business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

We live in strange times, when skills that a few short years ago seemed useful at the least and essential at the most are now completely unvalued or useless. For example, I used to know how to develop film in a darkroom. That’s a skill I doubt anyone with a digital camera (and that includes everyone with a phone) and Photoshop would find all that useful today. It would be like churning butter.

But there are some skills that I think are still necessary and apparently, people no longer can do them. And as we consider that, we can find surprisingly easy places to build new forms of customer service, value and relationships.

This thought came to me on a recent shopping trip when I was shocked to discover a new service being offered by Nordstrom, the famed upscale retailer. At the store nearest to me, on the third Saturday of each month, Nordstrom offers young children a class in how to tie their shoelaces.

Now at the risk of sounding like a really old fart here, I’m stunned. I don’t consider myself an expert at parenting, but somehow my wife and I managed to teach both our children how to tie their shoelaces. Is this really something we needed to farm out?

My children - both in their 20s now - saw it differently. Sure we taught them how to tie shoelaces, ride bikes and use utensils, but apparently we let them down in many other areas. As they both explained to me recently, growing up in the educational era of No Child Left Behind (or under-tested) means they made it to young adulthood without a lot of life lessons.

For instance, neither of them had a single day of home economics in school. They both mastered calculus, but never had a class in household finance. Neither did they take a day of shop to learn how to operate a drill press or a jigsaw. As my son said, in the day and age of helicopter parents, such risks were never remotely possible.

In truth, my kids are lucky. We worked with them on balancing a checkbook (for as long as that skill will matter). My wife has showered them with cooking skills and I’ve tried, when life-threatening injuries weren’t on the line, to show them how to use various tools. But as they point out, that wasn’t the same as learning it with their peers, most of whom also never got any of these basic skills at home or at school.

So against that backdrop of growing up, they saw nothing wrong with the class in shoelace tying. In fact, they see it as a great example of skills Generation Y and their children may value learning from a retailer. My daughter pointed out that my columns have frequently talked about the opportunity for supermarkets to offer cooking classes to help customers appreciate and prepare better food. She said stores should do more, like showing young people the right way to select produce or even quick lessons in how to better handle food to prevent food safety issues.

In another time and in another place, such classes would have been unnecessary. In most families cooking (like shoelace tying) was passed from one generation to the next. Sadly, those days ended long ago, which means the opportunity to offer a valuable new service has appeared like magic.

It’s as easy as making two bunny ears with your shoelaces and…well, hopefully you know the rest. If not, Nordstrom has a class…

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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