Most transformative experiences happen by accident.
Out of ten companies you apply to, the one that says yes makes you move city or country. You find or lose someone to love. You have an accident. Pick one school over another. Get mugged. Find unexpected kindness in a stranger.
We all know these moments.
Going in, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Looking back, you can see the moment as a trigger point. A first domino in a sequence of events that turned you from the person you were back then into the person you are today. You didn’t script or plan the journey. But it happened. Changed you.
However, it’s much harder to find experiences that are ‘transformative by design’
Moments, journeys or services that truly transform the way you see the world and potentially yourself. Sure, there is religion. Psychedelics. War. But even these are embedded in a more complex mix of elements and rituals in which the outcome is variable rather than intended.
Still, I found a few, and I’d like to share them with you
Each of them is on my ‘visit list’. But meanwhile, I wanted to show you a few examples that are on my ‘visit’ list. So you can get into the mood.
#1. Halden Prison, Norway
What if you didn’t look at prisons as a punishment, but as facilities to help those that broke the law reintegrate into society? This was the idea behind Halden Prison, a maximum security prison in Norway where inmates walk around semi-free, have their own shower, fridge, and flatscreen TV. Do yoga.
While more expensive to run than a regular prison, the total business case is positive. Since developing its new prison system, recidivism has decreased from 60-70% to 20%. This way dramatically lowering the number of prisoners that must be ‘paid for’. And making everyone’s life better.
#2. Fake funerals in Korea
Kim-Ki Ho’s Death Meditations in Seoul are probably one of the most impactful experiences money can buy. To combat South Korea’s high suicide rate, he lets people experience their last day on earth.
He makes you contemplate about death. Write a letter to those that stay behind and actually lie down in your coffin to think about the life you had. When you emerge, obviously still alive, you have a renewed perspective and the opportunity to start over, or at least do a few things differently. Quite a few people say it changed them forever.
#3. Starbucks sign language store
Because of my European café heritage, I’ve never really understood why people got so excited about the Starbucks experience design. But I can only be impressed by the dozen sign language stores they have opened around the world.
By adding a ‘language’ to their menu, they offer people with hearing disorders a full shopping experience, allowing them to also make Starbucks their third place.
#4 The Human Library
What if you went into the library, not to check out a book, but another human being? To have a conversation with them about their life? Their experiences? The way they view the world?
Created in Denmark in 2000, The Human Library challenges stereotypes by helping you speak to people who normally aren’t part of your life or social circles. Fugitives, HIV+, homeless, Muslim, polyamorous, blind,… individuals who turn out to be regular human beings ‘like yourself’. Showing people they don’t have to judge a book by its cover.
#5 Anything Odyssey Works
Last but not least, are Odyssey Works (fanboy alert ?). Over the years, they have put together day, week or even month-long performances in which a multi-disciplinary group of artists work together to deliver the experience ‘that is needed’ for an audience of one. Often with life-changing results.
Today, Odyssey mainly focuses on education in which a person can occasionally be ‘gifted’ such an experience. I’ll probably never make the grade, but it’s nice to dream.
In the video, one of my experience design heros Abraham Burickson gives some background to the Odyssey Works approach. The relevant story starts at 02:13, but if you have the time, I recommend watching the whole video.
Have you got suggestions for experiences that have been designed for transformation? If so, I’d love to hear about them.
THE EMPATHY FACTORY
In cooperation with a world-class immersive theatre group, I’m exploring the design of a transformative, immersive experience to help your employees develop more empathy for your clients (customer-centricity) or for their fellow workers (inclusion).
We’re looking for proof-of-concept partners, so get in touch if you want to know more! ?.
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.