thinkAbout 2015

A visual recap of thinkAbout 2015 in Atlanta on the idea of “Ing the Thing” Adding action to a thing to begin thinking about the experience.

The “Regiception” – Reception and Registration Experience. (note this year’s joke is in the upper left. In addition of the morning tour to Chick-fil-A’s headquarters and the recipient of this year’s EXPY award.

thinkAbout 2015 01

Day 1 – Touring

thinkAbout 2015 02

Day 2 – Thinking about Ing the Thing

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A special thanks to our after event excursion to The Prime Family of Business Office and congratulations to Jolene for receiving the EMA award.

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Experience Designer – A Modern Myth

So, who wants to be an Experience Designer? Apparently everyone in the design world. The term “Experience Design” or “Experience Designer” has become today’s unicorn of titles. The term conjures up  images of designers dressed in black contemplating great things, and then, designing happiness and wonderful actions, places or things.

The world as we know it, tends to over use a term, not for its accuracy, rather for the attention or superiority of a given term. People and companies want to be seen as trendy or leading edge. So, by using terms such as Experience Design or Experience Designer, most people are unfamiliar with, the person or company is perceived to be exceptional.

I challenge you, the reader, with this simple question, do these “Experience Designers” really exist? Are these magical creatures walking among us?

Before I offer my answer or ask you to answer this, let me take you on a tour of terms and truths. Let’s begin with design or designer. Here is how Webster Dictionary defines Design.

“…to intend for a definite purpose, to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan.

Now Designer;

“…a person who devises or executes designsespecially one who creates forms, structures, and patterns, as for works of art or machines.

Okay, I agree that designs and designers come in many forms and can plan many various things or actions. I do not question that designers exist. These are not the design world’s magical mythical unicorns.

Next, let’s see how Webster Dictionary defines “Experience.

…a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something:

…knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone:”

Just as there are animals that possess a single horn in our world and the fact that horses do exist does not give enough proof that unicorns, a horse with a single horn, are real. Taking two true things does not always provide the possible actuality of a mythological creature existing.

I digress. Lets get back to the “Experience Designer”, the so-called modern super designer. If we look at the title in its literal intent, we can begin to see some questionable issues immediately.

Take the designer, a planner of intent of action or thing, combine with an experience, a personal observation or encounter occurring over a period of time, add the description of an Experience Designer and the final definition would be something like…

“…to intend for a definite purpose, to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan of a personal observation, encounter or undergoing over a period of time.”

For me, it’s about three issues, the first being the issue of being personal. To be personal, means it is internalized by the person who has encountered or observed something. Each person perceives, encounters or observes input differently and a differently at various times.

The second issue is memory. In essence, an experience is a memory of something observed, encountered or undergone. It is personal construct interpretation of that thing or action reflected upon. Notice the tense of this statement as it leads to my third issue.

The third issue is of tense. By the basic nature of what an experience is, the timing of an experience is in the past. Experiencing, present form, is the combination current events and comparing to past experiences or memories if it is similar and a duration of time as the event unfolds. An experience is the refection or memory of that occurrence. We are looking back upon that which has occurred, not looking ahead of what will occur, that is anticipation, not an experience.

My question about the mythological Experience Designer is this, how can a single individual or discipline have the ability, extensive knowledge and personal insight of a single individual, possibly never having previous knowledge of, have the ability to understand and design for that person and others and anticipate how they will respond, at any given point in time, to the design as well as how that memory will be formulated and constructed?

Simply, no one I know. Someone would have to be a mind reader, be able to see in to the future and have the mental compactly to design at multiple levels for endless possibilities and conditions. Makes you wonder who fits this criteria. Who could actually design how people remember?

All I ask is that the title to be true in application to avoid “Busswordiness”, be more accurate with your terms. For instance, I believe designers can design the staging of an experience or even design the environment encapsulating the space an experience could happen. I believe branding designers can create communications that speak to a possible experience through narrative storyline. I would even go as far as to say that I believe there are performance designers who can educate and train people on the best possible performance to support an experience, but, until we can implant custom designed and engineered memories, to me, the mythical “Unicorns” of the design world called Experience Designers or Experience Design does not exist.

Terms that are truer: Experiential Environment Designer, Experience Stagers, Experiential Event Designer and Experience Economy Experts.


What do you think? Do Unicorns exist in your reality?

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The Edge of Change

The world we live in is a funny place. Conversations, styles and even perceived needs are cyclical. What is old is new and new, well, that’s so this morning. Every thing changes. Everything. Those things, people, businesses that don’t, well, that’s so in the past. Change is the only constant they say and I find it to be true. Change up, change back, change around, change out, change into, etc… We have so many perceptions of change that the adaptations seem endless.

Change comes in various sizes and increments. Some changes are dramatic while others are subtle. No matter what, change happens to us all each day. The real goal is to try to guide change as best we can, because change never happens as we expect. It always has hidden surprises or consequences.

But what is change? When does something or someone change? I guess that answer lies in the eye of the observer. Only those closely watching can see the change happening, but for most, we see the event after the change. But what if you could plan change in some fashion. This I have asked for some time and here is what I have created.

Based on the idea that yesterday and today are unchangeable, if you avoid any theoretical ideas of time travel, that only leaves the future for change. And, if change only happens in the future, than you can guide the outcome given you can determine all the factors affected by change. And so, here is my model for change.

Change Deltasm

This is my Delta model for change. Even if you stand at the very edge, change will occur. Time always moves forward and you must move with it. But you can decide how you want the change to happen and what you want the change to create once you understand why you want or need the change to happen.

As the model indicates, change should be an improvement and performed of a duration of time through some given process. Also, you must determine any and all pitfalls and obstacles that may hinder you crossing the gap of change.

So the steps:

  1. Why is there a need for change? “Why”
  2. How will this change occur? “How”
  3. Who can help you achieve this change? “Who”
  4. What improvement will change create? “What”
  5. How long will the change take? “When”
  6. And where do you want to be when the change is complete? “Where”

Map the change before you act. Take you intangible idea and make it a tangible plan.

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SPARK Your Imagination

There’s a growing trend in America. A trend where the world of art and artists are collaborating with businesses and business leaders to generate a richer offering as well as a new perspective on creating healthier and stronger businesses. There is no better avenue for this thinking in St. Louis than the SPARK Conference hosted by COCAbiz at COCA.

I was honored to be able to perform the graphic recording of the event, for Sharon Price John’s morning presentation and for the evening’s Keynote address by John Maeda. Below is the large-scale graphic recording of the full day event of SPARK at COCA.

COCAbiz SPARK 2015 sm

Please check out the wonderful services and programming that COCAbiz has to offer by contacting Steve Knight at COCAbiz. Just follow the link and get creative with business solutions.

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Not All Customer Experiences Are True Experiences

As the old adage goes, “All ponies are horses, but not all horses are ponies.” This is the same for ‘Customer Experiences.’ Not all customer experiences are truly an experience that creates economic value. Making the distinction between an Experience and a customer experience can be confusing if you assume both are the same. Let me make it simple, they’re not. Most customer experiences are merely good or great customer service labeled with an over used buzzword. Calling customer service a customer experience does not elevate it to a true experience.

The term “Customer experience” has become the catchall phrase for anything above an expected customer relationship performance by a provider. Consumers expect good, if not, great customer service, but it’s not unique enough to be called a Customer Experience. If a retailer adds extras like a coffee station or creates a good aesthetic environment through sound and trimmings to entice customers to buy, this does not guarantee that have created, or more precisely, staged an experience. All that has been accomplished is an improvement to the environment of a service or goods provider. There is no real economic value created from the experience itself only the application of dressing to increase sales.

How can you determine if your ‘Customer Experience’ is actually a true experience or packaging for promoting sales? Look at it this way; an experience is an offering where-as the consumer is willing to pay for the time spent and not the goods or services purchased. An experience is focused on creating memories and not selling things. This is not to say that an experience does not provide goods or services as part of an offering, only that it is not the focus of the offering.

Simple rule of thumb; if the focus of your offering is simply on the selling of goods or services provided and not the time spent interacting with the customer, than you are, by definition, in the Goods or Service business creating only good or great customer service to sell stuff and not a true Experience stager helping to create memories for consumers.

There is greater value in memories than in merchandise.

To learn more about the value of Experiences read; Science Daily’s:, Fast Company’s post: or, I would suggest reading B. Joseph Pine II & James H. Gilmore’s book“The Experience Economy” Update version.

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The Mobius Method: Experience Event Design

First, what is Möbius? Möbius is a surface with only one side and only one boundary. A good example of this is M.C. Escher’s “Ants on a Möbius Strip” seen below.


How does this relate to Experience Event Design? The concept must be an endless and continuous movement.

Having had the pleasure to aid in many event planning sessions over the course of my lifetime which many were repeating, I realized early on that most plans only focus on a moment in time combined with a single characterized theming principle. Most events lacked any real purpose other than to host of notoriety, make money or to celebrate an occasion. But what if the event could be much more and possibly without any more effort or possibly even less?

There had to be some method that increased the impact and experience of any given event. An event had to be planned far beyond the constraints of the event moment itself. It had to flow with consistency, purpose, theme and direction. It was more than a single event disconnected from any other. It could be like a Möbius strip, seemingly without beginning or end.

Before I explain any further, let me share that this post will cover four key issues around an experience event; Theatre, Experiences, Stages of Experience, and Ownership.


Theatre is defined so well by Peter Brook’s quote: “I can take any empty space and call it a stage. A man walks across that empty stage whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”

Every event you create, host or involved with is a production of theatre. You have your performers and your audience. You follow a script and each person has their role. Never treat it any less if you strive to make it a great experience, anything less is merely a service valued on price.

To be in the mindset of theatre one must focus on the Why and How and not the What. Service mindsets focuses solely on what work is performed; an experience mindset focuses on how the what is performed. Before you can even think of focusing on how the whats will be performed you must understand why you even doing it and for who, because the event is never for the performers, rather for the audience. So take the advice of Simon Sineck and “Start with Why”, then focus on the Who before you focus on the How and What.

When it comes to event experiences its important the theme or motif of the event should not be the focus of the planner, rather how the theme is expressed through the event experience.


Experiences exist in four realms and are anchored across two axises by the level of involvement being passive or active and the axis of engagement from absorption to immersion. These axises create four experience realms of Entertainment (passive/absorb), Educational (active/absorb), Escapist (active/immerse) and Esthetic (passive/immerse). Knowing which of the four your event should be structure upon is important. More important is developing with all four in mind creating a sweet spot of all four realms.

Is not to say that over the span of the event experience the type of experience can shift more in favor of one or more realms. A tool for this is to divide the span of the event into five distinct stages and use the experience grid with percentage of a 100 points per stage. This will help focus on the type of content and performances needed to stage the experience.

Stages of Experience

With all curated experiences, there are identifiable stages along the course of the experience. Typically there are five unique stages; Attracting, Entering, During, Exiting and Extending. My view, at each stage a planner should use the theme grid percentage tool to keep the overall flow on track to stage the complete experience theme.


Attracting happens before your audience ever arrives to the event or walks on to the premises hosting the event. Attracting is the time when you are creating interest in the vent. Invitations to a wedding, advertising for shows or even things shared on social media of previous experiences. Guaranteed, you may not be able to control social media and I never believe anyone can, yet you can add content based upon the four realms of experience to this stream to help in attracting and beginning telling the story of the event experience. It is the stage where expectations are established.


The Entering stage is the transitional stage or liminal zone to the event experience. At this stage, the audience is moving from the outside world into the space hosting the event. Cues need to support the expectations created during the attracting stage. Which of the realms of experience should be the focus during this transition? Which support and enhance the transition best?

A simple example of using the Esthetic Experience (passive/immerse) in the Entering stage could be as your audience or attendees arrive the registration/ticket area is staged as an extension of the overall event. If the event is focused on music, than maybe the space is walled with blank oversized music sheets used as messaging boards, agendas or event highlights. Maybe there are sitting areas with instruments so visitors can huddle and play music while waiting.


During is the event itself. It is the action and performances occurring as the main activities. This stage of the experience holds the most weight of the experience. When using the Experience Realm focus on staging on the sweet spot of the grid, the center where all four realms come into play. That is to say, you can not focus on one or more types of experiences at various times or overall, just be aware that “During” is the stage to create the greatest impression and experience of the event.


Exiting is another transitional or liminal zone. The stage is useful in building memories of the event experience. the audience is transitioning from the experience(s) you have created back into the everyday world. You do not want them to transition abruptly or without reinforcing their experience. Look to the four realms once more, what type of exiting experience will enhance their overall experience as well as create a positive memory as the exit? Could the exiting space be gift bags arranged on a display that highlights the events activities or some area for reflection before departing? Whatever it maybe, it needs to be less that main experience, but still extend from the experiences already engaged in.


Okay, everyone is gone, the space is cleared of the previous event it’s over right? No! Extending the experience is the critical piece of the memory around the experience. Having something to extend beyond the experience to help remind your audience of their time spent, since time spent with you or your experience is what is at stake.

Take a ballpark ticket stub. This is a natural extending element of the experience. Each time you see that ticket it brings up the memory of the experience. It is a piece of memorabilia or token of your time spent. Crete a unique piece of memorabilia that your audience can take with them or receive later to remind them of their time with you or your event.


So I shared a lot on experiences, staging of experience, stages of experiences and even the realms of types of experiences, but the real challenge to planning is knowing who owns these experiences? Do you the stager/planner, the performers who interacted with the audience or the audience members who the event was created for? In reality everyone involved, because experiences are unique to each person and are held internally. Each person experiences differently. All a planner can do is plan with a purpose, stage with direction and reinforce with strong performers, a good script and the right props.

Back to the Möbius Method

So why is it called the Möbius Method? Because all experiences flow into the next and each staged experience moves from internally curated by the planner,stager to externally experienced by those in the audience or getting involved. Like the Möbius strip which rotates and twist so it becomes endless and transitions from being internally to externally facing and back again, so to is the role of the event experience planner.

Before you close out this post, take a moment to reflect, not on the events you stage, rather on how you stage your interaction with clients. These too are events and follow the same rules of theatre that your offering does. How are you leading your clients through the stages of experiences and which types of experiences are you using at the various stages.

Interacting with each client and moving from one client to the next is your Möbius Strip of Business, stage it well because you are creating memories on the time your clients spend with you.

mobius strip 1

Here is a Visual Strategy tool to help when planning.




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