Nanotechnology and The Experience Economy

from the dramatic-futures dept.

I bought Pine and Gilmore'sbook,The Experience Economy a few years ago, but only recently got around to reading it. I discovered something both more profound and more practical than I had expected. I keep seeing new relevance for their ideas about increasing demand for experiences and transformations, including thinking about the implications of nanotechnology. Comments invited. –Bryan

Read More for the review.

Towards Transformation and Transcendence:
Nanotechnology and The Experience Economy:

What might people do with prosperity fueled by nanotechnology? In their book The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore offer an insightful framework for thinking about the changing structure of human aspirations, economic demands and business opportunities. While they have little specific to say about nanotechnology, their framework can be usefully applied and extended in thinking about the implications of nanotechnology for society.

Those familiar with ideas about nanotechnology will have little problem the authors' argument that material goods will continue to become increasingly abundant, and that the same pattern of decreasing costs and commoditization might apply to many services assisted by advancing information technology. Joseph Pine wrote the book Mass Customization, and the authors here similarly argue that the best opportunities for creating value and profit will go to those companies able to flexibly and efficiently customize their goods and services to fit diverse and changing customer needs.

Their analysis helps respond to the question: once people have access to material prosperity, what do they want next? Elaborating on the conventional economic categories of commodities, goods and services, the core thesis of this book is that demand will increasingly shift towards one particular subset of services: experiences, providing intensely engaging activities for entertainment, education, aesthetic pleasure and escapist enjoyment. Examples of engaging experiences range from more ordinary pleasures such as movies, sports, reading and travel, to Disneyland, Chuck E. Cheese and other theme restaurants, ecotourism, computer games and edutainment and other forms of learning, sensing, doing and being. They argue that the economy will become increasingly oriented around staging such experiences. Just as society has shifted emphasis from agriculture to manufacturing to services, they suggest the next opportunities for further increases in wealth and employment will be in creating better experiences.

Most of the book concentrates on thoroughly applying the ideas of the subtitle "Work is Theatre & Every Business is a Stage" suggesting how companies can deliver compelling experiences. They use the idea of business as performance not as a simple metaphor, but as a means to carefully rethink how to understand customers, what people want (experiences), and sincere ways to enhance the roles of all those who script, produce and perform in those experiences. This theatrical perspective offers a wealth of practical and insightful management advice.

Later in the book, Pine and Gilmore raise the question of what lies beyond experiences, taking a longer perspective. They propose that the answer is transformations, the subset of customized experiences that significantly change those involved. Rather than just staging experiences, in transformation it is crucial to help people identify new aims, and then guide and support them in achieving their aspirations. Examples range from fitness programs to Promise Keepers to MBA schools and a host of other activities which guide and sustain personal or organizational transformations.

If we put this into the context of nanotechnology, then the transformation most likely to be sought after is rejuvenation, the restoration and maintenance of youthful health and vigor via nanomedicine. Other forms of augmentation could range from organ replacement, to expanded memory, enhanced senses and acquisition of new skills and knowledge, and on through more drastic changes that might enable living underwater, in outer space and other environments.

In the closing pages of the book, Pine and Gilmore ask what might lie beyond transformations. Their reply is to say there may be no higher level, only the possibility of continuing transformations, in an answer grounded in their beliefs and values. Drawing on some of the ideas of nanotechnology and other speculations related to advanced technology, a different answer could be suggested. A significant subset of transformations might be grouped in terms of transcendence. Transcendent transformations would change needs and capabilities to the point where those involved take leave of the rest of society. At a more pragmatic and individual level than the grand civilization-wide shifts that Vernor Vinge and others have implied by the term, transcendence could take such forms as retiring into a private virtual reality, embarking on interstellar journeys, uploading to live at computer speeds, and cryosuspension for one-way time travel into the future.

Adding another level to Pine and Gilmore's framework would then lead to six forms of economic offerings:

The Experience Economy offers not only practical insights about how businesses can better respond to the reshaping of demand under current changes, but also a framework for thinking about the aspirations and trajectories of a "post-scarcity" world enriched by the capabilities of nanotechnology and other advanced technologies.

Reviewed by Bryan Bruns

The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 1999.

Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition, by B. Joseph Pine II, Foreword by Stan Davis. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 1993.

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge. London: Millennium. 1992.

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