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For the past two decades, I have been dedicated to understanding transformative experiences in a variety of forms and across a wide range of people, teams, and organizations across the world. But when I first began investigating transformative experiences, I never anticipated writing a book on leadership. I thought my work would be of interest only to academics, psychologists and philosophers, and just maybe with some practical application for educators. But my extensive work with highly visionary leaders and organizations and even my own leadership roles over the past several years changed all that. I noticed we were all facing the same leadership challenge — depth of impact.
Through my experience with NASA, the Jane Goodall Institute, the National Science Foundation, non-profits and start-ups of different kinds, and several of the largest and most influential companies in the world, I have had the honor of working with highly talented leaders engaged in work that shapes our world and affects all our lives. These leaders share a visceral, almost compulsive passion for becoming change agents — hellbent on using their lives and their work to forge their organizations and world beyond into better places —and seeking to lead others to do the same. But they also share another thing in common: being frustrated about their depth of impact; about their ability to make a “big enough” difference in the lives of those they lead and make it all mean something more.
It’s not entirely surprising. With such lofty aspirations often come lofty frustrations. How could it be otherwise? Being a change agent is not easy. It invariably means constantly swimming against the current rather than going with the flow. It means questioning, disrupting, experimenting, and failing a lot. For leaders who’ve chosen this path, they either quickly learn that it requires vision, fortitude, creativity, and dogged persistence in the face of set-backs — or they find another path for themselves.
Now consider the even more daunting challenge of inspiring, motivating, and leading others to do the same. And yet that is precisely what is called for in world-changing endeavors — “contagious change agency.” Such leaders cannot hope to make the differences they aspire to all by themselves. They realize the absolutely essential need to empower others to become change leaders in their own spheres. And this must happen on a personal level. To transform those they lead from paycheck players who are satisfied simply fulfilling their job roles, to “ skin-in-the-game” playmakers who rise up from the treadmill of the daily grind into higher air and embrace more distant horizons. This is the depth-of-impact challenge facing all transformative leaders. How to create experiences that touch hearts, provoke minds, and change lives in powerful ways?
Ironically, that frustration has come into amplified focus right now in the COVID era as people today are demanding more from their personal and professional lives. They are wanting and demanding greater ownership, balance, self-determination, flexibility and personal meaning in the work that they do. We are witnessing a “COVID re-calibration” for what work means in our culture. And it is inseparable from a re-calibration of what we want in our lives holistically .
As a result, leaders of all stripes — those seeking to change the world as well as those simply seeking to keep the shop open for another month — are struggling to evolve in order to recruit, retain, and lead talent who have changed the way they think about work and what they want out of life.
In reading the book, Designing Transformative Experiences, you will learn the detailed skills and knowledge of Experience Design Leadership — a new view of leadership intended to meet these challenges head-on, including:
1. How to think like an Experience Design Leader in your leadership role
2. The difference between transformative experiences and other experiences
3. Why applying design thinking leads to more powerful and durable leadership outcomes
4. The psychological framework linking experience, narrative, and identity
5. The seven design elements of ELVIS based in psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and the narrative construction of lived experience
6. A new way to assess your experience designs
7. Specific examples of ELVIS in action
8. Turnkey strategies and best practices for using ELVIS to design and deliver transformative experiences
This book is PACKED with tools and stories of transformation. Many of these stories are from my own personal experience and people have often asked I’ve come by so many different kinds of such experiences. My answer is that it’s because ELVIS is a system. When you start to see people and events through the ELVIS lens, you can’t unsee it. It grows. Once you get the hang of how transformative experiences work, you see opportunities for them everywhere and you begin to have more and more of them. It not only shapes your worldview, but also your leader-view.
My hope is that this book enhances your role as a leader across many domains — business, coaching, parenting, education, training, consulting, the arts, and other design roles in the work that you do. My intention is to empower you as a transformative experience designer, and anchor your designs in research-based strategies that you can come back to again and again as your skill grows. As you utilize these strategies to generate experiences that change people’s lives, my sincere hope is that your own life-journey is likewise enriched through the power of transformative experiences.