Monday, December 4, 2017

James' Hierarchy

Like gourmands, event attendees crave a "5-star" experience, and event producers should want to deliver one.

But how do you define a 5-star experience? Or, for that matter, a 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-star one? 

To my knowledge, nobody's offered a definition. So I will.

With a nod to Abraham MaslowJames' Hierarchy of Experiences presupposes:
  1. Experiences can be categorized by their capacity to fill attendees' needs, and
  2. Experiences can be ranked hierarchically.
So, from the bottom to the top, here goes:

Everydayness. This term characterizes the experience delivered by the vast majority of successful events; cribbing from restaurant-rating systems, you might label them "1-star" events. Events in this category more or less satisfy attendees' basic needs to (1) navigate without stress through physical space; (2) meet other people and chat; (3) acquire useful information; and (4) talk business. Of course, many events don't meet even this rock-bottom standard: their signage is inscrutable; they over-schedule attendees; they make every session a panel; and they treat suppliers like lepers.

Fantasy. This term characterizes "2-star" events like Mardi Gras, Coachella and Fantasy Fest. Events in this category fill not only attendees' everyday experiential needs (to navigate, converse, learn and do business), but their next-level needs to lessen anxiety and escape reality. Disney has mastered the delivery of such experiences. The more event producers can emulate the company, the closer their events will advance toward "2-star" status. Virtual reality is a quick and dirty way to accelerate that advance.

Cheap Thrills. This term characterizes "3-star" events like Comic Con, Burning Man and Bike Week. Events in this category fill not only attendees' everyday needs and their needs for fantasy, but their needs to be wowed and titillated. Remarkable stunts, goofy sideshows, celebrity appearances, and novel tchotchkes abound at events in this category. Every producer should strive to produce an event that delivers cheap thrills; few do.

Genuine Thrills. This term characterizes "4-star" events like CES, Sundance, and the Indianapolis 500. Events in this category fill not only attendees' everyday needs, their needs for fantasy, and their needs for cheap thrills, but their needs to be awed by (1) proof of human ingenuity and (2) displays of daring. The delivery of genuine thrills is the reason the Colombian Exposition, The 1964 New York World's Fair and the 1992 Summer Olympics made the history books.

Melioration. This term characterizes "5-star" events like TED, SXSW and the Aspen Ideas Festival. Events in this category fill all of attendees' needs, including the very highest-level ones: to improve not only themselves, but to better the lives of others. Maslow would call it self actualization.

NOTE: The term everydayness is borrowed from the philosopher Martin Heidegger; and melioration, from the philosopher William James (alas, no relation).
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