the larger stores had complaints from customers when it came to the Apple Store WiFi experience being too slow. So Apple Retail did a huge capital project and removed many of the T1 lines over time in the “front of house,” replacing them with new “DS3” lines, which upped the throughput to 45 Mega Bits Per Second.

What internet connections looked like in most Apple Retail stores in 2008. Note that all internal traffic went over the old “back of house” internet, further straining that resource and making it more difficult for employees to have a dedicated learning environment.

With all of this great and engaging stuff we were building with RetailU (see previous blog posts), we were still constrained by these network decisions. Our traffic was still reaching our Retail Stores via the “back of house” connection, and it was competing with both space problems of the store and other internet traffic. ESPECIALLY with the advent of the iPhone, my team and I saw a future in which people could learn where they wanted to, how they wanted to, not constrained or forced onto an iMac where a lot of distractions ensued.


Before my team arrived in Apple Corporate, the message around Learning & Development was clear: wait for “them” to upgrade the “back of house” network to a higher throughput. After talking with the networking teams across Apple, I quickly realized a project like that was years off. So, I had an idea to move our RetailU servers into an Apple “border zone,” an area that had secure access to the public internet. We worked with InfoSec to come up with a solution that 1) required secure authentication of our employees to access RetailU and 2) whitelist the application to ONLY include the IP addresses of the stores (so you can only access the application at the store, no where else).

Early design of RetailU’s servers in 2008 to demonstrate our goals to our RetailU users. We also added CDN capabilities which allowed our employees to have better learning experiences.
Design by Mark Bush & DJ Bowser


The result of this work? RetailU was the first internal application in Apple Retail to have full access through our WiFi in the Retail Stores. This means that you could train anywhere within the four walls at any time, and you could take advantage of the fast internet that was being provided by our WiFi networks. Learning engagement continued to soar after we released RetailU on the “front of house” network, allowing things like validations for Red Zone Foundations to happen on any of the demo machines in the “front of house.” We even opened up local IPs in a few nearby Starbucks to allow employees to leave the store and go there with a laptop to validate.

Even though Learning & Development teams don’t typically think of these types of problems, they need to. It’s one thing to provide a learning experience that checks a box to solve an immediate problem. It’s another to create environments for learning and development. I’m proud to say that’s what we did by solving this really complex challenge.

The Expansion of Apple RetailU (2008)

Behind every good product is a design that solves the problem it was asked to solve, AND solves twenty others it was not asked to. Please read my previous blog post to get a sense on how this all started.


Apple in 2008 was an interesting time. The iPhone had just launched. The iPod was still the standard. Steve Jobs was our leader and Apple Retail Stores were the most popular place on the planet. The lines were out the door, and the employees had no time for anything but customers… certainly little time for development of their careers.

A typical launch day in New York at the Apple Store in SoHo. And the non-launch days were extremely busy too.


After we launched Third Party Products, the Head of Stores came to me with an idea. “Our leadership teams need to know and understand who is proficient with our Apple applications in our stores,” he said. “Right now, there was no way to be able to zone people appropriately because we don’t have full insight into what our people know.” He gave this to me and our team to think about (myself, Cortland Klein, Zach Kennedy, and Jaxon Ketterman).


There are three types of learning opportunities that people embark in when they want to develop their careers: Experience, Exposure, and Education. Experience is the most widely accepted and used where people do things on the job to give them better skills. Exposure is when an employee is exposed to senior or executive leadership to help develop them. Education is the one that most people think of in L&D, providing content for learning & assimilation.

Many times, Learning & Development organizations strive to solve the Education component without looking for opportunities to address Experience and Exposure areas. Our team had already shifted the L&D focus to “Experience” by allowing employees to own the product with 3PP (last blog). So we were looking at innovative things we could do in all three areas with this new endeavor.

By 2008, the only “learning” tool we had was a tool called iLearn, an application used by our Sales Training organization (created during the CompUSA days in the late 90s) that allowed you to read about a product and take a quiz. If you passed it, you would get points towards becoming an “Apple Product Professional.” It didn’t require you to demonstrate what you knew, and the quiz was fairly general and easy; I could pass a quiz on GarageBand and have no idea how to create music.

So how did we create this notion of including Experience and Exposure into the learning mix? We looked at some of the ways that managers were keeping track of what employees knew in the back rooms of our stores. Then we thought about incorporating levels of knowledge (Novice, Consumer, and Professional), and making the employee DEMONSTRATE what they knew rather than regurgitating information back to a manager to check a box. It was better to ask the employee to create a song in GarageBand than it was to ask them a question about what to click in the app. All of the demo machines in the Apple Store had the applications, so they could all be validated on those machines without ever having to leave the floor.

Example in an Apple Store of keeping track of employee knowledge. The Apple apps are at the top, and employees are on the left.

We needed to create a Validation system. Who would write the validation scripts? How is a person validated as a Novice, Consumer, or Pro of an application? For that, we turned to our Product Marketing, Retail Marketing, and L&D teams to write the scripts for each application (Final Cut Pro, iMovie, iPhoto, etc.) as well as what an employee would need to demonstrate at any given level (Novice, Consumer, Pro).


Within three months, two new applications were created inside of what we were calling “RetailU.” The first was Materials, which was a simply a place to host the scripts. We needed something global based upon Apple’s worldwide needs, and Zach & Cortland played with this idea around a localization & translation grid:

This was the interface for Materials for people who were uploading documents. Note the amazing grid on the upper right hand side that allowed you to keep track of translations and localizations.

The second was Red Zone Foundations, the validation, management, and recognition app all rolled into one.

Red Zone Foundations gave everyone in the store what people knew and the level they knew it at a glance.
Managers could designate someone as “Novice,” “Consumer,” or “Pro” in any given app after that person demonstrated their knowledge, as well as designate Mentors to assist them in validating others.

People were immediately excited about learning and becoming validated. Having the screen full of cards of people in the store gave teams competitions. Employees took it upon themselves to learn the content, and L&D engagement took off. The scripts gave them the on-the-job Experiences they were craving, and the recognition piece gave them Exposure with senior leaders in their stores.

After we were done with this project, we knew we had something extraordinary: Red Zone Foundations and 3PP discounts) brought our L&D online engagement to unprecedented levels within Apple Retail (from 6% all the way to 80%). Zach’s killer design allowed us to add small applications onto our RetailU platform. And our team had proven twice that we can be nimble.

3PP discounts, Red Zone Foundations, and Materials were the foundation for RetailU, our new killer Apple Retail web app. App icons designed or adapted by Zach Kennedy.

There were spatial and technical challenges that we had to solve for our platform that had nothing to do directly with the application. In my next blog post, I’ll talk about the Apple Stores and how they weren’t originally designed for Learning & Development experiences, leading to challenges of our own.

The Creation Of Apple RetailU (2008)

The Retail Industry has evolved quite a bit since 2001 when Apple launched its first store in Tyson’s Corner in Virginia. A lot of that evolution is because of Apple’s innovation in the industry. Thinking about how you bring something like the Genius Bar to the masses required imaginative ideas that were also practical. Much of the positive experience that customers had with the Genius Bar developed out of nothing that existed before, such as a dedicated parts depot and trained in-store technicians who were also good at customer service.

Hiring for and scaling this model became a lot more exciting after 2003 when two things changed Apple’s business: 1) the decision to put iTunes on the Windows platform and 2) the iPod Mini. Releasing iTunes on Windows made it a lot less restrictive for most consumers who had music on their own computers. And when the iPod Mini came out in early 2004 and launched globally in the summer, the entire world was ready for to adopt a new type of portable music player to replace anti-skip CD players.

I joined Apple Retail in 2005, right before the iPod with Video and nano launched. From 2005, the company’s growth outpaced the entire industry exponentially. There were many business lessons we learned just dealing with unheralded times. Apple went from 25,000 employees in 2005 worth 32 billion to 140,000 employees worth 1 trillion when I left in 2018.

Taken from the live feed from during the night of the opening of Fifth Avenue, May 2006. That’s me holding the camera on the right towards the line.


I think this is a problem in most growth companies, retail or otherwise: a challenge pops up, you come up with a technology solution for it, and you deal with it in isolation. Most organizations hire vendors to solve the problem. Once they solve the problem with a vendor solution, they’re rewarded. The cycle repeats. As the years go by and the amount of vendors in-house increase, you’re left with vendors who are incapable of integrating solutions, and your company’s product teams are formed in isolation, left only with the expertise of the systems they manage. It fractures companies, teams, and makes a CTO/CIO’s job exceptionally difficult to eventually clean up.

THE PROBLEM: This was what the internal tool landscape looked like at Apple Retail in 2008 for employees. Employees had a lot of web sites they needed to log in to do their jobs. This took away from helping customers, and is indicative of an organization experiencing hyper growth.

In 2007, I was fortunate enough to get a job in Cupertino as a media specialist, then in 2008 as a technology manager, building a team of incredible UX designers and developers. Apple Retail in 2007 also had this fractured mindset, but fortunately we were nascent (naive?) enough to believe we could turn important parts of the ship.

To do so, my teams needed to develop a “build first” mindset, which meant that, no matter what, we wouldn’t jump directly into the solution, and we would imagine what we wanted to interact with that would make our user’s jobs a complete joy. This joy would help other organizations eventually see the value of what we were trying to do and jump onboard in various capacities.


The first thing I was asked to do in early 2008 as Technology Manager was to prototype and pilot a new engaging training experience for employees worldwide. I’m going to skip much of the details of how our solution came to be, but there were four very important aspects I did that allowed our team to move faster than the growth of Apple:

  • Hire team members who are also users. I was able to hire world class developers and designers from APPLE RETAIL STORES. Like me, they were users of the system, and they were thinking of this problem in their own special way. Steve Jobs famously said that the reason they wanted to build the iPhone was because the teams hated their phones. The core team we put together was able to direct other teams to think about the solution the way a Retail Employee would. If your developers and designers are also users, you can move at a breakneck pace.
  • Create a solution for the problem you’re given, but NEVER with the thought that your solution is the end of the road. You design and iterate on solutions with the presence of mind that it will have future expanse.
  • Visually prototype and show every leader you can, all the time. Bring as many leaders as you can along the journey and include their thoughts and opinions where it’s appropriate. I’ve found that the best way to do that is with visual prototypes. If there’s a disagreement always counter your leaders’ opinions on data from the end users. Be your hype person.
  • Start small, and stay small as long as you can. Sometimes success can feel like failure when the demands of your solution and your team outstrip your ability to keep up. The most important part of a leader of this team is to know when to say “no” artfully, even to executive leadership. When you have a problem as large as we did, knock one problem out at a time, but always keep an eye on the greater mission.


Zach Kennedy, Cortland Klein, and myself designed and developed an idea with Product Merchandising and launched it in less than two weeks using Python/Django. This was its first iteration:

The first experience our team created was called 3rd Party Products, which simply allowed employees to take quizzes and get discounts. It was an engagement hit, and hit all of our objectives.

Notice how the design of our first solution is encapsulated in a much larger idea: RetailU. The third party products portion of the solution took maybe four days, and that’s all the real functionality that we launched with. But we knew that this solution couldn’t be everything in order to impact the training experiences in the store forever.

You may also notice that we had a dock similar to the one on Apple’s desktop at the bottom. This was the beginning of creating something much larger and more game changing for Apple Retail and our employees worldwide, and ties into the problem statement above that there were multiple sites for one employee to go to.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about how these two weeks of work & success turned into a much larger, more innovative project for Apple Retail.

A New Election Day Voter Experience Pt. 2

In my last blog post, I spoke about the need to cut down on visual chaos at the polls and streamline things to make it easier for voters to help make their decisions. We saw mixed success with our attempts to inject signage that would help with that.

The 2023 Signs
To reduce the visual chaos, I decided to take a “team approach” to the design of the sign, and because we were concerned with available resources at each polling station, the leaders of the Nashua Democrats suggested I make more manageable signs for each Ward that one person can hold. Just to recap the challenges I tried to solve with the new experience:

  • Take into account the voter’s emotions (what kind of day they’re having, where their headspace is at, etc).
  • Appear inviting rather than fervid of your support. Many voters see supporters and those involved in political support as “extreme.”
  • Assume the voter has no clue who people are on your totem.
  • Don’t ask for votes the day of the election as it can be seen as an extreme turnoff or a harassment tactic, especially to those who want to maintain their privacy.

Here are the signs we eventually came up with to address many of those issues:

A specific sign for each polling place that would allow people to get down ballot information for their candidates. On the back is a full sample ballot that people can read, take a picture of, and carry with them into the polls.

While we didn’t make the massive triplicates from last year (see last blog post), there are five major improvements on these signs:

  • QR Codes. The QR codes allowed you to scan them so you would get down ballot information off the web and carry that information in with you to the ballot box. All of the QR codes were unique to the Ward. We had over 1,000 scans with 15,000+ voters.
  • Tap To Support. This one didn’t get as much traction, with just under 200 uses. Essentially, you could use your phone just like you would use Apple Pay. You could hold your phone right next to the card we attached on both sides of each totem, and it would allow you to go to the same link the QR code would.
  • Sign Lights. After a certain hour, things get dark, and no one can see your signs. We deliberately installed Neodymium magnets onto the posts and attached lights to them so that they could be seen from a distance.
Sometimes the most obvious innovations are the best.
  • Foot Rests. Each sign came with a base that was heavier (to keep the sign balanced) and you could put your foot through to keep it stable. That way, you weren’t having to hold it upright all day, but still have it in your possession according to campaign rules.
  • Reusability. The signs cost about $200 each to make, but what I really dig about these is that about $90 of the cost is completely reusable for the next election. The totems do not need to be dismantled, only stored. And the QR codes and NFC Tap cards are completely re-programmable for any future links, which means those signs don’t need to be reprinted.

All in all, the signs were a huge hit with voters and officials in political parties. It’s most likely we’ll be seeing more of this in the future. I have also made observations in my travels that will be important to make note of.

Visual Chaos was still a problem and negated some of the sign’s effect with the voters.
Old habits die hard. We were unsuccessful at reducing the amount of visual chaos around the signs because there was this insistence of creating totems of our candidates. Visual chaos was still at play. This impacted the sign’s ability to clearly speak to many of the voters, as the visual chaos drew many of them away from those areas. The QR code was able to negate some of that because you could take a photo of it from 150 feet away. But it negated our ability to show off “TAP TO SUPPORT” because many voters stay clear of the chaos. We still didn’t get to really thank them for voting without instilling this notion of “…but you better have voted for our people.” We missed our chance to build coalition on Election Day for future Election Days. We also missed our chance to do an A/B test to see if these signs and the experience was effective in one of these wards.

New signs competing with lawn signs. We’re still not at a point where we’re designing an Election Day experience for voters.

Innovating into the future
This will not be the last of the sign innovations you’ll see. I have what I believe will be a game changer for the 2024 Election we’ll be implementing (a small pilot for Alicia’s re-election campaign in Ward 7), and because a certain technology has finally caught up, we’ll be able to debut it next November. Stay tuned!

A New Election Day Voter Experience

With all the millions of dollars invested by parties and campaigns leading up to the election, it’s shocking that the Election Day experience is devoid of experience design for what voters must go through. In short, the Election Day experience for voters just outside the polling place is terrible.

It’s something I’ve always found fascinating. Voters show up to the polls and see people they may/may not know holding signs they may/may not have seen before with names of people they don’t know anything about. I’ve talked about the polling place experience as “visual chaos.”

This is the “visual chaos” paradigm I’m referring to.
Kate Brindley Photography

The prevailing opinion as to why campaigns and parties make and display totems (the multiple signs stacked on top of each other on a wooden post) is traditionally because:

  1. It’s widely accepted that having support at the polls will influence a voter to vote for whoever is on the sign the supporter is holding. It follows the logic of making signs and putting them all over the place, and it’s a last-minute attempt to sway a voter into voting for that individual or set of individuals.
  2. If you stack two or three signs on top of each other, you will put candidates who are running for lesser known positions (i.e., “down ballot candidates”) with other more high profile candidates to associate them with the same approach to governing. It’s thought that this can “elevate” that candidate’s profile and garner them more votes.

There are many major challenges with this thinking:

  1. You’re not taking into account anything about the voter (what kind of day they’re having, where their headspace is at). You are simply asking them to perform something.
  2. It assumes that many voters respond positively to these signs, when we have seen that most voters go out of their way to avoid the locations where people and signs are.
  3. Many voters see supporters and those involved in political support as “extreme.”
  4. You are assuming that the voter has any clue who any of the people are on your totem. If it’s a presidential year, or a mayoral race, they may know the top people on the ballot, but the farther you go down the ballot, the more unknown people are.
  5. Voting is a private matter between the voter and the vote. Asking for votes the day of the election can be seen as an extreme turnoff or a harassment tactic, especially to those who want to maintain their privacy.

These emotional and rational reasons are important to take into consideration for all of us as we struggle to convince Americans to stay engaged in our political system. We need the polls to be welcoming, less frenzied, and pleasant. We need to project a relaxed environment for all voters as they make some pretty important decisions for our towns, cities, states and federal governments.

In some towns, they were handing out water bottles to those people who were waiting in line for hours to vote. While that seems like a nice thing to do, it can also be seen as an attempt to “buy” a vote. What experience should political campaigns and parties be striving to create a successful outcome? Here are five tips:

Drop ALL the attacks and smears.
If a campaign is still attacking their opponent on the day of the Election and is bringing signs out to do so, the message you send to many voters is that you don’t care about what they’re going through that particular day. You need to be able to shift your attention away from grievance politics and focus on the time voters are taking out of their day to show up at the polls.

Thank voters for their time and try to establish a small personal connection.
While I’ve seen many people in polling places thank others for coming out, many of the folks who hold signs remain silent and let their yard sign totems do the talking. I’ve also noticed that when someone is LEAVING the polls, most responses shift from thanking voters to “So who did you vote for?” leaving a voter in what could be an awkward position for them. Find ways to focus on thanking them. They may even vote for your person next time because of the way you made them feel.

Re-think why your supporters are out there and how they can help you.
I’m going to ask every candidate who’s in charge of a campaign: does having a sign out there with your name on it really add to your voting day totals? Voters come in knowing who they’re going to vote for at the very top of the ballot. I always laugh when I see people with Trump or Biden signs out there at the polls (as if that will dramatically impact the amount of votes they were going to get that day). Having a supporter out there should be a reflection of who you are and who you want to be. What can you do to arm them with the training and tools that will leave a lasting impression on a voter? Supporters should be removing the chaos from the voter AND simplifying things for them.

Leaders need to lead. Support your lesser known candidates and teams.
This is probably the most important thing to note: Up to 40% of voters don’t know who their party’s down ballot candidates are (i.e., the candidates running for lesser known positions who are being supported by their parties). The entire system of politics gravitates towards the more powerful positions, and leaves the lesser positions within town and municipal government with less resources and money. If your campaign team simply focuses on getting the top position filled and none of your team members (for example, a laser focus on Mayor and none on your Board of Aldermen), even if you fill the top position, you won’t be able to assert any change once that person gets elected.

What could a new experience look like?

In Nashua, I’m experimenting with a brand new design experience at the polls, taking all of the removing the totems where we can and finding new types of messaging for our voters. I created a “triplicate” last election that looked like this:

These three signs, each 2′ x 5′, come together to form a sign that voters may be interested in interacting with. Plus it’s always great to make a sign with my beautiful wife on it.

Two important things to mention about this design: first, it had a huge map of the ward which allowed people to say “hey, that’s where I live!” and point to a section of the sign. Then it associated a really important message with the three candidates (who were in lesser known positions, but very important state legislators): “Thank you for voting.” The voters were drawn in by the design of the sign, then they would smile based on the message, which was VERY different from the typical “VOTE FOR OUR CANDIDATE” messaging that you see prevalent everywhere.

That was great for these three people (who subsequently won their elections and got more votes than people farther up the ballot), but what about the rest of the people running? The back of each was designed to give a bit more information about who was part of the larger team:

Signs for the Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in Nashua (2022)

Did everyone on this ballot get elected? No(though most did). We have a Republican governor who has a great deal of cross-appeal in New Hampshire. Sometimes, it’s the lasting impression you have on people that help you carry a message to win another day. It was a great way to give voters a personal touch on the day of the election, making it more welcoming for them and easier for candidates to connect. I’m proud to say that these signs addressed all of the five points above, welcomed voters into our polling places, and thanked them for the time they spent there, even if they didn’t vote the way we wanted them to.

I’m making modifications to signs for the upcoming municipal elections (version 2.0), and I will keep everyone posted!

The Secret of the Mojave Desert: the origins of Health Care in the U.S.

I’m writing a book during my run across America. But the book isn’t about the run. It’s about the divided voice in modern day America… Liberal vs. Conservative viewpoint. The run is mostly a vehicle to talk to local people about politics, and find the hidden stories that have shaped the United States. Here is one of those stories.

Upon running through the Mojave Desert portion of southern California, I stumbled upon a fascinating area: a place called the Kaiser Mines… and a tiny city in the middle of the desert: Desert Center, California.

A gas station in modern day Desert Center: still exuding an aesthetic from the 50s and 60s.

As you travel off of the interstate, Desert Center gives the appearance of an old abandoned town. Its gas stations are of 50s and 60s classic architecture; stripped of both gas and human life. The only active business that remains in Desert Center near the interstate is the post office. 

The Unlikely Origin of Kaiser Permanente

The hidden lake within Desert Center: Lake Tamarisk.

As we traveled deeper into the desert and away from the interstate, we were absolutely shocked to come across a serene and beautiful oasis. The oasis wasn’t bigger than a few streets. It possessed a neighborhood of about 20 houses, a golf course, a small lake, and a library with fire station. No grocery stores or basic amenities were anywhere to be found. The nearest town was Blythe, 50 miles away.

We went into the fire station and asked the firefighters of Riverside County Station 49 how a beautiful place like this ended up in the middle of the desert. Their response: around 80 years ago, it was created to support a management staff that oversaw the Kaiser Mines, a (long since closed) steel and iron mine farther up near Eagle Mountain.

A Kaiser Steel railroad car, existing in Desert Center, CA, once operated on the Eagle Mountain Railroad to the Kaiser Mines.

This deserted area is the birth place of one of the largest HMOs and most important influencers of modern Health Care, Kaiser Permanente. During the Great Depression, a young, enterprising surgeon named Sidney Garfield, MD opened up a hospital to support the workers of the Kaiser Mines and the Colorado River Aqueduct Project. It was his belief that no worker should be without health care, and he struggled to keep the hospital open when he bared the brunt of workers and their families who didn’t have insurance. For those who did, insurance companies didn’t pay the hospital in a timely fashion.

Dr. Sidney Garfield walking in Mojave Desert, near site of his hospital. Image by

In order to fix this, an insurance agent, Harold Hatch, was able to convince insurance companies to pay Dr. Garfield’s hospital per worker per day upfront. The money from this was collected from workers in the form of five cents per day per employee. If they wanted coverage off hours, it would be another five cents. If they wanted to cover their families, it would be another five. One of the original uses of the term, “prepayment,” can be found whistling in the historic winds of Desert Center.

What does this mean for Democracy In America 2?

This speaks to two distinct and important perspectives on healthcare, each supporting conservative and liberal biases.

The conservative perspective is that prepayment health insurance was born out of private companies. Modern health care in the United States and its privatized origins are plain as day in its history. Because the United States have traditionally operated in a deadlocked and weak central government (except in war time), and states never traditionally found the appetite for taxes to provide health care, private companies found success in providing health insurance to individuals. And this has been the relationship since the beginning.

This is in direct contrast to the movements that happened long ago in Europe: Germany had national health care starting in 1883. The UK had National Health Insurance for its citizens as early as 1911. Almost all countries in Europe have followed suit.

The liberal perspective is that Dr. Garfield believed none of the workers in the Kaiser Mines should be without health care, and would serve them regardless of their ability to pay. Time and time again, he would help the employees regardless of economics until it became too difficult to serve them.

The secret of the Mojave Desert, along with many others, will be the basis of the opposing voices of Democracy In America 2.

Running Across America: Change Is Life.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

In this picture: the revolution of Retail Communications and Training, Mobile Payments, Retail Operations, and the creation of HealthKit, iPhone, and Apple Watch, and a lawyer who loves Pop Tarts.

Really, the only thing that remains in my life from four days ago is my girlfriend. Or I remain in hers. Most likely the latter.

Four days ago, I had the perfect job… 13 years under my belt as a senior manager at Apple within various departments. I lived in a great condo… a renovated two bedroom on the second floor that was only two miles away from Apple Park. I didn’t have to deal with the commute. My finances were under control. I had a very fulfilling side business and a beautiful girlfriend with two lovely cats.

I was content. I was happy.

AND I worked my tail off for years to get there… originally excelling as a Retail employee with a chip on my shoulder the size of a tree so I could prove I belonged at the Apple Mothership.

Saying goodbye to the teams at Apple Park

So, after all those years of building myself up, why did I give it all up?

A little over 30 years ago, my father passed away suddenly. It came as a shock to our entire family, but it instilled an important lesson in all of us: you never know when you’ll be called away from this world. So it’s most important to experience life rather than stay comfortable within it.

At the age of 40, I realize that my life is reaching another phase. It’s time to give my life, my job, even my condo to someone else so they can fulfill their own life’s work. I could hold on for another 10 years, and yes, I would continue to do cool things that would change people’s lives in technology. But I lived through one revolution at Apple (remember that iPhone thing?) and I’m happy to see another revolution someday through the eyes of an Apple customer.

“I will miss you. But I will also not have to come into work tomorrow in jeans and a plaid shirt.”

I have changed my entire life in mere days. I’m thoughtful about it, and committed to it. I’m selling my condo, and leaving California to begin anew in New Hampshire.

And I know that I’ll be better than alright.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Part I

The one in the grey shirt and sun visor was me, 12 years ago. I was working as a retail employee in New York City, and always focused on how much of my small salary went to the US Government.

I’ve read through most of the 479 pages of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. A lot of it was thick reading, and pieces left out that I will talk about if people ask. I tried to cover the parts that touch everyone. I also focused on the Senate Bill, as it was built on the House Bill. Both have to be reconciled. I’ll write another analysis then.

The clear message of this bill? Stop being a worker and own your own business in America.

Let’s talk about who benefits and who doesn’t.


THE RICHEST. While a 1% drop might not seem like much in this income bracket (from 39.6% to 38.5%), consider that a 1.1% drop in a 1 million dollar income is $11,000. That, by itself, is more income than 27 million Americans make (see below). And the estate tax COMPLETELY going away by 2024 (Page 168, Sec 1602)?

CORPORATIONS. The tax rate for businesses falls from 35% to 20%. While most economists believe that cutting the corporate tax rate CAN lead to stimulated economic growth (if accompanied by government cuts in spending), most economists also believe that historical data doesn’t completely prove it out.

SELF-EMPLOYED “PASS THROUGH” OWNERS. A person making their money through their corporation as a “pass through” has the ultimate loophole. While there are exceptions to this rule (like lawyers and accountants), If your business is passing through its income to you and you’re making more than $500,000, you only have to pay, at most, a 31.8% tax rate vs. the typical 38.5% for your income bracket. That’s a lower rate than people who make less than a third of what you make.


THE AMERICAN WORKER. Most Americans marginally benefit from this bill (the middle class sees a small benefit), but let’s not kid ourselves: the real benefits went to business owners and corporations. There will be some groups who see tax increases due to the widening of the higher tax brackets (many WORKERS in Silicon Valley and Wall Street will be in higher tax brackets, places that also have a higher cost of living). While most Americans will see a small cut across the board, there’s no question that the Republicans need to balance their massive business tax cuts with benefits to the real engine of the economy. And they didn’t. Workers get table scraps here, and many will end up paying more over time.

Here’s a comparison of the new brackets versus the old, and the amounts of Americans estimated to be in each. Does any person who considers themselves an employee ACTUALLY think these tax cuts live up to expectations?

THE POOR AMERICAN WORKER. Imagine that you’re getting by, making $20,000 a year, and your company gets a 15% tax cut while you get a 3% one. Kind of a bummer.

THE AMERICAN HOMEOWNER. In situations where state and local tax deductions benefit homeowners (IE, anyone who lives in a place where the cost of living is high and there are high property taxes), this is a massive blow. In some counties, people will lose as much as $50,000 in tax deductions each year on their home.


THE REMOVAL OF THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE. This one is a tough one, as it was one main reasons why ACA was able to work for several years. The mandate forced younger and healthier people into the system, which offset costs for everyone. Now, most experts agree that the cost in premiums will go up for Obamacare, even though nobody will be forced to buy it. This one is important to watch as it will affect millions of Americans, forcing them off of health insurance.

THE IMPACT ON THE DEFICIT. I’m willing to give Mitch McConnell and Republicans a pass on his optimistic view of the growth of the economy that will offset the trillion dollar projected addition to the deficit (even though Bob Corker and other Republicans have fiscal concerns over it).  The issue is that most economists (and the joint committees who have done analysis) believe that we will not achieve the growth required to make up the difference. Time will tell on this.


THE REPATRIATION TAX FOR BUSINESSES. I actually really like the drastic lowering of the repatriation tax for money overseas (14.5 percent). 35% seems unreasonable for repatriation, in my view, as companies have already paid a tax to the local governments for money made there. This move could incentivize companies to bring their money back to the US where it could cause a boost of domestic investment. CNBC estimated that companies are holding 2.6 trillion dollars overseas. That’s 377 BILLION dollars of possible US tax income.


I couldn’t get away with handwritten notes in the margins when I turned in papers in Junior High, but they can make laws with it in the Senate? Come on, man.

CORRECTIONS TO RUSHED MISTAKES. There are so many simple mistakes in the bill, like the Corporate AMT being at 20% when the Corporate Tax Rate dropped to the same level. This literally makes no sense. And there are new taxes for University endowments, but seemingly no definition anywhere.

THE PROCESS IN BOTH THE HOUSE AND SENATE. We need our Senators and House to work in a bi-partisan manner. The process is broken in government right now. Our leaders need to stand on the side of our party, not our country.

Running to Start A Movement

As I have expressed to many people who are close to me, I am running across the United States beginning in October 2018. And the question always comes up: why would anyone do this?

Throughout the past decade, I have gotten into a relatively good groove with my current life. Many people ask why I would consider stepping away from the comfort I worked hard to achieve. It’s a good question, one I can only answer with a foreboding feeling; I am consciously worried about us. I’m concerned about our identity as Americans and the relationships we have with each other. I worry about our ability to have civil discourse, the one principle that allowed this experiment of Democracy to last for what is approaching 250 years.

Truthfully, I’m worried about our future as Americans. And I know many people out there who are as well. I want to go talk to them.

We have had times in our country’s history where the civil discourse has been worse than it is now. Coupled with our local way of life being threatened, we have taken up arms against each other to protect the status quo. But in these times, we have understood that in order for us to progress, we must unite under a common direction, progressive or conservative, even if the direction is scary to us, and we have reservations about it.

It’s time to come back together. We have much bigger problems on the horizon that need us all.

My run is more than just a simple jaunt across the country. It’s a movement… one molded by research, listening, caring, understanding, and pride.

Every good movement needs a symbol. I needed something to express the movement whenever words fail me, something that represents America’s differences of opinion yet conveys the unifying thread that is found throughout those differences. I wanted it to express our inherent freedom and liberty, our pursuit of truth and industry, and our uncanny ability to rise above the worst of who we can be. I needed the symbol to express the notion that our civil discourse can help us come together, and burn bright towards our northern star. With the help of our friends at No Filter, we have been able to find the essence of the movement, distilled into one simple icon.

You will hear more details about this as time progresses this year. I will carry this across America as I chat with folks about the Great American Experiment called American Democracy.

There’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we believe in each other and we’re willing to work at it.

Wisdom is my LOCOMotive.

Some folks have asked me to post my 2017 OCR Humanitarian Award speech I gave at the OCR World Championships online because it was a) tough to hear, or b) interesting and wanted to see it again, so here it is. There are many people and organizations I thanked at the beginning, but it was about a third of the speech, so I removed them because they were lengthy and sandwiched in between really bad jokes. So here is the speech, without the intro, in its entirety.

People have asked me what drives a person to be a humanitarian. I feel like humanitarianism is a bestowed title, not something a person can totally grasp about themselves. There are many possible drivers. I just know that my own personal pursuit of wisdom is my LOCOMotive.

Remember that phrase. I’ll come back to it later.

There are people who are simply born as humanitarians, and those who learn to become one. I was one of those people who needed to learn. My father passed away when I was young, and in coping with his death, I discovered philosophy. Some of the most ancient of philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Joe Perry, to the more modern day thinkers like Renee Descartes, John Locke, and Hunter McIntyre. During those years, i was introduced to a very simple law which has been the foundation for all of my beliefs: the Law of Conservation of Mass.

Here are a few lumps of Matter who have decided that similar lumps of Matter matter. =)

Everyone know the law? The Law of Conservation of Mass dictates that matter can neither be created, nor destroyed. But it has been shown that matter can evolve over billions of years to create something special. Give yourselves a round of applause.

If the Law is to be followed and believed, it stands to reason that the sum of humanity, and all things on this planet, living and dead, is “the Earth.” You see evidence of this Law in science and religion. Religious texts hinted at the law before it came into being. Genesis 3:19 states that “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

Through observation, I have formed the belief that the world is a complex quagmire any one of us can only partly understand, and that each one of us is a tiny part of the world’s collective soul. In short, we are more than the world’s children: we are the world.

Where am I going with this? For the first time in the Earth’s countless billion years of existence, it has created something so powerful, so limitless, it has endangered its own existence. That’s us. We are its savior, or its destroyer. We are its finest champion, or its worst DNF.

So… how do we become its finest champion, and positively impact the outcome for ourselves and the world?

We should spend our lives accumulating something that’s seldom acquired in Twitter’s 140 characters these days: wisdom.

When you find a person you fundamentally disagree with, you can either consider them an enemy, or as I do, a complementary person the world created for you so that you can expand your thinking. The LOCOM (law of conservation of mass) suggests that because you are part of a whole, complementary people and viewpoints need to exist. Understanding those opposing viewpoints bring us closer to that whole, the greater collective, the better wisdom.

Don’t believe me? When i see two top competitors like Ryan Atkins and Jon Albon learn from each other, or exchange friendly ideas, I smile. At the same time they drive each other to be better, they prove that fierce competition is not the same as mortal opposition. One gains you wisdom, the other blinds you to it.

Everything in this world has an equilibrium, light and dark, good and evil, cat memes and the Kardashians. And wisdom can be found in all elements on both sides. But there is very little to no wisdom in avarice and excessive greed. According to the LOCOM, to take more than you give leaves a fundamental deficit somewhere else in the world. As well, the LOCOM would suggest that the reverse is true; to give more than you take will eventually leave you empty handed and unwilling or unable to help. The Earth needs balance, and so do we.

For the people silently in their heads making this political, I’m not saying to think like a humanitarian means that you need to be a socialist. I’m one of the largest Ayn Rand fans you’ll find. But any system of economics is only as good as the motive of its people. Some of the greatest humanitarian and innovative acts have been conducted during the reign of capitalism. It shouldn’t matter what version of “-ism” you identify with if your pursuits are separated from finding wisdom.

Wisdom is the only thing that can help you when you are trying to leave the world a better place than you found it. Wisdom lengthens your life’s runway by offering you chances to make longer and more meaningful impact on younger generations. The more wisdom you have, the better you are at understanding problems at their root cause, the more chance you have to make a positive impact that will span generations.

The best view in the house at the OCR World Championships. #unobstructedView

So what has wisdom taught me? Love is the most difficult thing to earn and keep. Respect is a medal you can obtain, but it’s not a Finisher Medal. You constantly have to work to hold onto it. I am genuinely happy and invested in the success of people around me. I love seeing our OCR communities reach their fundraising goals. But I REALLY appreciate the small and heartfelt gestures that I see in this group of athletes and their families every day. Even at the age of 40, wisdom continues to add to me, and make me better as my body starts to go the other way.

Tomorrow, we stand on an international stage and represent our country, our beliefs, and how far we’ve come, individually and as a human race. We will empty our souls on the course, and we will fill them with the encouragement of our loved ones at the finish line. Then we’ll celebrate, we’ll go home. We’ll live our lives. We’ll do our jobs. We will slowly turn around the sun till the end of our days. And we will continue our pursuits of wisdom, the ONLY thing we can take and give back to which the law of conservation of mass doesn’t apply. May the pursuit of wisdom be your train of thought, your Platform 9 3/4s, your LOCOM. Motive.