A recent Forbes article by Barry Jaruzelski noted the epic economic transition from products and services to total experiences. While interesting in observation, the real amazement is in how many generations just never get this save a select few. More amusing? The then inevitable crazed exaggeration fomented by the last decade’s digital ride. This has led people to false realities, expectations and a hell of a lot of wasted money and time.

The Smart Ones

The smart folks exhibit context and realism while still breaking the rules and producing revolution. They seek and ride a great wave – just not a silly, unrealistic one. Knowing the difference and keeping a level, realistic head while simultaneously riding the right wave at the right time keys success in an ever more more turbulent world. The MySpace versus Facebook example is a well know example here. One comes out just a bit too early and gets crushed when another comes out at the right moment when a series of trajectories intersected, facilitating Mark Zuckerberg’s exploding growth.

Examples are not just about the net. Understanding the total experience of prospective customers, industrial or not, drives likely success. What challenges and problems are critical to the customer? Under what conditions? By example, introducing energy saving equipment, materials or processes when energy costs are low generates far greater challenges than than when they are high and climbing. The same for bio-based green chemistries when their costs outstrip low cost petroleum and natural gas based chemistries. Green and clean climate hype can easily obfuscate resource and climate reality and context.

Culture. Crisis. Comfort. Resources. Time. These things drive context and thus understanding experiences in total.

Some Big Examples – Driving & Lodging

Barry Jaruzelski believes that General Motors investment in Lyft reflects a belief that some independent network of car ownership, maybe involving someday driverless cars or vehicles, may dominate someday. General Motors President Dan Ammann notes to Barry that he thinks this will transform “…our business and personal mobility more in the next five years than (in) the last fifty”. Maybe.

I’m sure we will see big changes in the next five years but the simple notion that the auto industry is fast moving – well, who really believes that? Throw in the crazy notion that driverless cars will replace all cars in 20 years and I start to wonder what kind of glasses, drugs or whatever someone has to be on to get so far off track. I mean, what, almost every single auto ad proclaims and exploits the love of driving? Don’t get me wrong – we will have driverless cars in lots of places – situations – but they won’t replace 10% let alone 100% of vehicles on this earth – certainly not in the next five years or likely even ten. Try visiting a third world country or downtown Rome and get some context on this.

So what’s the likely reality versus the fantasy?

True context provides honest insight. It’s three to five years to develop a new car – even for Tesla. The idea then as proposed by many futurists – that we will see tens of thousands of driverless cars seamlessly meshing with our imperfect society in five years – is ludicrous. It’s just utterly unrealistic for a dozen psychological, technical and economic reasons. They will have a great place – but more likely the technologies will first stop collisions, improve parking, help an incapacitated driver. The simple fact that most people love driving invalidates the likelihood of a steering wheel extinction without massive psychological changes to humans. Throw in that 80% of the world’s cars live on rough, unpaved dirt roads with no service let alone electric charging stations and I wish again that the often San Francisco 20-somethings predicting this stuff would try walking outside sometime.

We’ve heard AirBnB will utterly change the hotel industry forever. Well, not likely. It’s a great business, it has huge potential but it will not replace traditional lodging not because it’s not revolutionary but rather because it’s not really transforming the travel experience that much for enough people with enough benefit. People like service. They like restaurants an elevator ride from their room. They like safety. They like meeting rooms. They like wonderland pools. In fact, hotels are opening and expanding at an accelerating pace. As reported by STR for the hotel industry:

The U.S. hotel industry is projected to experience continued performance increases through 2016, according to STR and Tourism Economics’ most recent forecast released at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference on Monday.

For the remainder of 2015, the U.S. hotel industry is predicted to report a 1.4-percent increase in occupancy to 65.3 percent, a 5.2-percent rise in average daily rate to US$120.93 and a 6.6-percent increase in revenue per available room to US$78.99. During that same period, demand growth (+2.6 percent) is expected to outweigh supply growth (+1.3 percent).

“All of the key performance indicators are at record highs, and barring a black swan event that jars the global economy, we don’t expect any dramatic changes during the foreseeable future,” said Amanda Hite, STR’s president and COO.

How Is This Experience Thing New?

Why is this new to some? That’s always befuddled me. It’s never been about products. Products as physical objects are simply things. A service – now we get to something resembling an experience. In the end a real product or service provides a solution to a need and therefore inevitably creates an experience through it’s use and delivery.

The key understanding to realism within contexted insight is that truly great innovation has always been in fact about solutions – about experiences. The smart ones have historically known that and exploited it to the extent necessary and profitable versus to an imagined, exaggerated or unnecessary degree.

Even Edison understood this way back when. Electricity itself and generating power was nice, but transforming lives was something else entirely. Whether it was keeping a river bound factory running in a New England winter or allowing safely lit homes or a brightly lit night life, on demand, sage, broadly available power transformed how we lived our we lived our lives then and continuously ever since.

It’s About Time and Timing

A truly breakthrough, innovative solution changes the implications of time – more/less and or quality – by some order of magnitude metric quantified in some way. Lyft and Über transform the cab experience not so much always by cost – sometimes they are far more expensive – but rather by adding tens of thousands of usually more friendly, responsible drivers with nicer cars in a moments notice or so.

AirBnB isn’t about changing hotels – it’s about appealing to a massive segment who don’t want a massive, often impersonal hotel experience but more often about people who want intense solitude, privacy, a cultural intimacy, a control over cooking your own meals and doing your won laundry.

Want success here? Think about the what must be trues that enabled it. Without the net as it’s developed today, those two revolutionary new businesses would not exist. Reviews, photos, videos, walk-throughs, mapping and the trust in them took a decade plus to build up. The necessary experience requirements existed finally for a sudden explosion of service business success. Those who understood context and what was necessary and when to launch and how to provide a total experience succeeded – no differently than Edison versus his myriad competition 150 years ago.

I’ll argue that much of what we are seeing in alternative energy and green materials is suffering from the opposite – the wrong timing or forced timing. When solar technology’s core components are all ready, likely via many other applications and energy prices truly either soar or solar process truly plunge, we will not need government’s artificial, corruption laden hand to guide us with force down the path. When we see a massive, undeniable advantage to green materials – no waste means lower costs for real, we won’t need convincing to make more money. On the contrary, no push will be needed at all. No incentives. No sales. No regulations.

Instead, the world will gladly, gleefully, powerfully, inexorably rush towards that phenomenal experience all by itself.

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