Lighting the Way: The Time is Now
How the Location-Based Entertainment Industry Can—and Should—Do More to Ensure a Brighter and More Prosperous Future
We live in an age of unprecedented change.
A host of converging forces—technological, social, cultural, environmental, economic—are transforming the world around us at a pace never before seen in human history.
The world is getting smaller and more interconnected. Our choices—and the external costs of our choices—are hitting closer and closer to home. Global risks, like climate change, economic stagnation and stratification, and a fractured world community, are considerable. We are being swept forward on a sea toward unknown shores. Our future is one of both tremendous promise and potential challenges—and it’s coming at us faster than we can readily comprehend.
Every one of us is facing a call to action today. How we respond to that call will define us, our careers, the balance of our lives, our children’s future, and our grandchildren’s future.
Where exactly does the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry fit into this paradigm of ever-accelerating change?
I see our industry as having two choices: We can be subjects of change or we can be agents of change.
With immense disruption comes the potential for immense opportunity. Tomorrow’s great success stories will be about the innovators who took a smarter, bolder, more holistic view of what it means to create value.
We have the power to light the way to a better, more prosperous future. Location Based Entertainment (LBE) can be one of those sources of light. Each of us has the opportunity to do more, to inspire, and to lead the way toward change.
With this article, I intend to explore some of the ways in which our industry can leverage its talents, resources, platforms, modes of engagement, marketing messages and business models to tackle the “major challenges” facing our world and drive truly transformative economic success for all. I’ll look at some of the existing and potential opportunities for our industry to affect positive, far-reaching change, for global, social, and economic well-being.
Yes, I believe that Location Based Entertainment (LBE) can change the world. You should, too.
The creative, technical, and business minds of our industry are uniquely qualified and positioned to lead proactive change. Think about it, what other medium bridges storytelling, design, technology, engineering, manufacturing, power generation, global logistics, global transportation, hospitality, food service, waste streams, marketing, financial investment models, ergonomics, human interface, human behavior, and human emotion? We work together across cultures, class, politics, and government belief systems to unite people in escaping the challenges of their daily lives.
Our business is one of human engagement and creative problem-solving. We take dreams from napkin sketches to thriving business models. We can shift the narrative about our planet’s future to one of hope and action, uniting people in a shared sense of purpose. We can provide the inspiration and innovation to drive forward progress.
A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow
In 1964, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress made its debut at the General Electric Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. A celebration of technological innovation and the promise of the future, the attraction captured the spirit of the Space Age, a sense of pride and wonder, a belief in limitless possibility. The attraction’s theme song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” embodied Walt Disney’s own boundless optimism about humanity’s potential in a marvelous world just around the bend; reflecting the deep passion for futurism that was evident in much of his work.
In the 60’s, Disney’s vision of a better future inspired and helped light the way through a decade that was fraught with uncertainty and turmoil. Disney’s passion for futurism would ignite the imaginations of a generation of future scientists and visionaries.
In a 1966 television appearance, Disney laid out his ambitious plans for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a city that in his words would “never cease to be a blueprint for the future”. While EPCOT would ultimately turn out to be something altogether different from what Disney imagined, that belief in the intrinsic promise of the future lived on, even after Disney’s death. Disney paved the way for visionaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk.
Optimism is rocket fuel. Hope—combined with action— is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The world needs its belief in a great big beautiful tomorrow renewed.
We Need to Turn Up the Yes
We need to change the message people are hearing.
Climate change, the 6th great extinction, are amongst the greatest creative and financial challenges and growth opportunities of our lifetimes. While it’s a set of circumstances no one would have asked for, the fact remains: Within every crisis exists opportunity. The opportunities—for both economic and social good—are unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Solving our challenges are about much more than just solving single issues. It is about addressing the mounting costs of decades of waste, inefficiency, and short-term choices. There’s a reason why economists describe our environmental crisis as a “market failure”. For a long time, the costs of that failure were—if not invisible—easy to distance ourselves from. We have reached the point where we can’t displace the costs any longer. Sustainability is simply business done better, capitalizing on the failures of the past. It is an act of eliminating inefficiency and optimizing value.
Taking action on the myriad of challenges we face means building a new model for long-term economic growth. The private sector will be instrumental in providing the leadership, new business models, and breakthrough innovation that will guide us into the future. The business leaders and innovators who embrace change will be the ones who enjoy sustained success.
There is profit in problem-solving. This is a message that needs to be amplified. We need to link prosperity to a broader sense of purpose. To spur meaningful action, we need to bring everybody to the table. In this way, politicians, companies, and people will get on board.
Telling a Different Story
A case in point: The dominant narrative about climate action is polarizing.
Too many view it in terms of sacrifice and unacceptable trade-offs. There is a motivational gap. There are limits to appealing to people’s sense of altruism as a business, political, and social motivator. Framing the need for climate action as a moral imperative only intensifies resistance.
Wealth, economic prosperity, and improved quality of life on the other hand, are powerful motivators. Profit is not antithetical to doing social and environmental good. Economic, social, and environmental sustainability are mutually reinforcing components of everyone’s bottom line. The key to unlocking true prosperity for society is creating a world where we achieve balance among those components. This is a vision of the future more people need to take ownership of.
A multi-pronged strategy is needed to change the message people are hearing, from one where people’s behavior is shamed and the environment is framed as a burden to one where we recognize the potential to reshape the world. By showing how social, cultural, and technological progress can create new industries, new jobs, and a better way of life, we can engage the public in a positive narrative.
This is an incredible opportunity for the entrepreneurs of the world, tech giants, fossil fuel giants, and small businesses alike to create new wealth for themselves, their countries, and class structures. There is a massive job opportunity in putting people to work rebuilding infrastructure systems.
The history of human accomplishment and ingenuity is astounding. People need to be reminded of humanity’s achievements and triumphs in the face of adversity and inspired by a new call to innovation.
Rising to Greatness
In the 1940s, a generation of Americans that had lived through the Great Depression came together in force to confront and defeat the existential threat of fascism. In the wake of the World War II, they transformed the country into an economic and technological powerhouse. Their courage, determination, imagination, and industriousness would earn them the title the “Greatest Generation”. The truth is for all their accomplishment and sacrifice there was nothing unique about the Greatest Generation as humans. They were exceptional for embracing their circumstances and their willingness to rise to the occasion, aware of how their choices would affect future generations. We share their humanity and their capability.
Our greatest successes often come from our greatest struggles. The war was won with tough, resourceful, solution-based thinking, collaboration, and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity. In war’s aftermath, we were able to come together with our former adversaries and become strong allies united around common goals. There’s no reason we cannot summon this spirit again to meet the global challenges we currently face. Humans have overcome monumental threats—war; disease; genocide; political, religious, and social upheaval. We can do it again.
Civilization is a cooperative endeavor. An existential threat is facing all of us and we all need work together to solve these challenges.
That sounds like a heavy message. It doesn’t have to be. It can be a message of positivity and promise. Our message must be about creating abundance, wealth, opportunity, and ultimately protecting the things we love – our children and our grandchildren – and, by extension, the world around us. Our responsibility is to uplift people and show them how they can make a difference— no matter the scale.
Throw Away the Box
Back in 2008, when I worked at Universal Creative, Mark Woodbury, my boss at the time, posed a question to me: How could we create a larger business model, using the skills at hand, that extended beyond theme parks? It’s a question that has stuck with me right up through the founding and operation of my own company, Raven Sun Creative. From our inception in 2012, we have looked for places where we can push the boundaries, a philosophy which has led us to pursue a variety of new avenues, including remote working systems, product development, licensing opportunties, brand partnerships, patents, collaborative revenue models and more.
We find ourselves in an era that challenges traditional business models. The ability to strategically reimagine—yourself, your business, the world around you—is something we all need to cultivate. There is so much opportunity to reinvent the world and the way we all do business. Don’t just think outside the box – Throw the box away!
Lean into the Future
According to the New Climate Economy’s 2018 report ‘Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century: Accelerating Climate Action in Urgent Times’ transitioning to a low carbon economy could mean $26 trillion in economic growth by 2030. Some economists judge that number to be a conservative estimate. By any measure, low carbon will be the biggest growth industry of this—or any — century.
Many of us in LBE have the opportunity to and travel and work all over the planet. It can change the way we look at the world and even the passage of time, affording us a larger perspective and a longer view. As we fly into cities all over the world—Rome, Athens, Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, London, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Lagos, Tokyo, New York, Washington—we can imagine ourselves at the center of time. Looking out the airplane window, we see evidence of everything humanity has done up until this point in time. Every building, every road, every brick, wire, bolt and light bulb was put there by human hand.
It is an extraordinary testament to what we can achieve and a stirring reminder of what needs to be done. The global infrastructure needs to be remade. We stand on the threshold of a 4th industrial revolution, and a new era of sustainable human progress.
Whether we choose to take a proactive approach or not, change is coming. The exponential growth of technology—digitalization, artificial intelligence, VR/AR/MR, the changing face of in-home entertainment—is certain to have huge implications for the destinations industry. Many businesses will need to reevaluate their value propositions and evolve to maintain their relevance. Now more than ever is the time for LBE lean into the future.
The LBE industry can be a standard-bearer for progress, if we choose to be. The world is ripe for our creative process and the value we can offer.
These challenges before us offer immense opportunities to convert the knowledge, systems, skills, and mass data we have access to into usable products that can have a huge impact on the world around us well as creating new avenues of employment, revenue, and profit for those willing to light the way forward.
The private sector must take a leading role in driving progress. In the past, our government has served the common good with major programs, systems, and institutions, like national infrastructure, space exploration, public transportation, military projection, and population immunization. Sadly, today there is not sufficient will in the political class to act decisively to solve our most urgent challenges.
If we are to enact meaningful change as a society, it will be private citizens and the private sector that will blaze a trail for elected officials to follow. It is up to the business and creative classes to innovate, inspire, communicate, and, ultimately, light the way.
The Case for Our Capabilities
To some, the location-based entertainment industry may not seem an obvious fit to champion a sustainable revolution. Our industry is associated with escape, leisure, artifice, and fantasy. The word “entertainment” is right there in our name. In what way are we qualified take a leadership role on serious global issues?
The way I see it, our qualifications make us uniquely suited to making a real difference in the world.
We are far more than just entertainers, of course. As a group, we span the worlds of business, the arts, marketing, engineering, and technology. Our skill set is formidable:
- Business Acumen
- Emotional Engagement
- Technical Solutions
- Marketing & Communications
We touch the public through many modes of interaction and a diverse range of platforms—museums, zoos and aquariums, galleries, events, theme parks and attractions, cultural sites, brand destinations, resorts, visitor centers, mixed-use developments, retail, parks, and other myriad forms of immersive experiences and environments. We entertain, inspire, and educate. Our medium communicates experientially in ways that maximize human engagement, impacting audiences on an emotional level.
LBE thrives on making successful business models from abstract situations. Our industry can demonstrate how to apply these strategies to generate success across industries and sectors. As competitive as business can be, our industry ethos is one of creative collaboration. By creating new alliances, brand partnerships, and business ecosystems, we can innovate and co-evolve, distribute risk, share knowledge, create new market channels, and advance a stronger and more adaptable global culture of business. We can enable brands to branch out and leverage their intellectual capital in new ways.
Why isn’t our industry being more disruptive?
Artists, storytellers, entrepreneurs, makers, and inventors have been the forces of change throughout history. When you start a business you do so because you see something missing, something that could be done better, something you can add to the world.
Those of us who started businesses did so because we saw an opportunity. We saw something missing, something that we could do it better. We saw a space to fill. Why are we being so passive? It’s as though we are waiting for people to call us, instead of taking the lead in finding, building, and executing solutions. There exists now a massive need for artists, storytellers, entrepreneurs, makers and inventors. It is within our power to ideate, invent, and monetize solutions for all the problems that face humanity. If we summon the will, we can help reinvent the economy, improve the standard of living, and usher in a new era of prosperity—for ourselves and the world.
Where Do We Start?
The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo. – Bob Iger
98% of the world works for the remaining 2%. The top 2% and the policy makers of the world have not yet shown the collective will to drive truly impactful top-down sustainability solutions. Bottom-up approaches to addressing the problem, while worthy and important, have not gathered enough widespread support or momentum to spur those in power to decisive action.
What I am proposing is a “middle-out” approach to fostering change, where the LBE industry engages in initiatives to inspire, motivate, unite, and empower the 98% while advancing the innovation and profitable business models that those at top cannot ignore. Working to influence in both directions can push us closer to a positive social and political tipping point, the moment that triggers a cascade of widespread cultural change. It is up to the entrepreneurs, business-people, local leaders, local policy makers, artists, thinkers, and public speakers of the world to unite and drive forward this message to advance a new global culture of sustainability.
There is real opportunity for us to come together and work toward something that is in our common good, not only as an industry, but for humanity as whole.
There isn’t another medium that evokes the kind of personal, emotional, physical, and group resonant response that LBE does. Experiential destinations engage people holistically—their hearts, minds, senses, and spirit—in a way that no other art form can. Immersive experiences are simply more emotional, more meaningful, more long-lasting. When taken to their fullest potenial, these experiences have the ability to communicate large complex ideas in accessible, understandable, and deeply compelling ways. A great immersive experience can be genuinely transformative.
If you can make an emotional connection with a person and give them a sense of ownership in a big idea and a sense that they can be part of something bigger, you are that much closer to changing the world.
To change the narrative to one of positivity and opportunity, we need to:
…stay on message. The message is a powerful one but it is doesn’t get sufficient volume in our currently divided culture. We must communicate simply and consistently. P3 : People – Planet – Profit . Good Environment = Good Social Well-being = Good Economy.
…use soft power to change minds and influence norms and values. Draw people in. Give them experiences of value. Attract, persuade, and empower. Entrenched negative attitudes about change aren’t altered by attack. Defensive people don’t change their minds.
…make it personal. People protect the things they love—their family, their homes, their country, those things that give them a sense of identity and well-being. These attitudes only intensify in times of uncertainty and disruption. People need to see—and feel—the connection between the well-being of the larger world and the well-being of what they hold dear.
…give them something better to be a part of. It is about generating enthusiasm—rather than a sense of shame and fear—about the future. Make them a participant and beneficiary of a vision. Give them a reason to feel united with others in a common cause.
…leverage the power of brand storytelling.
The Power of Brand Storytelling to Promote a Sustainable Future
Nature as brand. It’s not as crazy or crass a notion as it might initially sound.
The concept of “brand” may seem fundamentally at odds with a message about creating a sustainable future. It’s not. Thinking of promoting the stewardship of the natural world through branding is a matter of communication, not commodification.
David Ogilvy described brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes”. Okay, so the environment is the opposite of what we traditionally think of as a “product”. We can substitute many things for the word “product” in this case. Virtually anything can be branded—a service, an organization, a person, a movement, a city, even a country. Branding does not even require intent. In fact, branding—especially negative branding—can happen from the outside in, imposed by the public because of a common impression of the thing in question.
Brand is a matter of perception. It is about the meaning we attach to things. It is a point of emotional identification. Brand can be shaped with intent.
Everybody has personal perceptions and associations about the natural world. Many people—like me—feel a deep and profound emotional connection with nature. The fact remains that there is no strongly unifying narrative around the environment. There are many competing voices and a lot of noise. The power of brand storytelling can help change that. A well-told story can reach people and forge connections with them in a way other messages cannot.
The most successful brands in the world tap into the power of brand storytelling. Brands like Disney, Coca-Cola, Apple, and Huawei have legions of devoted brand advocates. Why? Because people identify their own aspirations within them. The brand becomes an extension of themselves.
A great brand story starts with a clear and powerful value proposition that drives the narrative. It follows the oldest story tradition on Earth, the hero’s journey. In the brand story, the customer is the hero of the tale and the brand the trusted guide and loyal companion who comes to their aid and helps them overcome their challenges and achieve success. The brand empowers and elevates the hero.
One of the most successful examples of brand storytelling in the modern world is Dubai. In fewer than forty years, Dubai has gone from a barren desert to a global luxury lifestyle destination known in every corner of the world. The brand story—powered by committed leadership and compelling marketing—provided a city literally built from scratch to fulfill the luxury aspirations of a global market.
Strange as it may seem, our natural world possesses all the essential attributes of a blockbuster brand—perhaps the ultimate brand. It has the greatest value proposition of all time: It is the source of all life, all nourishment, all resources. In a very real way, it is the original source of all value. The list of benefits is endless. It is authentic as it gets.
So, why do some people seem to more highly value and feel a stronger sense of identification with brands like Nike and Starbucks than the imperiled nature world? Ironically, one reason is because nature isn’t being sold to us. It is a given. It is also as a concept complex, abstract, and difficult to wrap our minds around. Maybe most importantly the story of our natural environment lacks an obvious aspirational component.
Brand storytelling can solve these problems. It is possible to apply the same thinking the leaders in Dubai did to create that global brand to nature itself. The aspirational vision is of a reimagined future, a greener, more prosperous, more wondrous future in which people can take a sense of ownership. The environment—and creating a new relationship with the environment—is the way to get us there. Nature is a wise mentor and a loyal companion who can give us access to an extraordinary world.
The Solutions Are in Front of Us
If anybody is equipped to lead the imagination of the public with brand storytelling, it is location-based entertainment. Experiential destinations can have the most transformative impact of any storytelling medium. We all work across class, culture, and ideology to tell stories that touch the human race. When translation and culture are far apart, we look for commonalities. We use analogies, idioms, and have the gift of being able to communicate big ideas and complex issues in moving emotional ways.
We need to think about new ways of applying technology and the modes of storytelling we already have in place to reach new audiences and engage new business sectors. We have to incentivize humanity. We need to inspire them with story. We need to remind people of the common humanity and all we share. Remind them that it a source of strength, pride, and possibility.
And yes, we need to lead by example. I am advocating intentional choices to significantly change the pattern of consumption, high investment in sustainable systems, CO2 recovery systems, plastic recovery systems, water waste reduction, and increased power efficiency. All of these technologies are opportunities to create jobs, generate solid business models and wealth for businesses, investors, and tax revenue for local and federal governments.
The reality is we will all be confronted by the same global challenges, whatever our personal beliefs. We can let go of divisions. A chance to survive and thrive, have clean water, and a decent place to live—these should not be partisan issues.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Evolution gave humans the ability to think in terms of the past and the future. It gave us an incalculable competitive advantage over the rest of the animal kingdom. Even so, for hundreds of thousands of years our survival and day-to-day concerns were mostly about the immediate. If not the immediate moment, then the immediate past, the immediate future. As valuable as learning from the past and planning for the future were, the majority of our energy was focused on the present moment.
For all our advancement, we still tend to be creatures of the moment. If anything, our world of accelerating change has compounded some of our more primitive tendencies.
We have been conditioned to expect immediate gratification. We have become so habitualized to convenience that anticipation has turned into expectation and expectation into entitlement. The culture pushes us to want more-more-more and we confuse the race to acquire mindlessly with survival. A climate of anxiety and uncertainty makes us even less inclined to look beyond the immediate needs of our hearth and home. It blunts our empathy and makes us seek safety in tribes.
The challenge is break people out of their patterns and provide them with a new view more expansive view that changes how they feel about the world and their place in it.
And let’s be honest with our contradictions.
Who I am to talk about these subjects?
The reality is nobody. I have no special secret knowledge or expertise in the areas of economics, sociology, anthropology, systems theory, or sustainability. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t read tea leaves. I cannot to predict the future.
I am focused on realizing the opportunities before us to do something to ensure a better world for my daughter and the generations to come.
I am lucky enough to have thirty years of experience in location-based entertainment having worked in virtually every area of the business—artist, fabricator, designer, creative director, and now creative entrepreneur / business owner. I mention this not to because I believe it makes me exceptional among my peers in the industry. I mention it because I am incredibly proud to be a member of the LBE community. I started on a low rung and was blessed with the opportunity to work hard, learn, and move up. It’s an opportunity I’d like to see others have. This artistic medium, this industry, and it’s eventual impact are still maturing, still seeking their full potential – and have amazing opportunities ahead.
Through LBE, I have had the privilege to travel and all over the world. It has broadened my mind, and I have found it has given me a particular perspective—it has deepened my belief that we have more in common than that which divides us, and given me the desire to help realize, if I can, better things for humanity and the planet’s collective inhabitants.
I speak not from any misplaced notion of moral authority. I would not pass a purity test. I have made—and continue to make—a lot of mistakes. I can do more. I want to do more. We can all reach out, make a small difference with someone, and that will add up to a large difference. Our lives, the people and events that have shaped them, reinforce this fact.
This isn’t an issue of politics or religion. It’s a question of survival and opportunity . I believe in the possibility of a great big beautiful tomorrow.
Which future world do we want to live in?
We have to begin building that world today.
We manifest what others cannot imagine, see, or believe. We organize it, we build it, we make it real, and we effect the human condition touching emotions and minds.
We work together across cultures, class, politics, and government belief systems to unite people in escaping the challenges of their daily lives.
Our entire collective business model is based on solving problems and developing things others can only imagine. It is up to the entrepreneurs, business-people, local leaders, local policy makers, artists, thinkers, and public speakers of the world to unite and drive forward this message in hopes the higher ups will begin to listen and enact change on a global scale.
Our industry has the power and financial models to change the message of the global narrative. We can transform lives, economies, and ecosystems. We need to move from shame, fear, and uncertainty to leading a way forward into the greatest opportunity in human history.
We need to lead a multifaceted revolution that governments, business leaders, and people can see as beneficial to themselves individually and collectively.
We are the storytellers, innovators, builders, makers, and visionaries.
We are the inventors of the future. Let’s invent a better one together.
“Ingenuity is in our DNA – and we can visualize.
What kind of future would you like to see?
What are you willing to contribute to creating that future?
Ask yourself: “ What am I willing to do?”
And not something that requires more effort than you are willing to make.
And not some small contribution that scratches the itch but does not get the job done.
Ask yourself, “ What am I willing to contribute that comes natural to me, that I can sustain until the challenge has been met?
Something that fits into my life, my profession, my hobbies , fits in with my relationships.
Something that is a part of who I am. “
Each of us is unique each of us has a gift: a strength that we can direct toward creating this world that we want to see in our future.
That we’d like to see in our kids and descendant’s future.
We love our kids right?”
-Jeff Bridges – Living in Future’s Past
The time is now
Principal / Chief Creative Officer
Raven Sun Creative Inc.