Supplement to Chapter 5: Transformative Experience Design Strategies
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Now that you’ve re-cast yourself into the role of experience designer and understand the basics of what that means in terms of the Experiential Learning Variable & Indicators System, it’s time now to apply what we’ve learned in Part 1 with specific and practical ELVIS Design Strategies and ELVIS elements. It’s time to get busy designing.
The design strategies and EVLIS elements I present here in Part 2 of this book are useful to a wide range of leaders in a wide range of contexts. It is up to you as leader in your particular domain to ask and answer the question:
“What kind of transformations am I designing for?”
It could be inspiring your protégés with clear and elevating goals and possibilities for their work together. It might be unlocking the innovative potential of a corporate team. It could be empowering the next leader in your organization. It could be sparking your students to a new understanding of learning that is centered deep within themselves, rather than foisted upon them externally. It could be creating more self-actualizing childhoods for your kids and helping them achieve resilience and independence through adolescence. It might be striving for a deeper sense of purpose, excellence and identity for your team or individual athlete through competitive sport, win or lose. It might be guiding your clients to a new and more personal understanding of their life’s work and trajectory. And of course, it might be inviting yourself to a deeper and more enriching exploration of your own life’s journey and the identities you are creating for yourself.
But there is one thing all these applications of the ELVIS Toolkit have in common, however we use it. They all entail a transformation of a person’s sense-of-self. In this, the ELVIS Experience Design Leadership lens is a departure from any prior leadership training, project management, instructional design, training regimen, or other frameworks that are out there. Your goals as an Experience Design Leader and creating transformative experiences for people, go beyond merely helping someone be a better or more productive employee or student or athlete (although all the tools in the ELVIS toolkit certainly contribute to those outcomes). The center of this philosophy is identity growth and development.
And as we have seen, the multiple identities people inhabit do not stay
nicely sorted into compartments. They seep and blend and grow in of a gardener intertwined ways. If you are successful, whatever transformative experiences you design in your leadership role will necessarily blossom into the other areas of a person’s life. In many ways, your role is one of a gardener planting seeds that give rise to a grand harvest of lived experience. So as you focus your leadership efforts on that are in line with the specific goals and circumstances of your work,
keep this bigger picture of personal growth in view — in the end, it may become the most lasting and important impact you have.
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When J.K. Rowling began her epic series of seven Harry Potter books by drafting the very last chapter of the last book first, before even starting the first book, that was backwards design. When Jony Ive sketched out the first iPhone -- a drawing of a simple slate flat box with a single button intended to make the most out of multitouch possibilities -- rather than compiling a laundry list of technical capabilities that the iPhone should do, that was backwards design. When my own 4th grade teacher Mrs. Rave told us we were going to present our history reports as character interviews on a mock TV talk show in our own classroom, rather than beginning with instruction for the ways to select and research a topic, that was backwards design. When moms and dads make everyday parenting decisions by first considering how it will ultimately fit into the larger goal of creating a positive and empowering foundation for their kids’ entire lives, that’s backwards design.
Fundamentally, backwards design is “beginning-with-the-end-in-mind.” But it is more. It’s kind of like reverse engineering in that you first define your desired outcomes, and then work back from there to determine the design strategy to achieve them. It’s pretty basic, but in the context of designing transformative experiences for others, backwards design takes on a deeper and more specific meaning.
Whatever experiences we design, our audiences will ultimately transform those experiences into narratives, as we have seen. Therefore, considering what kind of narrative we want our audiences to construct when it’s all over is “beginning-with-the-end-in-mind,” or backwards design. This is very different from the way we normally operate, where life comes at us and we react. This strategy demands that we pro-act instead.
Depending on the type of resulting narrative our audiences generate, they may become inspired, moved to action, motivated to new aspirations, brought to tears, or any number of other outcomes. But in all cases (if we are successful), they’ve engaged in an internal process that conjures one or more “possible selves” (a term from the psychology of the Narrative Study of Lives) and have considered new potentials for their own personal futures. When that process goes even further to challenge and change the audience’s existing personal identity narratives, we have a transformative experience on our hands.
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Look for many examples of 3X3 Nested Design in the upcoming chapters, but to give you a quick example here, I’ll share the program my team at NCWIT has designed for organizational change leadership through corporate executive training.
Our program’s actual goal is to transform corporate leaders into culture designers, empowered to create more innovative and inclusive teams. We do this, in part, by examining what we call the “PowerTilt phenomenon” — how different teams make decisions, what characteristics and behaviors carry the most power, and who has the most influence over decisions and why. The program follows the 3-Phase plan with the sequence of specific experience details within each phase guided by the 3-Act structure.
Phase 1 includes the prep — all the logistics of identifying which leaders and teams will participate, learning who they are and what they need, engaging them in the co-creation of the workshops, trainings, and experiences — the idea of participatory design (covered in detail in Chapter 7).
Phase 2 includes executing on central experience — not only exploring the social science needed for these leader transformations, but also learning to use specific tools and practices through experiential learning, followed by actual deployment of these strategies with their teams.
Phase 3 includes assessment of the impacts of course, but more importantly the structured meaning-making that must occur on a personal level for such learning to take root and result in durable identity-impacting change.
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Priming is also used in cognitive therapy to help lower stress and reduce anxiety and depression. You might have experienced this yourself if you’ve had any therapy. By associating therapy sessions with relief from those struggles, symptoms have been shown to improve. Exposure therapy is special kind of priming that seeks to replace negative associations triggered by something that causes a person distress, with more neutral associations through repeated intentional exposures and thereby reduce fears.
Kindness Priming is when people exhibit a positive mood after exposure to an act of kindness. Such positive affects have been shown to be more resilient in the face of negative events compared to people who were not primed. On the flip side, priming has also been studied as a factor in stereotyping and bias against minority groups when negative associations are triggered by a person’s race, ethnicity, or gender. Reverse priming has even been suggested as a mitigation for this.
Meditation is another great example of priming. Certain exercises, rituals, or mantras are repeated and become associated with the positive and calming effects of meditating. If you’ve ever practiced meditation, you know that this kind of reinforcement builds over time, allowing you to enter into a meditative state more quickly and deeply with practice. Even simple morning rituals like focused breathing, stretching, reading something inspirational, and organizing your schedule have been shown to prime a person for a more focused and productive day.
In short, priming is everywhere. It is simple. And it is powerful. We can use it as Experience Design Leaders to prime our experiencers to associate our invitations to risk and discomfort with their own personal growth and transformation. We can prime our experiencers to associate narrative construction with internalizing control, permission, and meaning-making. And we can prime our experiencers to frame the opportunities we have created for them with identities that are bold, adventurous, and perseverant.
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Keep in mind, these experiences may be the kind you are designing for and with others or the kind you are designing for yourself, leading your own life. In fact, as we have said, cultivating the ability to design transformative experiences for yourself is an important step towards designing such experiences for others.
Additionally, ELVIS provides a new way to re-examine past experiences. This is another powerful pathway for transforming our lives as well as authoring new and empowering collective identities for our teams. Re-framing and re-interpreting past experiences that have shaped who we are can lead us to healthier and more positive self-assessments and more resilient identities. This is a common strategy for psychotherapy. And this is just what I asked you to do at the beginning of this book when I asked, “What has been your most transformative experience, so far?” Unpacking these experiences through the ELVIS lens allows us to squeeze every drop of learning from them that we can.