Once upon a time in a career far, far away, Joe Pine worked for IBM in the frozen tundra of Rochester, Minnesota. For the launch of the AS/400 computer system he created a group that brought customers and business partners into the actual development process. Because of this innovative activity, customer needs were met more exactly and quality was significantly enhanced – factors that contributed greatly to IBM winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1990.
One of the lessons that Joe learned during this time was that every one of these customers was unique. After moving into strategic planning, this insight led him to read Stan Davis’ seminal book Future Perfect. When Joe read the chapter on mass customizing, he had an epiphany – he says “The skies opened up and the angels sang!” – that led to placing the idea of efficiently serving customers uniquely into the vision and strategy of IBM Rochester. It also led to IBM sending him to MIT’s Sloan School of Management to gain his Master’s of Science degree in the Management of Technology. He focused his thesis on the paradigm shift (yes, that’s the clichéd term he used) from Mass Production to Mass Customization, and determined to turn it into a book after graduation. (It was when MIT insisted on using his full name on the front page of the thesis that Joe started to think, “Hmmm, B. Joseph Pine II sounds pretty cool. . . .”. If you don’t already know what the “B.” stands for, don’t even bother trying to worm it out of him.)
Fortunately, Joe was able to find an organization within IBM that helped him do that, the IBM Advanced Business Institute in Palisades, New York. His manager, Al Barnes, gave him time to devote to the book while he also learned to teach business concepts to the IBM clients who flowed through the ABI. So in late 1992, Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition was published by Harvard Business School Press. (His thesis advisor, economist Michael Piore, submitted the document for the Brooks Prize Competition for Thesis Excellence in the hope that it would help Joe get a book contract; instead, the judging was delayed by over a year, by which time the book contract helped Joe co-win the Competition!)
About six months after publication Joe received a letter in the mail from some guy named Jim Gilmore with CSC Cleveland Consulting Associates, who said his reaction on discovering the book was “Oh shoot – someone else has already written it!” He included a tape of his own talk on the subject of Mass Customization highlighting “Aaron the shoeshine man.” Joe and Jim found out they were going to be in Chicago at the same time, and so met and immediately struck up a friendship. This led to CSC becoming Joe’s biggest client when he left IBM in mid-1993 to strike out on his own.
Their collaboration resulted in, first, some great work guiding CSC clients; second, a Harvard Business Review article, Joe’s third, on “The Four Faces of Mass Customization”; and third, discovering and delineating the emerging Experience Economy. (Joe can still remember the genesis of the latter: an executive education session back at the ABI where, in response to a question, he uttered the phrase “Mass customizing a service automatically turns it into an experience!” In that instant a new-to-the-world idea was born.)
More important than any one idea, however, was the creation in January 1996 of a different kind of firm, Strategic Horizons LLP, a thinking studio dedicated to helping businesses conceive and design new ways of adding value to their economic offerings. Pine & Gilmore’s raison d’etre is to discover what is going on in the business world, make sense of it, and then develop frameworks so that companies can respond intelligently to the fundamental changes happening in the competitive environment. (A fourth result of their collaboration: punny custom Christmas cards that they love doing every year for friends and clients.)
Simply put, Joe specializes in helping people see the world of business differently. He did that first by promulgating the concept of Mass Customization in his first book, which detailed how organizations didn’t have to provide the same thing to everybody, but could give individual customers exactly what they want, at a price they’re willing to pay. (Joe said at the time that his mission in life was to make the phrase “individual customers” be seen for the redundancy it was.) The Financial Times chose the book as one of the seven best business books of 1993, and in 1995 it won the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing and Research. He and Jim followed this up by editing a collection of Harvard Business Review articles entitled Markets of One: Creating Customer-Unique Value through Mass Customization, published (naturally) by HBSP in 2000.
Joe did it again with The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, co-authored with Jim and published by HBSP in 1999 (nine months after another HBR article, “Welcome to the Experience Economy”, primed the pump for the concept in the marketplace of ideas). Published in twelve languages and named among the top five business books of 1999 on Amazon.co.uk, The Experience Economy was chosen one of the 100 best business books of all time by 800ceoread in 2009. It shows how businesses should embrace theatre as an operating model to stage unique experiences. Tom Peters called it “a brilliant, absolutely original book” while a piece in MIT’s Sloan Management Review said “The Experience Economy will force managers to change their most basic, cherished assumptions about innovation and strategy”. But Joe’s all-time favorite comment was when The Industry Standard began its review with the statement, “This book scared the hell out of me.”
More recently, Joe is once again helping people see the world of business differently as he and his partner Jim discovered that in the Experience Economy, people increasingly question what is real and what is not. And more and more, they want the real from the genuine, not the fake from the phony. Authenticity, therefore, is becoming the new consumer sensibility – the primary buying criterion by which people choose what to buy, and who to buy from. This resulted in their most recent path-breaking book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, published by (the slightly renamed) Harvard Business Press in the fall of 2007. This book, chosen one of the top ten business books of the year by Amazon.com and featured in a cover story in TIME Magazine on “10 Ideas that are changing the world”, provides a way of thinking about authenticity in business plus a set of tools and techniques for rendering authenticity in any company.
So as you might have guessed, Joe is at it again. He just published his next book (co-written with Kim Korn of Create Advantage, Inc. and published by Berrett-Koehler) called Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer-Unique Value on the Digital Frontier. Whereas the last book contrasted the real and the fake, this one shows businesses how to use digital technology to create experiences that fuse the real and the virtual. At its core is a new framework called the Multiverse that builds on the fundamental nature of the created universe – time, space, and matter – by demonstrating how digital technology flips each of these dimensions on their head to create new worlds, first in our imagination and then in our experience. And, guess what? The insight that led to the core framework in the book came from the chapter in Stan Davis’ Future Perfect right before the one on mass customizing! (Joe says if he ever runs out of ideas he’ll go back and re-read the other chapters.)
Not only that, but double-dipping on the writing front, Joe & Jim just published an Updated Edition of The Experience Economy with new ideas, new frameworks, and many, many new exemplars. (Not to mention it’s finally in paperback!)
Joe also likes to say that he didn’t invent the Experience Economy or any of the other concepts with which he is credited (including the Multiverse, which Joe says is a very humble framework; it merely attempts to redefine the universe as we know it!). Rather, he discovered them. Such discoveries do not happen by accident, however. They result from voluminous reading, wide-ranging real-world experiences, a talent for pattern recognition, and the ability to conceptualize what he, and of course Jim, see into meaningful models for action. (Indeed, someone once commented that they should’ve named the company “Frameworks ‘R’ Us”!) Most evenings you’ll find him pursuing the first step – reading one of four daily newspapers, 40+ periodicals to which he subscribes, or scores of books he gets through every year.
When he’s not writing, that is. Joe describes that as his first (vocational) love, taking fingers to keyboard in order to vigorously wrestle with the ideas, first, and only then to describe them to others. He further sharpens these ideas and frameworks in the speeches, workshops, executive education, and ongoing consulting he performs with Fortune 500 and entrepreneurial start-ups alike. While a terrific stand-up speaker who knows both how to keep an audience entertained and how to impart actionable ideas and frameworks that listeners can use to change their companies, Joe loves nothing better than small, intimate gatherings where other people become full participants in coming to grips with the ideas, corralling the frameworks to their own use, and committing to a course of action that benefits their customers, and therefore their businesses.
That’s why he loves teaching so much. Honing his skills at the IBM Advanced Business Institute, Joe has also taught at Penn State, Duke Corporate Education, the University of Minnesota, UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management, and the Harvard Design School, among others. After The Experience Economy came out in 1999, the University of Amsterdam asked him to become a visiting professor, enabling Joe to establish a beachhead of sorts in the European theatre where he further co-founded the European Centre for the Experience Economy for ongoing research and education. He and Jim were also the Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton Endowed Co-Chairs with the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at Iowa State University for 2002-3. And coming full circle, Joe was recently named a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Design Lab, focused on Smart Customization.
Not content to merely talk about his ideas, Joe is working with others to make them a reality. He helped found Starizon, Inc., a transformational consulting company, to make a real difference with clients, following them through from experience design to full implementation. As Principal Innovator with Starizon, he provides extraordinary scholarship, insight, and creativity to the client experience. The idea for Starizon, with its experience design place in Keystone, Colorado, came to Gary Adamson after embracing the concept of the Experience Economy at the very first thinkAbout event – a unique annual gathering that has become Pine & Gilmore’s flagship offering, with that first one held back in 1998 in Cleveland. After first describing it at the next thinkAbout in Los Angeles, then showing the architectural plans at the 2001 event in Las Vegas, Gary invited Joe out to actually see the place during construction in 2002 – and that was all it took. So in addition to traveling around the country and the world – most often in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden – you’ll now find Joe frequently in Keystone, working directly with clients on transforming them into premier experience stagers.
When not on the road, Joe spends as much time as possible with his wife, Julie – who, over a decade and a half after striking out on his own, still isn’t sure this leaving IBM thing is going to work out. . . . Having moved back to the St. Paul area of Minnesota, Julie’s beloved home state, they are now empty nesters, most of the time anyway, with two daughters, Becca studying to be a Physician’s Assistant at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, and Lizzie majoring in marketing and journalism at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Joe occasionally finds time to study and teach Christian apologetics, frequently plays golf – he’s very proud that he finally worked his handicap down into the single digits a mere twelve years after making that his goal (keeping it there being the hard part) – and table tennis (ask him about his Ping-Pong Robot) and regularly watches his beloved New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers, and Los Angeles Lakers (he moved around a lot as a kid). He works out of a home office with wall-to-wall bookcases, CD racks filled with classical, jazz, and new age music, and a cup warmer for his ever-present tea (Assam or Tazo Chai tea latte preferred, and when on the road he’ll invariably have a venti, non-fat, six-pump, Tazo Chai, extra hot, from Starbucks).
When a client calls, however, Joe’s always ready to go. His motto: Have audience, will perform.