Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier
Publication date: 08/01/2011
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.”
Should a modern-day cartographer label cosmos incogniti with an accompanying descriptor, surely it would be “Here be opportunity!” For at the digital frontier lay not dragons of doubt but new and wondrous offerings that create customer value by fusing the real and the virtual.
But what tool would such a cartographer use to chart these new worlds and indicate in which direction people could find such opportunities? A simple map would be grossly inadequate to capture the possibilities. A single globe could never represent the fact that digital technology not only enables new opportunities, new offerings, and new value but can do so by creating entire new three-dimensional worlds, virtual though they may be—worlds of exploration, conquest, artistry, and just plain new fun. And even then such worlds represent just a small fraction of possibility. For again the digital frontier opens not to fixed country you may discover and settle but to original offerings you must imagine and create. It differs also in the number of explorers vying for such opportunities. These explorers number not in the handfuls but in the thousands and tens of thousands—companies rapidly pushing forward the boundary of the frontier as they innovate new offerings that customers value. There are no limits to a frontier such as this, for there are no limits to our imagination. Before us lies infinite possibility—if only we had a tool to adequately chart it.
That is the aim of this book. We present a new tool geared to the task of exploring the cosmos incogniti of our imagination. This guiding tool, or framework, is not as easily read as a map, nor as representational as a globe. It does not provide you with a detailed description of the lay of the land, nor a precise set of coordinates from which to set off. How can it with a boundary as fluid as the imagination, with unexplored territory as vast as human creativity? But like a map in the hands of explorers of old, this framework illustrates what we know today while pointing to the unknown worlds of opportunity, in order to give form, content, and intentionality to your explorations. Its vital foundation and dynamic architecture provoke inexhaustible discovery and idea generation. And its terminology provides you with a vocabulary for understanding the opportunities and for communicating them with colleagues, collaborators, and customers.
We recognize that readers may be veteran explorers well versed in digital technology or beginners seeking new ways of creating value. Therefore, we travel in this chapter at a pace that gives all explorers a chance to adapt to the atmosphere, to grow step-by-step into an understanding of the language, the meaning of the core concepts, the robustness of its dimensions, and the implications of the framework as a whole. We will deepen our understanding in successive chapters that dive into the framework to discover its fullness, and then we will provide you with approaches for applying the framework to your own company, in your own circumstances, for your own customers, so that you can chart the meaningful, substantive ways of creating value for your own business.
We stand on a platform poised to launch into an exploration of cosmos incogniti. It promises to breathe into existence extraordinary offerings once imagined only as fiction but now truly at our fingertips. Possibility abounds. Territory may stretch before us without limit, but value lies within our reach. Here be opportunity!
The Known Universe
To introduce the framework that explicates the unknown worlds lying beyond the digital frontier, let us first understand the nature of cosmos cognitus, the universe we know and in which all reality exists—particularly as it applies to and impacts on business. To do that, let us revisit Stan Davis’ classic business book Future Perfect (as applicable today as when he wrote it over two decades ago). Davis expressed the inspiration for his thinking this way: “A basic progression governs the evolution of management in all market economies: fundamental properties of the universe are transformed into scientific understanding, then developed into new technologies, which are applied to create products and services for business, which then ultimately define our models of organization.”1 He goes on to write:
These new models first get articulated in our scientific and technological understanding of how the universe works. My intention in this book is to give new meaning to time, space, and matter in shaping tomorrow’s business and organization. In the industrial economy managers considered time, space, and matter as constraints, whereas in the new economy they will come to think of them as resources. This will require profound transformations in the way we think about time, space, and matter. Just as the scientific shift from the mechanistic age of Newton to the holistic age of Einstein affected notions of what was meant by time, space, and matter, these new notions in turn will affect the managerial transformation from an industrial mindset to a fundamentally new one.2
That new economy, the Experience Economy, is now here. As we create new experience offerings, we can see more clearly the way in which the universal dimensions of time, space, and matter shape the opportunities businesses have today.
These three dimensions comprise the known universe and come together as a true trinity to fashion the entirety of physical reality. As represented in Figure 1.1, all experience consists of objects made of matter (physical entities, including the humans doing the experiencing and the sensory stimuli they experience) that move in time (the measure of change and therefore of experiencing) and across space (the background source and context of everything that is experienced).
One of the “profound transformations” Davis introduces in how we think about these dimensions is “No-Matter,” the title of a chapter in which he discusses how “in the new economy, the value added will come increasingly from intangibles … whose importance does not lie in their material existence.”3 Think of how much of the value of economic offerings has shifted over the past century from the tangible (goods) to the intangible (services) and on to the ephemeral (experiences). Further, think of how the design, production, marketing, and distribution of each kind of offering (commodities included) have all become more and more digitized over the past few decades, so that today there is scarcely a company of any size almost anywhere in the world that does not use computers at some stage of its processes, if not at the very heart of everything it does. If you could weigh the material component of all offerings, think how much higher the ratio of GDP to the mass required to produce it is today than in our industrial past.4 To use the distinction made famous by Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the MIT Media Lab, in his book Being Digital, Matter and No-Matter are about atoms and bits,5 about that which has materiality and resides in the physical world and that which has no materiality and resides within the zeros and ones of digital technology.
If No-Matter exists, it follows there must be No-Space, where experiences are not real but virtual; they do not take place in the physical world but happen virtually, in a place (or world) that does not really exist. The primary activity instead happens on (or in) a screen of some sort—movie, TV, PC, tablet, PDA, smartphone, watch, headset, goggles, or glasses, as well as windshield, wall, or anything else on which an image could be projected (including the retina itself once projectors become small enough).6 Although virtual experiences still happen inside of us, in our mind’s eye, the place conjured within the mind is not the same one in which our physical body resides.
And if there is No-Matter and No-Space, then there must be No-Time, where the nature of the experience is no longer tied to actual time—the moment-by-moment unspooling of synchronous events in the linear, sequential order of time as it exists in the real world. Rather, it becomes autonomous, independent of actual time, whether by being nonlinear, asynchronous, nonchronological, or transient, by shifting into the past or future, by slowing down, speeding up, or otherwise playing with one’s awareness of time, or by any other way in which an experience creates a distinct, disparate sense of time (or timelessness) that does not truly exist.
Each dimension, in other words, has a positive side and a negative side (not in any moral sense, of course, but in the mathematical or logical sense), each one the opposite of the other. The original axes of Time, Space, and Matter all extend through the origin (the point in the middle of Figure 1.1 where they all intersect) to open up new ways of experiencing—and therefore of creating value in your business. As seen in Figure 1.2, which we have reoriented graphically to emphasize the new possibilities inherent in our logical extensions, the three fundamental dimensions of the universe decompose into six variables—Time and No-Time, Space and No-Space, Matter and No-Matter. These together comprise a 2 × 2 × 2 matrix, with each pairing two sides of the same coin (or two variables lying along the same dimension in this case). Since 2 × 2 × 2 = 8, this matrix delineates eight distinct universes, or realms of experiences (within which lie many worlds, or cosmos, to be discovered). Because “Octoverse” seems awfully clunky (not to mention conjuring connotations of the fearsome creatures prowling the depths of the sea on the maps of old), let’s borrow a term from the discipline of cosmology that inspired this framework and call it the Multiverse?.7
The Unfamiliar Multiverse
This seems the best title for it, as this framework encompasses the multiple ways for when [Time ↔ No-Time] experiences happen, where [Space ↔ No-Space] they occur, and what [Matter ↔ No-Matter] they act on. The known universe of physical experiences [Time – Space -Matter] is just one of the octants within the Multiverse. Reality, as it seems most appropriate to call it, is of course the realm with which we are most familiar and within which most innovation still occurs. We will not ignore Reality, but we will focus on the seven other realms vitalized by the advent of digital technology. These realms are less known, not as well understood, more difficult to apply, and therefore abounding with possibility.
Infinite possibility, as a matter of fact, for the Multiverse furnishes the tool we need to explore the cosmos incogniti of our imagination. It helps us make sense of our explorations by showing us how to create offerings on the digital frontier that customers value.
Figure 1.3 visually depicts this framework, revealing the complete Multiverse and labeling each octant. Let us delineate the exact nature of each, realm by realm in logical sequence, to ensure every reader understands what is going on in this admittedly somewhat complex 2 × 2 × 2 framework:
Each and every combination of the variables yields a distinct realm. Some are familiar, some intriguing, and some downright strange. But all ready to be explored.
Although we will more fully describe each experience realm in the succeeding chapters, here we wish only to give you a short preview of where we’re heading. To highlight the distinctions between realms, we’ll begin with the anchors of Reality and Virtuality, and then go on to introduce successive realms followed by their polar opposites. Note how in each case here we associate each realm with a particular visual icon (as shown in Figure 1.4) that we believe best captures its essence.
We use these icons throughout the book, albeit sparingly, to make it easy for you to remember quickly and easily what each realm is about (while recognizing, too, that every realm encompasses experiences far beyond what can be represented by these small icons).
A Quick Tour of the Multiverse
Reality, of course, consists of the variables [Time – Space – Matter] or, as an equivalent way of looking at it, [actual, real, atoms]. Reality requires the least explanation of all the realms, for we experience it through the age-old medium of real life, where the sheer physicality of the experience reigns supreme. Think of such quintessential experiences as taking a walk in the woods, dining with family or friends, watching a sunset from a balcony, going to a raucous rock concert, skiing down a mountain, or playing a round of golf. And then think in each case of how the experience is situated in a particular point in time, set apart from what comes before and what happens after; how the specific place (in space) impacts the experience and affects its very nature; and what physical objects support and enhance the experience. Even as you explore the other seven realms for the new opportunities they provide, never forget the richness of Reality.
Virtuality lies exactly opposite Reality in the realm of [No-Time – No-Space – No-Matter], consisting of [autonomous – virtual – bits]. Quintessential Virtuality experiences—also now very familiar to nearly all of us—include playing computer games, exploring virtual worlds, probing real-world simulations, connecting via social media, or even just surfing the World Wide Web. They are not bound to a particular time or place, with the physical aspect of all activity receding away to a vanishing point. Yes, of course, anyone having a Virtuality experience resides in some physical place, at a particular point in time, using a material keyboard and mouse (or other interaction devices), but these are all irrelevant—immaterial to the experience unfolding within the mind in reaction to the digital information displayed in front of the eyes (as well as sound waves hitting the ears).8 So although all Virtuality experiences really sit atop Reality, for the purposes of exploring the digital frontier we will generally ignore this aspect of it to concentrate on using No-Time, No-Space, and No-Matter as resources for creating customer value.
These two realms, then, anchor the Multiverse. Reality is grounded firmly in our physical universe of [Time – Space – Matter], with Virtuality residing ethereally in the immaterial realm of [No-Time – No-Space – No-Matter]. Each could be labeled any number of ways. Reality could be called the Known Universe, the Real World, the Physical World, or a number of other commonplace names, whereas Virtuality could similarly be called the Virtual World (or Worlds), Virtual Reality, the Metaverse, and so forth. We decided the parallelism of the chosen words works best, for then the name of each of the other octants can relate directly to the two anchors. The names of each realm on the right half of the framework—the four revolving around the real Space axis and thereby rooted in physical Reality—therefore all denote their Reality-based nature, whereas the names of each realm on the left half of the framework—the four revolving around the virtual No-Space axis, embedded in immaterial Virtuality—denote their Virtuality-based nature.
So beyond these two anchors lay the six other realms, each one enhancing, extending, or amending either our Reality-or Virtuality-based experiences. These six are less well known, less thought about and explored—and therefore perhaps hold out greater possibility for value creation.
Of these, surely the most familiar is Augmented Reality [Time -Space – No-Matter], a term of increasing currency, where companies employ digital technology (the bits of No-Matter) to enhance our experience of the physical world. The profuse number of applications in this realm where [actual, real, bits] hold sway shows up in everything from day-to-day living, travel, and recreation to medical procedures, manufacturing, and the military. The most obvious example, however, is surely a GPS navigation system (such as those made by TomTom or Garmin), which overlays the physical scene outside your windshield with a digital representation of it on your car dashboard. It enhances—or augments—your experience of the real world by making sense of it, providing directions to help you find your way, and even relieving the stress of a trip in unfamiliar environs.
If bits can augment Reality, then logically atoms should be able to augment Virtuality. This is exactly what happens in the opposite realm of Augmented Virtuality [No-Time – No-Space – Matter], which effectively flips a Virtuality experience from No-Matter to Matter, from bits to atoms. That means we’re taking something material and tactile and using it to augment an otherwise virtual offering, resulting in an [autonomous, virtual, atoms] experience. Although high-tech examples exist, such as the haptic technology of sensor gloves that can manipulate virtual objects on screen, the clearest example here is the simplest: Nintendo’s Wii, whose remote device detects movement in all directions to affect the digital play of on-screen games from tennis and golf to yoga and general fitness exercise. For the first time, players at home can get physically, materially engaged in computer games, removing the experience from one residing primarily between the fingers and the brain to one involving the whole body.
Alternate Reality [No-Time – Space – No-Matter] derives its name from alternate reality games, or ARGs. Such games have become increasingly prominent in the past decade in marketing circles as platforms for reaching the online gaming crowd, with examples including the I Love Bees promotion for Microsoft’s Halo 2 game, The Dark Knight, a marketing experience designed to generate demand for the Batman movie of the same name, and The Lost Ring, designed to promote the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Jane McGonigal, the “puppet master” for I Love Bees, defines an Alternate Reality Game as an “interactive drama played out online and in real-world spaces taking place over several weeks or months, in which dozens, hundreds, or thousands form collaborative social networks, and work together to solve a mystery or problem that would be impossible to solve alone.”9 In this realm of the Multiverse, [autonomous – real – bits] experiences take games (and increasingly other activities) of the sort that normally play out online and take them from No-Space to Space, making the physical world a technologically infused playground of hyperlinked activity. With implications far beyond marketing, this octant starts with Reality and superimposes an alternate view on top of it.
Where Alternate Reality takes an otherwise virtual experience and plays it out in the real world, its opposite, Physical Virtuality, takes real-world objects (atoms residing in actual time) and designs them virtually. Such a [Time – No-Space – Matter] experience occurs when virtually designed artifacts—created, viewed, usually customized, and generally sold online—take material shape. The most familiar include the mass customized T-shirts, coffee mugs, mousepads, and business cards available on sites like Zazzle and CafePress. The technology of 3D printing perhaps best captures the [actual – virtual – atoms] nature of Physical Virtuality. Here something designed virtually is printed, physical layer by physical layer in precise time sequence, to build up a material object from the experience. Originally used in industrial applications for prototyping or remote part creation, such companies as Shapeways and Ponoko have brought this to the masses, taking your own virtual design (or that of someone else offering designs for sale, which you can often further customize), printing it out physically, and shipping it to you.
The last realm on the real side of the Space dimension, Warped Reality [No-Time – Space – Matter], is named as much for how people use the term “warped” in conversation to describe something bent, twisted, or just plain weird as for Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (with gravity’s warping of Space-Time) or for Star Trek’s warp drive. For Warped Reality differs from Reality only by flipping Time to No-Time. This realm of [autonomous, real, atoms] is not infused with the digital technology of No-Matter, nor does it reside in the virtual arena of No-Space. It just requires the offering to play with or manipulate time in some way that makes it clearly distinct and different from normal, workaday experience. Such reality-based time travel happens whenever experiences simulate another time and (physical) place, such as Renaissance Fairs and living history museums (Plimoth Plantation, Colonial Williamsburg, and the like) or transport us (in both senses of the word) into the past or even into the future (albeit a fictional future) such as at, yes, Star Trek conventions.
Though not exactly burning up the digital frontier, truly understanding Warped Reality will help you figure out how to embrace No-Time in the context of No-Space and/or No-Matter. Recall also those quintessential experiences of Reality: taking a walk in the woods, dining with family or friends, watching a sunset from a balcony, and so forth. Many such experiences alter our sense of time, slowing it down or speeding it up, heightening our awareness of the experience unfolding before us, which whenever it happens shifts the experience, even if subtly, from Reality to Warped Reality.10 Think of it as Reality with a twist of time.
We arrive finally at Mirrored Virtuality [Time – No-Space – No-Matter], the exact opposite to Warped Reality: here Virtuality is tied to real time. This realm derives its name from the term “Mirror Worlds,” coined by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter in 1992 to describe “software models of some chunk of reality, some piece of the real world going on outside your window.”11 Gerlenter’s vision of what digital technology could bring about is now, if you pardon the expression, a reality, as more and more virtual experiences tether themselves to what is going in the real world, in real time. The best examples of such [actual, virtual, bits] models today can be found in myriad Google Maps mashups, such as HealthMap, a real-time view of infectious diseases around the globe, or the company’s own Google Flu Trends, which beats the Center for Disease Control to the punch by analyzing searches for flu symptoms. The use of any sort of online tracking tool or any dashboard, whether in a car or plane or computer screen, qualifies as Mirrored Virtuality. For this realm offers a real-time view, a mirrored perspective, of what is going on out there, in the world.
Each one of these realms, in and of themselves, offers tremendous promise for creating customer value. In the succeeding chapters you will encounter them again, in more depth, to better understand the possibilities, learn about many more companies already operating within each realm, and then discern the principles that you can apply to your offerings, in your own situation. You will discover how embracing the realms of the Multiverse enables experiences impossible within the confines of Reality alone.
An Architecture of Experience
All the elements of the Multiverse—its three dimensions, six variables, and eight realms—fashion an architecture delineating all experiences. Its structure helps us perceive the distinct composition of the when, where, and what of an experience. This architectural perspective calls attention to the makeup and relationship of the experiential variables we discovered by extending Time, Space, and Matter to encompass their opposite. It also deepens our understanding of experience design by focusing on the qualitative nature of how these come together to form the three full dimensions of the Multiverse, as seen in Figure 1.5. Time and No-Time, being measures of change, mutually comprise a single dimension that defines what happens in an experience, or its event. Space and No-Space likewise jointly define the dimension of place, whether a real or virtual one. And Matter and No-Matter come together to define the substance of what makes up the experience.
Think of the architecture of our tool of exploration as 8-6-3-1: eight realms flow from six variables that comprise three dimensions making up the one Multiverse. Although we will spend the most time developing the view from the perspective of the eight octants, we will examine the other views as well for additional ideas for new offerings, beginning here with a quick tour of what the three dimensions entail.
The Substance dimension speaks to the body of an experience, to all that a person encounters and how it is created. Designers develop experiences from material substances and digital substances, choosing from the variables of Matter and No-Matter. The choices made here thus construct the Substance dimension of the experience out of atoms or bits.
The Place dimension addresses the experience’s venue, the setting of its activity made up of the arrangements of its substances. Designers develop experiences with real places and virtual places, choosing between the variables of Space and No-Space. The choices made here thus form the Place dimension out of real space and virtual space.
The Event dimension speaks to the activity of an experience, the order of what people do and encounter as they move from its beginning to its end. Designers develop experiences from actual events and autonomous events, choosing from the variables of Time and No-Time. The choices made here thus enact the Event dimension of the experience out of actual and autonomous time.
Notice that you need not limit your experience to one side or the other of the Substance dimension: you can construct an experience to incorporate both Matter and No-Matter, to be both material and digital concomitantly. Likewise, you can form an experience to encapsulate both Space and No-Space, to be both real and virtual in parallel. And you can even enact an experience to involve both Time and No-Time, to be both actual and autonomous simultaneously.12
Surely some of the greatest opportunities for creating customer value beyond the digital frontier will be discovered by operating on all the variables concurrently, effectively fusing realms into cohesive and compelling, rich and robust, individual and authentic transversal experiences never before envisioned, engendered, or encountered. For whereas the realms are introduced here as quite distinct entities with rather definite boundaries, our experiences rarely fit neatly into one of these eight boxes (as we shall see more clearly in Part IV, “Guiding”). These realms, with their distinguishing characteristics and clear labels, exist to help frame your thinking, not bind you to a rigid, constraining architecture. On the contrary, the boundaries within the Multiverse are permeable and its classifications elastic. We do not present this framework in order to have you argue over what box this or that experience belongs in, but to use it as a sense-making guide for exploring the digital frontier spreading out before you.
Therein lies the power of viewing the singular Multiverse as three dimensions with six variables that you can play with and vary independently. Viewing it solely through the lens of the eight realms tends to restrict the possibilities you explore, for naming an octant confers a linguistic bias on that particular combination of when the experience happens, where it occurs, and what it acts on. If, for example, you believe Augmented Reality not only lies within [Time – Space – No-Matter] but that these three variables signify what we mean by the term Augmented Reality, then you will never explore other ways of incorporating bits within an actual, real experience.
So, yes, fully understand the nature of Augmented Reality and each of the other realms as we examine them together in the successive chapters. But look at each example for the enacting of its event, the forming of its place, and the constructing of its substance. This qualitative perspective helps not only in decoding existing experiences but more importantly in depicting and staging new ones. Experience stagers must consciously pay attention to the verbs—to the enacting, forming, and constructing— to best create the nouns—the most engaging experiential events, places, and substances. Keep the full 8-6-3-1 experience architecture in mind—eight realms, six variables, and three dimensions within one Multiverse—as you read through the rich collection of examples throughout the rest of the book and ponder the infinite possibility available to experience stagers.
For as digital technology pushes the frontier of experience outward, opening up new galaxies begging for ambitious exploration, the Multi-verse is the instrument by which you set the direction and chart the course. Its ongoing mission: to help you explore strange new dimensions, seek out new technologies and new experiences, and boldly go where no company has gone before. Therefore think of the Multiverse, with its distinct ways of harboring meaning to help frame your thinking, as more a flexible tool for taking you into the far reaches of your imagination than as a blunt instrument restricting where you can go and what you can dream.
And dream big. Recognize that the three dimensions of the Multiverse do not stop where we have drawn the boundaries of each box on the pages of this book. Those little arrows on both ends of the three dimensions mean the lines representing each variable extend out, further and further, reaching to infinity. With them go the eight realms, expanding ever outward, encompassing ever more possibility, creating deeper and more intense experiences through the innovations resulting from our imaginings.
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