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A writer and veteran consultant to entrepreneurs and executives alike, Joseph Pine’s books and workshops help businesses create what modern consumers really want: authentic experiences.

Joseph Pine’s career as a business coach began at IBM when he did something truly unorthodox: he brought business partners and customers into the development process of a new computer. Taking from this the lesson that every customer is unique, he wrote a book called Mass Customization on businesses that serve customers’ unique needs. Later he discovered what he would coin the “Experience Economy” — consumers buying experiences rather than goods or commodities — and wrote a book of the same name. Since then he wrote “Authenticity” and is now finalizing his latest work – Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier – which will be about how to use digital technology to create innovative experiences that fuse the real and the virtual. (source: TED.com)

As one of the first persons to stress the necessity of creating experiences for consumers rather than merely evoking a purchase, it was time to sit down with Joe and talk about his career, his take on design for emotion and his new book.

An ‘experience’ note of my own: Smoking a wonderful cigar with Joe made any formal atmosphere disappear, and forced us to finish the interview by email. The result: Good cigars and a great conversation.

“Good cigars, great conversation”

Joe, everybody knows you as the (co) author of books such as Mass customization, The Experience Economy and Authenticity. These books have in common that they are about people and their drivers to choose, experience and be. You actually have a background in mathematics, what happened? What made you think, write and speak about people and consumption?

Wow, Marco – I’ve never heard it quite put that way, that the commonality in my books is “about people and their drivers to choose, experience and be.” I like that!

So it is a long story in how I got to where I am today, but my Applied Mathematics degree took me to a very technical job at IBM, but I soon decided I wanted to go into management. For the AS/400 minicomputer, I managed a group that brought customers and business partners into the development process for the very first time. I soon learned that every customer was unique, which led me to discover Stan Davis’ seminal book Future Perfect in which he coined the term “mass customizing”.

When IBM gave me the opportunity to get my Masters degree at MIT in the Management of Technology, I studied that entire year on the subject, writing my thesis on it. I found a place in IBM that would give me time to write and then teach and consult on the ideas – the Management Research function of the IBM Consulting Group, managed by Al Barnes – and eventually was able to turn it into my first book.

Because of issues in IBM’s business, in 1993 it offered me six month’s salary to leave, so I decided to see if I could make it on my own, and the rest, as they say, is history.

You talk a lot about how people want to feel good about a brand, service or product. It needs to match their feeling of ‘this is me’. In a way, design for emotion has a similar goal. What would your definition be of designing for emotions?

Well, people increasingly spend their hard-earned money (and harder-earned time) on experiences – memorable events that engage each person in an inherently personal way – rather than the goods and services, which they increasingly view as undifferentiated commodities. Experiences engage people in an inherently personal way, and that is largely through emotion.

And no matter what offering they seek – commodity, good, service, or experience – they want to buy the real from the genuine, not the fake from some phony. That means creating the perception inside them, the feeling, that the offering matches who they are as individuals.

So in each case, designing for emotions is key. It means intentionally creating within the individual – staging, orchestrating, choreographing all good verbs for it – a response that triggers feelings beyond rationality. It is certainly an art form today, but the first step toward making it a science is identifying and understanding what emotions current offerings trigger, which is why I am very enamoured with the SusaGroup methodology.

Where do you get your inspiration? Is there a balance between practice and research in the way you gather your knowledge, or is one of the two dominant?

It is a combination of things, but primarily anthropological; I observe what is going on in the world of business through my life experiences and business interactions – not to mention reading 4 newspapers every day, scores of periodicals every month, and dozens of books every year – and try to make sense of it. Once I have an inkling as to what is going on, then I develop one or more frameworks that describe it so others can see it as well, and then use those models to prescribe what companies should do differently as a result.

Quite often, I still stumble upon resistance to invest in something so obviously logical and natural as improving people’s experiences with their brand. Is this really about money? What is your take on this phenomenon and how do you convince management?

I encounter much less resistance now than when my partner Jim Gilmore and I first started talking about this in the mid-1990s. But understand that is not just about “creating better experiences” with “products and services”. Rather, experiences are a distinct economic offering, as distinct from services as services are from goods. Most companies should shift up from selling goods to services, and from selling services to experiences, which is what people value more today.

So perhaps you will have greater success if you help clients understand that their business is really one, or should really be one, of staging experiences. Ask them if they see forces of commoditization in their industry, and if it is increasingly hard to differentiate their offerings. Then show them that experiences can provide that differentiation by increasing the value created within customers.

What you have been talking about for such a long time is suddenly called service design, or experience design. Nevertheless, I think I have never heard you use these terms yourself. What is your reaction to these emerging fields and does it either make you feel proud (as you coined the basic idea) or cautious (do you think they are perhaps missing something)?

I do find it interesting that the term “service design” came about just as services were being supplanted by experiences as the predominant economic offering. Perhaps it is belated recognition that delivering services needed to be made more science than art – a sign, in fact, that people could see services being commoditized, so cost and efficiency become so much more important.

I have no problem with “experience design”, but do wish that its practitioners realized that I said about – that it is not just about making a good or service more experiential (although that is a good thing!), but that it is about designing experiences as the offering of the company, what it sells to customers.

You and Jim wrote the book The Experience Economy over a decade ago. Since then, the world has changed tremendously. Does the book still stand?

Absolutely! In fact, we are about to sign a contract to do a second edition of the book, twelve years after the first. And we’ve looked at it, and find that virtually all the concepts, all the frameworks, even all the words we used to describe what is going on still hold today. What primarily needs updating are the examples, for as you say the world has changed tremendously and there are so many more exemplars of the Experience Economy who stages experiences so much better now than they did then. There are also a few new frameworks that we want to include, which we believe will help companies better stage experiences.

Also, the book has been referred to as highly influential and important. This is supported by the fact that when I read books, articles or websites about the topic, your book is always cited or referred to. Nevertheless, as the author and creator, do you see a significant change that came out of the awareness you created? Any examples?

Many, many changes, yes. We have seen a tremendous rise in marketing experiences, experiences used to generate demand for a company’s core offerings, with so many manufacturers getting into the experience business (think of the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany, the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and so forth). We have also seen the rise of a new position – the CXO, or Chief eXperience Officer, responsible for a company’s experience offerings. We have seen many more companies take to heart our plea to charge admission for the experience, for it is charging for time that economically differentiates an experience from a service. And amongst other changes that could be cited, we have also seen the rise of so many engaging virtual experiences, from games to virtual worlds to social media.

Currently, you are in the process of finishing your latest book, which (so I have been told) will focus on the new worlds that people live and communicate in. Basically, all virtual worlds, right? I believe you refer to it as the Multiverse? This seems like a very new terrain for you to discover and explore. Was this hard to do?

Yes, taking off on the last change above, my next book – Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier – will be about how to use digital technology to create innovative experiences that fuse the real and the virtual. The Multiverse is the framework at the core of the book, providing a new way of thinking about how to apply digital technology to experiences.

It is a framework that has been knocking around in my head for almost a decade, but it was incredibly hard to really pin down and see how it could be applied. As a 2x2x2 matrix, the Multiverse is complicated enough (it’s six times more complicated than a normal 2×2, comprising a cube with six 2x2s as its faces, not to mention eight octants that comprise the realms of experiences), but some things just did not make sense to me. I could not find examples of what the Multiverse indicated.

The moment when it all started to come together was when Nintendo announced the Wii, for it finally provided definition and a key example to one of the eight realms, what I now call Augmented Virtuality – where physical, material objects (such as the WiiRemote) augment the virtual experience we have (such as playing tennis).  It then started to come together where I could see a usable framework, and then a book.

In which way is your new book different from previous ones and in what way similar?

One key difference is just one core framework – I am resisting the urge, for example, to find a key framework for every octant, as I would have tried to do in the past. The Multiverse is complicated enough, and its real value will be in helping businesses figure out what they can do. So I am not going to complicate it any further than absolutely necessary.

Another key difference is that Mass Customization came out in 1993 before there was a World Wide Web; The Experience Economy came out in 1999 when the web was still in its infancy, and we had no website for it. When Authenticity came out in 2007, we created the website www.AuthenticityBook.com to promote it, but it was always “sub” to the book. Now with Infinite Possibility, I want to make the book “sub” to the website – I want the website to become a movement, in fact, that grows and deepens our knowledge of the Multiverse far beyond what can be put in a book. I want a community to develop to take the ideas and run with them, and thereby change the world. Or worlds, actually, for it is not a Universe but a Multiverse!

What is the same? It is still a matter of seeing what is going on in business ahead of others, and developing a descriptive framework to explain it to others and let them see what they therefore can do differently.

If you like to give a small promo/scoop for the new book, please be my guest and take the stage.

Well, I have probably already done that, but let me add that there truly is an infinite possibility for how companies can create value for customers on the digital frontier. The Multiverse is a sense-making tool, a map in essence, that helps explorers figure out where the customer value lies, and how to then create it through experiences that fuse elements of both real and virtual experiences.

The two realms that anchor the Multiverse are of course Reality and Virtuality. But in between we find other realms of the Real: Augmented Reality, which uses digital technology to enhance our everyday experiences; Alternate Reality, which provides a virtual overlay of meaning atop physical experiences; and Warped Reality, where we play with time in some way in the real world.

There are also then the other realms of the Virtual: Augmented Virtuality, where material objects enhance our virtual experiences (as again with the Wii); Physical Virtuality, where we design something virtually but instantiate it physically; and finally Mirrored Virtuality, where we create a simulation of the real world tied to real time so we can see what’s really going on.

So, yes, it is complicated, but my co-author Kim Korn and I also provide a set of tools for examining each of these octants, plus the dimensions that define the framework, so that companies can figure out how to make sense of the infinite possibility and determine which opportunities are right for them.

Leaves me with thanking you very much for your time!

My pleasure, Marco! Keep up the good work of designing for emotions – whether the stimuli be real or virtual!

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