From Utility to Experience

Even though we are enduring the worst recession since World War 2 there still seems to be plenty of everything about.   Tesco, TK Max, Virgin, McDonalds, Vodafone, 02, Zara, H&M, HMV.  More brands than you can swing a cat at and available at reasonable prices.  Times are tough for many but it’s hard to see people dying of starvation.  Simply put, there’s an abundance of everything.  But what happens when every coat and pair of shoes looks the same, every sofa is made from similar materials, and every hotel room is alike, and every prospective girlfriend or boyfriend have the same stories to tell?  What happens is that you want something else.  But in a world of abundance what is that something else?  Today utility has become widespread, inexpensive and relatively easy to achieve, which has increased the value of significance.  In  A Whole New Mind  Daniel Pink puts his finger on the solution when he says that when our basic need are met (as they have been for most people in the affluent societies of the West) we tend to look for meaningful emotional experiences.

“It’s no longer enough to create a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional.  It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful.”

This brings us to Rule One of the new experience oriented society:

When you live in an abundant world you want an experience, not utility

 Remix and Upload

In a 2007 Keynote address at MIT New York Times journalist and three times Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman summarised his award winning book on globalisation, The World Is Flat.  The speech is available online at the MIT Open Courseware site, as well as You Tube, and is so good that you don’t need to buy the book.  In the book he lists 10 “flatteners” that have led to what he calls Globalisation 3.0.  In the speech he refers to four of them:

  1. The Personal Computer (individuals able to author their own content in digital form)
  2. 8/9/95 (Netscape went public and gave us a tool that brought the internet to life, leading to the tech boom and bubble and the massive over investment –trillion dollar- in fibre optic cable that gave us broadband)
  3. The Workflow Revolution (TCP/ICP) (Everyone’s computer and software became inter-operable.  We could all suddenly collaborate.)
  4. Uploading.

All four have been critical in the revolution that has led to a new culture of social production and collaboration.

In Remix Lawrence Lessig tells the following story.  In 1906 John Philip Sousa travelled to the US Congress to talk about the gramophone or what he called “The Talking Machines”.  Sousa was not a fan of these “Talking Machines.”  He said:

“These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.  When I was a boy …in front of every home in the summer evening, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs.  Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day.  We will not have a vocal chord left.  The vocal chords will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.”

Picture this scene:

“…you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs.  Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day.”

This, according to Lessig,  is a Read-Write culture “where people participate in the creation and the re-creation of their culture.”  Sousa’s fear was that we would lose the capacity to engage in this Read-Write creativity because of these “infernal machines.”  These “machines….would take it away, duplicate it, and in its place we would have the opposite of Read-Write Creativity, to give it its term in modern computer terminology a kind of Read-Only culture.”  A top-down culture where creativity is consumed but the consumer is not a creator and where the “vocal chords” of the consumer is lost.

Lessig shows how we moved from a pre-industrial world in which most of us were producers to an industrial world in which we have mostly become consumers of mass-produced media.  He shows, using music as an example, how we are now moving back to active participation in our experiences from the passive consumption of the late twentieth century.  Prior to the invention of radio and the phonograph, composers sold their scores to publishing houses, which in turn sold them, in the form of sheet music, to customers who played the music themselves – at home, at family gatherings, and so on.  With the emergence of the new broadcast media technologies, we stopped playing music at home every evening and started listening to it:  first on our radios and phonographs and eventually on stereos, and Walkmans.  The digital era and Internet, however, has given us the chance to make music instead of merely consuming it.   We are now able to grab music from the Web, create mixes, samples, and mash-ups, and redistribute the results.  Trent Reznor’s music may not be to everyone’s taste but he has been a keen promoter of people interacting and remixing his music.  The website of his band, Nine Inch Nails, has a facility that enables fans to download tracks, remix them, and enter remix competitions.

People will no longer accept a one way conversation with their service providers.  They expect it to be interactive and collaborative.   This leads to Rule 2:

When you live in an environment where people are picking, choosing, and creating their own culture, they don’t want Utility but an Interactive Experience.

 Globalisation and Automation

Today any job that depends on routines or that can be reduced to a set of rules, or broken down into a set of repeatable steps is at risk.

Thomas Friedman describes this phenomenon perfectly.  Friedman had been out in India interviewing people “who spend their days imitating Americans” about what they felt about the U.S. post 9/11.

“Across those 11 days I got progressively sicker and sicker.  It was nothing I ate.  It was somewhere between the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to prepare my Maryland tax returns from Bangalore, and the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to write my new software from Bangalore, and the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to read my x-rays from Bangalore, and the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to trace my lost luggage on Delta airlines from Bangalore that I got this really sick feeling that while I’d been sleeping…while I’d been off covering the 9/11 wars, something big, transformative, and fundamental had happened in the globalisation world and I had completely missed it.”

What does this mean?  It means that in order to succeed in this new world we are going to have to move from thinking that  CPA, FCA, CIMA, MBA, B. Sc, BL qualifications are enough.  The internet has ended the monopoly on information in all of these areas.  Daniel Pink sees the future as being one for the right brained thinker.  Being a left brained procedure / method driven worker will no longer suffice.  People will need to be able to draw from a number of areas and create new types of offers for customers in order to remain in jobs.  This type of creative / emotional work cannot be outsourced or computerised.  To compete with India and stop some of the jobs heading east you need to provide an experience that they can’t.  This leads to Rule 3.

When you understand that you live in an environment where your job could be outsourced to the East you are going to want to create an Experience.

So employees who are used to abundance, upload, and know they are in danger of losing their jobs to the Far East may be the right sort or are primed to play the role laid out by Clement Mok

“The next 10 years will require people to think and work across boundaries into new zones that are totally different from their areas of expertise.  They will not only have to cross those boundaries, but they will also have to identify opportunities and make connections between them.”


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