Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier

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" Joseph Pine and Jim Gilmore's classic The Experience Economy identified a seismic shift in the business world: to set yourself apart from your competition, you need to stage experiences-memorable events that engage people in inherently personal ways. But as consumers increasingly experience the world through their digital gadgets, companies still only scratch the surface of technology-infused experiences. So Pine and coauthor Kim Korn show you how to create new value for your customers with offerings that fuse the real and the virtual. Think of the Xbox Kinect, which combines virtual video games with a powerful physical dimension-you play by moving your own body; new apps that, when you point your smartphone camera at a real street, overlay digital information about the scene onto the image; and virtual dashboards that track the real world, moment by moment. Digital technology offers limitless opportunities-you really can create anything you want-but real-world experiences have a richness that virtual ones do not. So how can you use the best of both? How do you make sense of such infinite possibility? What kinds of experiences can you create? Which ones should you offer? Pine and Korn provide a profound new tool geared to exploring and exploiting the digital frontier. They delineate eight different realms of experience encompassing various aspects of Reality and Virtuality and, using scores of examples, show how innovative companies operate within and across each realm to create extraordinary customer value. Follow them out onto the digital frontier to discover the opportunities that abound for your business. "

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1. Cosmos Incogniti: Introducing the Multiverse

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Recall the maps of old where less-than-intrepid mapmakers marked unexplored territory with the words terra incognita: unknown land. This boundary, usually indistinct, marked the known frontier and separated it from the unexplored—that which was beyond our knowledge. Recall also that apprehensive phrase “Here be dragons” accompanied by drawings of fearsome beasts thought perhaps to inhabit such territories, providing a clear warning (or at least an expression of doubt and fear) of what lies beyond. It is hard to imagine such a need today, so thoroughly have we explored the earth and mapped it out (save perhaps the deep, dark depths of the sea, where—who knows?—fearsome creatures may still prowl).

A frontier remains, however. The digital frontier. Comprised of zeros and of ones, it leads us—unlike the earthbound frontier of old—to places entirely of our own making. It lies at the boundary of our imagination, where beyond it stretches out entire worlds not just to be explored but to be created! Think of what lies beyond the digital frontier as (if you’ll excuse a slight abuse of linguistics) “cosmos incogniti,” a phrase we believe captures the essence of the possibilities that exist at the intersection of technology and the fertile ground of the mind’s eye: “worlds unknown.”

 

2. Reality: Presenting the Richest of Experiences

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Take a winter walk, as we have during the writing of this book, through the woods or along a park path on a sunny but chilly Minnesota morning. As you meander, you see your breath, and soon feel your heart beating in your chest as you zip your parka up as far as it goes. The crisp Arctic air stings your face before the low-hanging sun has the chance to warm your body. The wind resonates in your ears, the sound muffled a bit by the hat pulled tightly over your head. You walk a little faster against the wind, swinging your arms as you gradually feel a warming in your chest and limbs. You see an expanse of white snow with dry milkweed pods peeking through. You spy a hawk on a bare branch of a maple tree, then cardinals and blue jays darting from a linden tree to a sheltering spruce. You taste the peppermint balm protecting your lips, sniffle, and inhale a jolt of icy air. You smell wood fires burning in nearby homes and hear the songs of chickadees, the scraping of sharp skate blades against the ice on a nearby pond, and then the slap of a hockey stick against a puck. As you finish your stroll, you think of what a wonderful world it is.

 

3. Augmented Reality: Enhancing the World around Us

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In August 2009, I (Joe) took the opportunity to attend the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, with my wife, Julie. The fourth of golf’s majors moves around to a different place every year, but it had also been at Hazeltine, not quite an hour from our home, in 2002. That year, journeyman Rich Beem withstood a furious Sunday charge down the back nine from a red-shirted Tiger Woods (who birdied each of the final four holes) to win his first tournament, and a major at that.

We were there at the 11th green when Beem hit a 5-wood to within 6 feet of the pin, making the putt for the only eagle on that hole for the entire 2002 tournament. But we could not be everywhere down the stretch; with Woods playing in the group ahead of Beem, we had to pick and choose which player to watch from what vantage point and then listen for the roar of the crowd from the other hole to guess what had happened. We did not, however, have the same issue at the 2009 Championship. It was not just that Woods, finishing second once again, played together with eventual winner, Y. E. Yang, in the last group, for we still had the problem of finding a spot from which to see the action amidst the throngs.

 

4. Alternate Reality: Creating an Alternate View of the Real World

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In early August 2004, the alternate reality game I Love Bees gave its online players, over 600,000 in number, their first real-world mission. On a web page that had previously presented recipes for the fictional heroine’s Saffron Honey Ice Cream and Bee-licious Chocolate Chip Cookies, a new set of tantalizing ingredients appeared: 210 unique pairs of Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates; 210 corresponding time codes spaced four minutes apart and stretching across a twelve-hour period in the Pacific Daylight Savings Time zone; and a central timer counting down to a single future date: 08/24/2004.

There were no further instructions provided. The I Love Bees (ILB) players were given no goal, no rules, no choices, no resources to manage, no buttons to press, no objects to collect—just a series of very specific, physical locations and an impending cascade of actual, real-time moments. Taken together, what were these ingredients supposed to yield?

For two weeks following the initial appearance of the GPS data set on <http://www.ilovebees.com>, interpretation of its meaning varied greatly among the ILB players. There was no early consensus about what ILB’s designers wanted the players to do with these coordinates, times, and date. An explosion of creative experimentation with the data ensued. Some players plotted the GPS points on a United States map in the hopes of revealing a connect-the-dot message. Others projected the earthbound coordinates onto sky maps to see if they matched any known constellations. A particularly large group collected the names of the cities to which the 210 points mapped and then tried to create massive anagrams and acrostics from them. A smaller group decided to average the two numbers in each pair of coordinates and look for an underlying statistical pattern across the set.

 

5. Warped Reality: Playing with Time

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6. Virtuality: Crafting the Most Imaginative of Experiences

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.RUN ADV11

WELCOME TO ADVENTURE!! WOULD YOU LIKE INSTRUCTIONS? YES

SOMEWHERE NEARBY IS COLOSSAL CAVE, WHERE OTHERS HAVE FOUND
FORTUNES IN TREASURE AND GOLD, THOUGH IT IS RUMORED
THAT SOME WHO ENTER ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. MAGIC IS SAID
TO WORK IN THE CAVE. I WILL BE YOUR EYES AND HANDS. DIRECT
ME WITH COMMANDS OF 1 OR 2 WORDS.
(ERRORS, SUGGESTIONS, COMPLAINTS TO CROWTHER)
(IF STUCK TYPE HELP FOR SOME HINTS)

YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK
BUILDING. AROUND YOU IS A FOREST. A SMALL
STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND DOWN A GULLY.

GO IN
YOU ARE INSIDE A BUILDING, A WELL HOUSE FOR A LARGE SPRING.

THERE ARE SOME KEYS ON THE GROUND HERE.

THERE IS A SHINY BRASS LAMP NEARBY.

THERE IS FOOD HERE.

THERE IS A BOTTLE OF WATER HERE.

Thus begins the very first computer adventure game in the world, Colossal Cave Adventure, created by Will Crowther in 1976.1 As crude as such a text-based game seems today, notice its salient attributes that continue through to the most wondrous of computer adventures today (which all owe this first game a great deal of debt):

 

7. Augmented Virtuality: Bringing the Material into the Virtual

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For Valentine’s Day 2010, I (Joe) wanted to send cards to my two girls, Becca and Lizzie, who were both away at college. So I went down to the local Hallmark store to pick them out. I found a little section of Disney cards and came across one that highlighted the Disney princesses; I bought two cards to send to each of them.

The caption on the front of the card read, “You’re lovely like Aurora, you’re brave and kind like Belle, you’re Cinderella-sweet … you must be magical, as well!” And on the inside, it simply said, “Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Ever After.” But here was the kicker: the card offered a surprise: “Watch this card come to life on your computer!” it exclaimed, explaining that all you had to do was to go to www.hallmark.com/extra and follow its instructions.

I had to try it out before sending the cards off. After downloading and running a program particular to the card I purchased, my image came up on the computer screen via the webcam. I picked up the card and placed its front toward the camera—and up popped a three-dimensional animation right on top of the image of the card on the screen! Cinderella herself began singing “Every Girl Can Be a Princess” as a scene from her eponymous movie played. I could still see my own image behind the card, and as I moved it around, the scene changed perspective accordingly, so it could be watched front on or to the side, or even on top. (Turning it over or opening it up caused the program to lose the graphic image of the three princesses on the front, so the animation stopped, only to start over again when I placed the front of the card toward the cam again.) I eventually discovered that if I rotated the card far enough, the Cinderella scene was replaced by one starring Belle of Beauty and the Beast, and further still brought up Aurora, the star of Sleeping Beauty. I enjoyed seeing all it could do before signing and sending off the identical cards to the two girls.

 

8. Physical Virtuality: Instantiating the Virtual in the Material

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In October 2009 LEGO Systems A/S of Billund, Denmark, updated its website with a new feature: LEGO Design byME. A refreshing of its prior mass customization capabilities, known as LEGOFactory, the new Design byME allows kids (and not a few adults) to design literally anything they want—a vehicle, an animal, an architectural wonder, an event, whatever it might be, in facsimile, replica, or newly created, imaginative form—and then after purchase have LEGO package up the exact bricks it takes to make that design and send it to them. Each set comes complete in a box whose image the customer can also design themselves and with a Building Guide that details how to build the design, brick by brick, on the family room floor—or, in our parlance, instantiate the virtual design in real space and actual time.

At the core of the offering is the LEGO Digital Designer, which can be downloaded from the site for free. As the designer, you select from almost 2,000 different elements (not just bricks, but minifigures, wheels, bases, tools, trees, and on and on they go), across over fifty colors (not all elements come in all colors, of course), and then decide exactly where to place each one, in the orientation and configuration you want, with such tools as cloning, hinging, hiding, coloring, and grouping that enable you to get what lies imaginatively in your head out figuratively onto the computer monitor. So you can plan, draft, tinker, and finally perfect your brick-based creation before ever lifting a physical element. Moreover, you can save templates and groupings to refer back to again and again, and even store completed designs to your private gallery on LEGO.com or display them in the Public Gallery. In this way you can show off your designs, which others in the greater LEGO community can find, download, modify, purchase, and build. (Family-friendly LEGO of course examines every design to ensure customers do not infringe trademarks or offend sensibilities.)

 

9. Mirrored Virtuality: Absorbing the Real World into the Virtual

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When I (Joe) was a first grader, I moved to Mahwah, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City and became an avid New York Yankees fan. Throughout several more moves growing up I maintained my love for the team and continued rooting for them no matter where I lived, no matter how they did.

On rare occasions I would go to a game when the Yankees came to whatever town I lived in. I sat glued to the set whenever they were on the TV Game of the Week, but most often I used a powerful shortwave radio tuned to the AM dial to listen to the team play. Late at night, when the sun went down, I could tune in to far-away radio broadcasts, having memorized the station numbers for every team within listening distance so I could follow the Yankees whenever possible. As I listened to the play-by-play, I could at least imagine the game play out in my mind’s eye. It was a good experience, but nowhere near as good as seeing the action live.

Today, I don’t have to tune the radio and imagine. I can access the Internet and see. I go to MLB.com, the official Major League Baseball website, to pull up its MLB Gameday feature. Starting out as little more than a live box score updating itself as plays are concluded on the field, it has in the past few years become a virtual stadium where I can keep up-to-date on what is happening in the game, in real time. There’s a picture and background, with statistics on the current pitcher and batter; a line score with an image of how many runners are on base; a view of the stadium (showing its proper dimensions) with names for each person in the field or on base (hovering the cursor over any player brings up relevant in-game and season statistics); and there is written play-by-play descriptions of every time someone makes an out, gets on base, or anything else happens (like a steal or pitching change).

 

10. Multiverse Excursion: Reaching through the Realms

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So there it is. The eight realms of the Multiverse in all their glory, defined, diagrammed, and copiously explained, with sets of guiding principles that we trust already have you thinking about what it means for your business. The next step is to operationalize what you have learned—to step out into the unknown to explore what possibilities, amid the infinite directions in which you could go, would create the most economic value for your business.

On any journey of exploration into the unknown, it is a given that we cannot know ahead of time what we will discover. But if we can in advance determine at least the nature of what we seek, we can heighten our intuition, tune in our mental receptors, and focus our eyes on the form a discovery may take. When we then move into cosmos incogniti, we will be better equipped to see the possibilities that lie before us. The Multiverse should thus provide you with a new lens, a focused way of seeing and making sense of what you discover on your expedition into the unknown.

 

11. Offering Depiction: Varying the Variables

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Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, and, to bring up a current-day business example, IDEO, all discovered new possibilities more as artists and designers than as explorers. Whereas explorers of terrae incognitae past used maps to guide their ventures, artists and designers guide their creative process via various forms of expression, including frameworks, methods, rules, and principles. These push them along the path to generating new creative solutions, whether purely artistic, primarily pragmatic, or somewhere in between. Artists often employ the golden ratio. Engineers turn their knowledge of loads, materials, and physics into design theory, guidelines, and rules. Architects follow principles of design to produce both the form and function of their creations. And now designers of experiences have one more valuable tool to add to their repertoire: the Experience Design Canvas, to be employed in conjunction with the Varying the Variables expedition introduced here in this chapter.

 

12. Third Spaces: Fusing the Real and the Virtual

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You walk up to a whiteboard and begin drawing a diagram to share ideas with colleagues. They hear everything you say and see everything you draw, but they are not there, at least not really. Rather, you see them only virtually, represented as avatars through the clear whiteboard. At their individual locations, they, in turn, see you—strike that; they see your avatar through the whiteboard, and you see whatever they draw or write on it as you collaborate together. You gauge each other’s reactions not only by what your colleagues say but by seeing where their avatars look, their facial expressions, and their gestures, which all mirror their own bodies.

So that’s Mirrored Virtuality, yes, just like telepresence? Well, sure, in both you see the others virtually in real time via digital technology, but with telepresence you see the actual person’s picture, not an avatar. And you can’t draw on the digital image; here, your real-world activities affect the virtual collaborative space via Augmented Virtuality—but for your colleagues this appears as Augmented Reality, because for them your virtual actions affect their real-world space!

 

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