10: Multiverse Excursion: Reaching Through The Realms
The past eight chapters have described each of the eight realms of the author's "multiverse," which are the general boundaries and nature of what is known. The nature of discovery is that we do not know ahead of time what will be uncovered when we look into these areas, though we can consider what it is we wish to find, which will help to focus our efforts.
Before addressing the skills needed to explore, the author provides a quick review of his eight realms:
- Reality: The richest of experiences, grounded in the physical world where space, time, and matter are governed by the laws of physics. (actual time, actual space, and actual matter)
- Augmented Reality: Enhances the world around us by overlaying reality with digital information (actual time, actual space, and virtual matter)
- Alternate Reality: Creates an alternate view of the world around us by enhancing, enhancing, or editing reality (actual time, virtual space, and virtual matter)
- Warped Reality: Playing with time by shifting am experience firmly grounded in reality but treating time as autonomous (virtual time, actual space, and actual matter)
- Virtuality: Creating an entirely imaginative experience in a way that ignores time, space, and matter in the real world (virtual time, virtual space, and virtual matter)
- Augmented Virtuality - Brings digital objects into the real world by artificial means (virtual time, actual space, and virtual matter)
- Physical Virtuality - Brings objects from the virtual world into physical existence (virtual time, virtual space, and actual matter)
- Mirrored Virtuality - Represents material objects into a digital environment (actual time, virtual space, and actual matter)
Exploring the Multiverse
Exploration begins with departing from the known. You can, as many do, remain rooted in the known and seek only minor adjustments, but this blinds you to many of the greatest possibilities for providing innovative experiences that result in significant transformation.
Innovation does not involve doing more of the same, and those who fixate on their present business and products tend not to be very innovative. To innovate, you must focus on the experience of the customer, and ask how their needs and desires might be served - doing so may require you to do things quite differently than you presently do.
Another significant quality of exploration is that it is proactive: to follow the trail left by a competitor is an imitative rather than innovative act. Imitation ensures you will never be first to any goal, but instead will always be following and attempting to catch up to your competition, never stepping past them.
And while exploration into this real is generally done by means of technology, it is important to keep in mind that meeting the needs of your customers is the goal, and the technology is merely a tool for accomplishing this objective. If you begin with a technology and seek to learn what it can do, you're missing the point, and the result will be gadgets with very limited value.
A Structured Walk through the Realms
A suggested approach to exploring:
Begin by assembling and expedition tem of "diverse and knowledgeable" employees from a range of areas, such that they understand the full scope of the present business. (EN: Once concern is that such people are often institutionalized - they know the business in its present incarnation and are often prone to defending current practices and resisting change. My sense is such people are useful in evaluating ideas to determine whether the business is capable and willing to adopt them, but they may not be the best explorers - and may in fact be incapable of innovating and will squelch the innovations of others in a discovery process.)
Next, take the group on a tour of the multiverse, real by realm, providing many examples to acquaint them with the possibilities - and then encourage them to consider what potential there is to apply these concepts to the business. This can also be done by using eight different teams, each of which explores a sector of the multiverse, or three that focus time, space, and matter.
The author describes a four-stage process to ease participants from the known and into the unknown:
- Explore the three immediately adjacent realms to physical reality, those where one of the three parameters (time, space, matter) is adjusted. This will result in minor alterations that may not be particularly amazing, but which will likely seem he most feasible.
- Next, explore spaces in which two of those parameters are adjusted, but one remains fixed in physical reality. This will result in greater innovation, but greater investment needed to achieve such ideas.
- Let go of the anchor entirely, and consider spaces in which all three of the parameters can be adjusted. This will result in unbridled innovation, ideas that are not at all actionable, others that may require considerable investment.
- Return to the beginning, the business as it presently exists, and what is possible in the known world. Chances are, the first three steps will have people thinking in unusual ways, such that they can view present reality in a new light.
The end result should be a significant number of ideas. Following that, a selection process considers which ideas have the greatest value-creating potential, and what it is reasonable for the organization to undertake, based on the resources an idea would require to act upon and the changes to organizational culture.
A Hypothetical Example
The author provides a hypothetical example of a firm - specifically, an electronics retailer - that undertakes this exercise. (EN: I typically shy away from fairy tales, but in this case, the description above is rather abstract, so I'll carry on).
The present-day business operates a physical store. Granted, most retailers in the present day have web sites, but the author chooses not to focus on that for the present, as it already introduces some elements of the virtual experience.
Stage One: One Variable
Augmented reality (shift matter to no-matter) can enhances the customer's experience of the physical store. Consider a smartphone application that enables the customer to view the inventory beyond what is on the sales floor. The app enables the customer to plot a path through the physical space to a given department, even a given shelf, and then enables them to gain extended information about a product that tells him more than the demo model or the wording on the product's box. He can see extended details about that product, and do a side-by-side comparison with other products. He can even place the order through the device, to pick up on his way out or have shipped to his home.
Warped Reality (shift time to no-time) enables the customer to travel through the history of electronics. For any product, the customer can see the developmental progression, illustrating how the features of the present product evolved from the beginning to help demystify what would normally seem like a confusing array of sophisticated capabilities. Similarly, we could enable the customer to provide a description of the electronics he now owns, contrast how the items we offer are better, and help him envision a future time, when he is enjoying the benefits of owning better gadgets.
Physical Virtuality (shift from space to no-space) takes us to the concept of a virtual store - possibly experienced in a location outside of the physical one, but for now, we'll stick to providing a booth or device in the store that the customer can utilize. The customer doesn't walk around physical aisles, but visits a booth where he can view the inventory on a screen - exact digital replicas of the items in physical inventory. He can see the objects from various angles, project them into the context of an environment (even his own home), and even see their inner workings.
Stage Two: Two Variables
Alternate Reality (space is locked, time and matter shift) uses the real world as a virtual playground. For this, the author considers using a game-like approach for employees, challenging them to play the role of a detective or a spy who wishes to discover the secret "electronics identity" of each customer, an imaginary scenario that provides an imaginary framework for the very real task of paying attention to a customer and assessing them against segmentation profiles to determine how best to serve their needs. (EN: This sounds very hokey, but the core idea is quite good, and I see how this can be applied to a training program.)
Mirrored Virtuality (time is locked, space and matter shift) involves creating virtual things in a virtual environment, but fixes the user to a specific timeline. Unfortunately, the author provides an example that doesn't quite fit: another training scenario in which the employee is now in the role of a doctor, assessing the health of the customer's electronic system - what parts are missing, what parts are old and in need of replacement, etc. to determine where help is needed, and whether what is needed to restore them to health is a minor procedure or complete replacement surgery. (EN: it's another hokey but potentially useful scenario, for training or even customer self-service, but it seems to me that it fits alternate reality in that time is not a factor here - it would take quite a stretch for this to be considered "mirrored virtuality" rather than a second example of alternate reality.)
Augmented Virtuality (matter is locked, time and space shift) presents a problem to the author, and he admits that this might be a "dark void" given the example of a physical store. He stammers through a few attempts that don't quite fit, but ultimately admits "we still have no good ideas here." (EN: as a reader, I'm actually impressed that a author can admit that theories don't always fit neatly into reality. Sometimes the answer to "how can we use X in our business" turns out to be "we can't.")
Stage Three: All Variables
The last step is takes us into Pure Virtuality, where time, space, and matter all are dismissed and the realm of possibilities opens to infinity. In this case, the thought is to have a completely virtual store that the customer "visits" using their home computer, mobile device, gaming system, or some other technology to enter an imaginary space, see imaginary products, and to do so at any time.
He mentions that this very thing was done in the heyday of "Second Life" and that it was a miserable failure. "Those attempts ... were glorified ghost towns, with no staff, no service, no sales, and often customers with no shirts." The problem is that, in real life, the consumer has a real purpose and a real need - and that if a retailer ignores these components of reality, there is little value to be had in the virtual experience.
So by necessity, the example of a consumer electronics retailer must have a tether to something in the real world: electronic devices. But even with that constraint, there are a great deal of possibilities for a virtual store to present the physical products it sells in ways that they cannot be experienced in reality: depicting the merchandise, demonstrating how it can be used, interacting with the staff, and other tasks that contribute to the task of selecting, purchasing, and owning electronic equipment that are not feasible in the constraints of the real world.
(EN: Some examples/suggestions are provided, but they are still largely tethered to one or more dimensions of reality and might well be classified as one of the other realms.)
Stage Four: Return to Reality
The last step involves going back to reality, considering the current physical store as an "as is" description and evaluating the ideas that have been provided in the first three stages as possible "to be" scenarios and evaluating their plausibility - can we get there from here?
(EN: Going back to my earlier point, this would be a good place for the author's suggestion of using experienced and institutionalized people to perform a wet-blanket test. They can be expected to say, very quickly, that the innovative ideas won't work, but if you can coach them to consider the reasons why, these identify changes you can make to overcome the limitations of present-day business.)
Moving Your Anchor
The author uses the metaphor of an anchor for the commitments a company makes to staying put and not making any changes. By the simple declaration that "we are in the X business," a company declares that it will not consider being in any other kind of business. The decision is also made at more granular levels: "we are a store" excludes any other channel for doing business.
The author considers the innovation in the banking industry of paperless checks. For decades, or centuries, banking was tied to the physical world: a customer would have to come to their brick-and-mortar location and present a physical piece of paper (a check) to conduct a financial transaction. A bank that kept its anchor firmly fixed would have lost practically all of its customers to banks that virtualized the experience through ATM locations, Internet banking, electronic transfers, and other digital innovations that virtualize a once-physical process.
Some offerings are unlikely to change realms, as the value the customer seeks to obtain depends on physicality. A grocery store might utilize a delivery service to free the customer from the need to visit their physical location, but it is unlikely they could make a go of selling virtual food. No matter how good the simulation, the customer will insist on being provided with something to eat.
But there are many aspects of the business that could change, such that the customer could still obtain the value they are seeking to achieve in different ways. Some of this involves changing physical aspects (a restaurant that prepares consumption-ready food rather than groceries), some of it involves virtualizing some of the non-core elements of the experience (shopping online for home delivery).
Reaching Expedition Guidance
The end-of-chapter laundry list:
- Focus your thought upon the needs of the customer, not what the business would be comfortable doing, not what a given gadget does.
- Explore the complete multiverse by first letting go of one constraint, then by holding on to only one constraint, then by letting go of all constraints, and ultimately returning to reality.
- Consider how closely you will be tied to reality: some things will not be possible without starting a completely new business, not that that's a bad thing, but existing businesses often insist on being anchored to some things, if nothing other than the industry they are in
- Consider going beyond the audiovisual to engage the other senses.
- Do not forget that customers are emotional creatures - an efficient but impersonal experience is not what they desire.
- Keep in mind the core value that the customer is willing to pay to obtain, and be sure it is not lost in the process of virtualization.