B. Joseph Pine II is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and management advisor. Joe has addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, the original TED conference in California, and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A Part Time Lecturer in Northeastern University’s School of Business, he co-founded Strategic Horizons LLP to help businesses conceive and design new ways of adding value to their economic offerings. A prolific writer, Joe is most famous for his 1999 book The Experience Economy, which was updated in 2011 and re-released in hardcover in 2020 with new ideas on Competing for Customer Time, Attention, and Money.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Joe shared his professional trajectory, the inspiration behind establishing Strategic Horizons LLP, the key takeaways from his latest book, personal role model, significant career milestone, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Joseph, can you please share your background and areas of interest?
I have a technology background, having worked at IBM for 13 years in technical, managerial, and strategy positions. I also have a Master of Science degree in Management of Technology from MIT, and I took my thesis there and turned it into my first book, Mass Customization, about efficiently serving customers uniquely. After I left IBM to found Strategic Horizons I discovered the Experience Economy – where goods and services are no longer enough, and what customers want today are experiences. I wrote my second book on that subject with my partner Jim Gilmore, which we updated and re-released in 2020 with the new subtitle Competing for Customer Time, Attention, and Money. I’ve also coauthored Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier.
So, my area of interest is helping companies create greater economic value! My purpose in business is to develop frameworks that first describe what is going on in the world of business and then prescribe what companies can do about it.
What was the inspiration behind establishing Strategic Horizons LLP? What sets it apart from other market competitors?
Jim and I founded it with our Managing Partner, Doug Parker, to create a different kind of firm that didn’t do normal consulting projects, but rather inspired, educated, and guided companies in thinking differently about their business. We call it a thinking studio for helping enterprises conceive and design new ways of adding value to their economic offerings.
You are a Strategic Thought Leader at Stone Mantel. Can you please tell us about this firm and your role in it?
Dave Norton, the founder of Stone Mantel, and I have worked together for 25 years in helping companies design and implement experience innovations that enhance the value they create for customers. Dave and our colleagues there are amazing at discovering insights directly from consumers and then seeing how they can impact clients. For a number of years, we’ve worked together on a yearlong journey called The Collaborative where clients pool their resources to gain a huge amount of qualitative and quantitative data that we help them interpret and use to create specific experience innovations – and increasingly not just memorable but meaningful and transformative experiences.
Please share the main takeaways from your book, ‘The Experience Economy: Competing for Customer Time, Attention, and Money’.
Executives need to understand what business they truly are in – or should be in. Goods and services are everywhere being commoditized, and so companies need to shift up what I call the Progression of Economic Value to staging experiences for their customers. It’s crucial to understand that experiences are a distinct economic offering, as distinct from services as services are from goods. Experiences use goods as props and services as the stage to engage each individual in an inherently personal way – creating the memory that is the hallmark of the experience.
And because we now live in an Experience Economy, companies compete against every other company for the time, attention, and money of individual customers; these are the currencies of the Experience Economy. So, if you want to earn the money customers spend – whether they be consumers or businesses – you have to grab their attention with the experience you stage and get them to want to spend time with you in that experience. Goods and services offer time well saved; experiences are about time well spent, that customers value the time they spend with you.
And there’s one more economic offering companies need to understand, where you use experiences as the raw material to guide people to change, to achieve their aspirations. This final economic offering is a transformation, where you guide customers in becoming who they want to become. Any business that is in the business of helping people become healthy, wealthy, or wise is in the transformation business, which offers not just time well spent but time well invested.
Every summer you teach the course “Creating Value in the Experience Economy” to master’s students from around the world in first Columbia University’s Technology Management program and now at Northeastern University. Can you please brief us about this program and its relevance in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape?
This program is based on the work I do with clients in helping them understand the shift from goods & services to experiences & transformations through our Experience Economy Expert Certification program. It gets them to understand the big picture, and then determine how they can design & depict enhanced or new economic offerings that enables them to stage experiences that are robust, cohesive, personal, dramatic, and even transformative. In the course I also share ideas, principles, and frameworks from my work on authenticity as well as using digital technology to fuse the real and the virtual – both very important in a world where “authenticity” was proclaimed the 2023 Word of the Year by Merriam-Webster and where digital technology, including the arrival of generative AI, is infusing our lives.
In what ways have you found it effective for sharing ideas with others and inspiring change?
It depends on the client and where they are at in their journey to create economic value for their customers. Sometimes they desire just a speech to learn of the possibilities and inspire them to seek out new opportunities, but even then, I have to practice what I preach and make sure it is an experience unto itself, often including interactions so participants can wrestle with the issues.
With many others I conduct workshops so they can fully understand my ideas, principles, and frameworks, and develop their own ideas for what their businesses can do differently. One of the things I love to do is preceding workshops with an Experience Expedition, taking the client to an experience hub city such as New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, London, or Amsterdam. That lets them experience some of the best places in the world for themselves (as well as a few of the worst) and develop their own principles for what creates great experiences.
I mentioned earlier our Experience Economy Expert Certification program, which we offer physically or virtually, publicly or privately for individual corporations, and even one-on-one. It enables each newly minted Certified Expert to internalize our frameworks and be able to apply them in their own businesses or with their clients.
In your current role, what kind of challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?
Like everyone, I struggle with time, the time to do everything I’d like to do along with what others desire of me. One of my methods of handling it is the only time I do a to-do list is in periods of great time stress to ensure what absolutely must get done does get done, and as for everything else, if I don’t remember it and fail to do it, then how important was it really?
With clients a key challenge is getting them to understand the need to change, to light a fire under them so they viscerally understand that need and then I can help guide them in the right direction. So every one of my core frameworks has a “bogeyman” to threaten them with. With the need to go beyond goods & services to experiences & transformations, for example, the bogeyman is commoditization. If they do not make the shift, they will eventually fall to the forces of commoditization and become an undifferentiated commodity.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
I would have to say the late Stan Davis, who was my intellectual idol. When I was a strategic planner at IBM, I read his amazing 1987 book Future Perfect, which is as applicable today as when he wrote it. Stan coined the term Mass Customization, which I then worked to get into our plans & strategies at IBM, and then chose as my thesis and topic of my first book. Stan was kind enough to write the foreword to Mass Customization, after which we met and became friends. He continued to inspire me with his thoughts and his way of thinking and how he worked with clients, who often paid him just to think and write! In fact, another chapter in Future Perfect also inspired the model core to my book Infinite Possibility.
Which one of your accomplishments makes you the proudest to date?
Wow. I guess I would have to say it was discovering the Experience Economy way back in late 1993 or early 1994. It was Providence, as one day with a client I blurted out how mass customizing a service would turn it into an experience, and realized that it was true – if you design a service so appropriate for a particular person, exactly the service that was needed at that point in time, then you couldn’t help but make the client go “Wow!” and turn it into a memorable event, an experience.
That meant that experiences were a distinct economic offering, and if that were true there would be an economy based on experiences that would succeed the Service Economy as it supplanted the Industrial Economy, which superseded the Agrarian Economy. And now that idea has come to pass, and through our book and work on it has changed and created hundreds, thousands of companies who were inspired by the concept.
How do you unplug and step away from work?
It’s a hard thing to do when I’ve worked out of my home for over 30 years now, and when I go out to experience anything I can’t help but analyze it at the same time. The exceptions are what I like to call my two vices: golf and cigars. And they go so well together! I also spend a lot of time studying and teaching in theology and apologetics and hope to write on those subjects one day as well.
What is your biggest goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
Well, one thing you won’t see me doing is retiring! I although I might change the ratio of work to golf over time…. I plan on continuing to pursue my purpose in business that I mentioned earlier, and to that end I am just starting a new book on the Transformation Economy that will one day surpass the Experience Economy. And I think I have another business book or two in me, as I also continue to work with clients on seeing the world of business differently.
One piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring professionals in your industry.
Learn how to communicate your ideas. It’s not enough to have great ideas, if you want to see them implemented you have to get others to see what you do, and that requires great writing and presenting. I learned that early on in my IBM days, and in my case, it led to a career in writing, speaking, and advising. But even absent that possibility, being able to communicate effectively, to inspire and lead, should be top of mind for every professional.