Creating Extraordinary Experiences

Clad in an array of costumes—goblins, knights, and even the pope—participants at the 2016 conference of the College of Extraordinary Experiences gathered at the Czocha Castle in Poland to interact with interdisciplinary leaders and learn how to design better experiences.

Among the attendees of the November conference were Lord of the Rings executive producer Mark Ordesky, Google global lead for change and transformation Kim Wylie, creative lead of Walt Disney Imagineering R&D Sara Thatcher, and three of the Marriott School’s own: BYU recreation management professors Peter Ward, Neil Lundberg, and Mat Duerden.

The three professors embarked on the Polish excursion—the first of its kind—after a previous conference on the “Experience Economy” piqued their interest in the design of transformative experiences.

“I started getting excited about it then, but I didn’t understand really what could be done with it,” Ward says. “Going to this conference was the boost that our department needed. We’ve been trying to figure out what the new direction is with our research and our curriculum, and as we’re going forward, we’ll be able to implement what we learned there.”

Within the multiday conference, the professors joined with leading creative minds and learned about extraordinary experiences through three main concepts: Rapid Prototyping, Co-Creation, and Flexible Focus. Costumes and the thirteenth-century setting gave participants the freedom to open up and engage with others.

The participants learned in daily lectures, then practiced implementing the principles by designing experiences for the group, all with limited time and props. Ward believes these types of learning and design activities could prove constructive for students.

“People learn through experiencing and coproducing things,” he says. “So often inside the college classroom we stand up and lecture, and information is supposedly passed from the professor to the students. In reality, that’s one way of teaching, but I don’t think it’s the best way. Our students need to be able to create an experience out of almost anything, even if they’re standing up and giving a lecture. If they can do that, think about what it will do for them in the business world.”

Designing experiences represents a new focus for the recreation management department, and if the tomes which now litter Ward’s desk are any indication—Gamification and Tourism, Transforming Experience in Organisations, Probing Experiences, Experience Design: A Framework—the results of their efforts could be transformative.

“We believe we can become the leader in this new area in the United States,” Ward says. “The conference gave us the confidence that we could do it and the network we needed.”