Going Native

Before Alex Frankel found nirvana at the Apple Store, he spent almost two years seeing life through the eyes of a service-industry wage slave. His journey yielded intriguing insights about some of the country's most cherished companies.

Gap

The endless days of folding sweaters (and shirts and khakis) and listening to the same dozen songs for weeks on end—which Frankel calls "audio water torture"—reduced him to a level of existential despair. He damns the company's focus on reinventing its store designs and products rather than finding or creating better employees.

Starbucks

Frankel describes the company culture as something akin to kindergarten, where employees are taught to play well with others and make the customers feel loved. Drink options are so elaborate and convoluted that Starbucks issued Frankel a set of dice to help memorize orders.

UPS

Frankel's service as a holiday "helper" in San Francisco, riding shotgun and aiding with deliveries during the Christmas rush, made him feel important and connected to the pulse of the city. Although the job is highly regimented, it includes just enough independence for workers to be energized by the daily challenge of getting all the packages out.

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