Shift Happens | From Fixed to Fluid Expectations

By Andrew Keene

Last week, I discussed the shift from brand to experience. The headline of that shift is that our organizations need to lean into creating experiences for “our people” that deliver outsize value in their lives. These experiences and the value they create need to be validated by our consumers, and their feedback needs to be consistently worked into the next iteration of the experience. In order to succeed, we must know who we want to engage, and know them well enough to know what experiences deliver value when.

The next shift adds a wrinkle, a complication. In the context of the experience economy, we are seeing a rapid shift from “fixed expectations to fluid expectations.” Whereas at one point in time, people naturally had a one set of expectations for each type of experience (or industry), those boundaries have effectively become artificial. This shift has been a long time in the making, and even pre-Coronavirus I don’t think it was fully appreciated by Jewish organizations. But they bemoaned a key symptom which I often hear expressed as “people (esp. young people) just don’t commit; they aren’t loyal.” More on this in a minute.

The notion of fluid expectations is that one set of expectations arises in one type of experience (let’s say and over time that expectation (let’s just say free 2-day shipping) seeps into other experiences, even if they aren’t related or in competition. Overtime, the experience that provides the most value, becomes an expectation-shaper. It’s the reason that people stop shopping on other sites (even for items not offered on Amazon) when free shipping isn’t offered. This phenomenon is very prominent in young people but increasingly shown by people of all ages.

Uber fully appreciates that they have set people’s expectations of app-connected-services. To the point that apps not even in the mobility space call themselves the “Uber of XYZ,” because the expectations of the experience with Uber have become ubiquitous with ease, seamlessness, and on-demand service.

Because of fluid expectations, the work of organizations and the experiences we create are being compared to experiences that have nothing to do with Jewish life, spiritual well-being, or community, let alone to ones that do. Last week, I stated that the organizations that create the most value-rich experiences will be the ones to thrive in the post-Coronavirus era. I portrayed this as a single-variable equation where an increase in experiential value correlates to an increase in organizational strength. The reality is, because of the shift from fixed to fluid expectations, this is a multi-variable equation, where the value of our experiences is weighed in real-time against the value of all experiences that compete for an individual’s time/energy.

Over time our expectations of organizations and companies increases and when that doesn’t happen, our loyalty begins to shift. I hear frequently that young people aren’t loyal to Jewish life or Jewish organizations and this is principally why (not necessarily because of a lack of interest in Judaism). While it is easy to dismiss people as disengaged or disinterested, our organizations are chiefly responsible for creating experiences that can deliver value in the lives of modern-day Jews, and over time draw them into our mission, not vice versa. While people are indeed seeking meaning, deeper understanding of the world, connection to community, and spirituality, there are more experiential ways than ever to achieve this than ever before (Jewish and otherwise), and our work has to hold water in that reality.

This all should serve as the burning platform for innovation in the Jewish world, but this innovation needs to be focused and disciplined. I would like to offer three experiential tenants that can tip the scales in our favor, value Jewish organizations are uniquely poised to create. I would go as far as to recommend that every experience we create from today forward should meet these criteria.

The first is personalization. People today expect to receive a personalized experience in every industry – whether it’s Netflix serving up a personalized “up-next queue” or a shout-out from the instructor in a live Peloton cycling class, people want to know that their presence is acknowledged and valued. While it’s easy to move everything to Zoom, we must consider how we retain and create an even more personalized experience, something that is naturally lost at scale. This isn’t exclusively a principle for the virtual realm. I spent a lot of money with Apple last year, no one there has bothered to check on my wellbeing, but the Jewish organization I gave $36 to called to check in, and in turn created outsize value for me, an affirmation that they know who I am, and that I matter. Because of fluid expectations, I begin expect that level of personalized outreach broadly.

The second tenet is community. In an infinitely large experience marketplace, very few organizations or companies can actually create community. In this time of isolation, we know people are looking both to be seen as individuals but also feel the warmth of a community setting. While many organizations and companies can create top notch content, community is in our DNA as Jewish organizations, and we need to augment this core capability. I feel confident that the organizations creating authentic community during this time will become the expectation-shapers for organizations and companies of all kinds. One note of caution, community is defined by the “beholder” not the “creator;” just because we say we’re creating community does not guarantee that “our people” recognize this or see it as such.

Lastly, in every experience we create we need a strict values orientation. While we might not be able to create the flashy online experiences that a consumer company can, allowing our values to consistently shine through is much more valuable. Staying true to who we are as an organization creates connective tissue with “our people” and builds trust over time. With an innovation-mindset, rather than asking how we can create new and exciting experiences, consider asking how we should apply our values to new experiences that will deliver value.

In a world that is increasingly moving from physical to virtual, creating rich experiences that meet and exceed the expectations of those we aim to engage is what will put our organizations on the trajectory to long-term success. These shifts fit together, but one final shift must be considered, one that puts people in the driver’s seat of their own experience with our organizations – this shift from “program” to “platform” will be featured in the next week’s series finale.

Andrew Keene is a member of the Management Committee of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Andrew lives in Washington DC where he works for a consulting firm specializing in digital business transformation. He holds a business degree with a focus on entrepreneurship from Drexel University.