Time for Technology Petting Zoos

Wall Street pundits weren’t thrilled with Steve Jobs when he decided to open Apple retail outlets. Now several years later, guess who has earned the rights to say “I told you so.”

Seemingly risky, the stores were really no-brainers because of the value they offer: a beautifully designed retail environment where newbies and Apple fanatics alike can peacefully co-exist while playing with all of the latest gadgets. Have a question or need help? Hip young Apple Geniuses freely roam the room ready to spring into action at the first sight of a look of confusion or need.

The stores serve as the equivalent of technology petting zoos. They are a safe place to try things on and see how they fit. And given the slow adoption rate for many technology applications and new media forms (blogs, podcasts, and the like) among certain age groups, associations could do their members a real service by offering the same hands-on learning labs at their annual meetings.

Imagine a venue where members can float from station to station trying out new computer software applications, creating their own blogs, filming a short video clip and than learning how to edit it on a computer, and much more. Tech-savvy members could volunteer to serve as mentors and coaches for their peers. A video/audio theatre could offer clips of members already using different technologies talking about the benefits they associate with doing so.

The entire room could have a carnival like atmosphere with dozens or hundreds of people overcoming their lack of familiarity (or their fear) with some of the new toys and tricks that could help them be more effective in their daily work. I’m seeing visitors leaving with “Technology is my friend” stickers attached to their name badges.

We have to make it easy for people to firsthand experience the value of technology, not just extol them to “get on board.” Apple has modeled the way for us. Now we just need to do the same for our members and colleagues.