19 June 2019 | by Piotr Migdał | orginally posted at Medium | 4 min read
“You cannot create an experience, you can create [conditions] for an experience.” — Seth Minard
Last autumn, I participated in the Stone Soup, an experience design camp (30 Aug–3 Sept 2018, Przyborowo, Poland). It was the second edition, after one in California.
Post-factum, I would call it the Experience-Makers’ Experience. When describing it to people, I say “Burning Man, minus: crowd, desert, drugs or the price tag”. Is there anything left? Apparently, a lot!
There are parts of LARPs, scout camps, artsy kindergarten projects, improv theatre, and unconference-like workshops. Though, what made it special was this on-site creativity and improvisation. There was a framework, but except for supplies (food and artistic), we were left to own devices.
I got invited by Magda Jagielska, my closest friend’s closest friend. Looking at the list of participants (publicly updated as we signed up), I got intrigued. On the one hand — creative and successful people, who already contributed to curious projects in experience design. On the other — I was a bit afraid that it may turn into a “cooler than thou”-fest of self-absorbed divas (myself included).
Though, my reasoning was simple: if people sign up for some random, bottom-up improvised event, for its intrinsic value, well… then it is exactly the self-selected crowd I am looking for!
I wanted to experience things that will change my mindset/approach. “Prepare for unforeseen consequences” was not a G-man’s grim threat, it was my wish! I mean, learning a skill or two is cool. So is pure enjoyment/pleasure. Yet, not all nice is impactful, and I aimed for the later.
There was a temptation to write about all the experiences. But… I tried a few times, and it looked meek. Some things were too immersed in the mood & context, others are anything but words. The same way as an Instagram photo of a dish does not transmit its smell, taste, and texture. Unless you are have already experienced something, subtle hints won’t recall the experience.
Some examples, though:
“[A game is a] voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” — Bernard Suits
In most settings, (rightfully or not) I feel that I am one of the most creative and accomplished participants. Here… well, I felt humbled. It gave me some sense of unease… but then, it turned into appreciation and gratitude.
“[Fear of missing out is] a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” — Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out
We all know that. FOMO is the (attention) locust of our times.
Creative chaos meant that a lot of workshops were either called off or took place in an unpredictable time or place. Combined with the lack of the Internet (there was a bit, but unreliable) first it was uneasy… then I embraced that. Without distractions, focusing on the quality of experience, wandering in the forest, or… (what was the most profound) a time when I don’t have do *anything* yet I am not distracted.
There were burning man-style extraverts. When I saw them I understood the no-drug policy. Such types, who want to interact often (and in an expressive way) are surely super-interrupting when high and want to join all activities.
But what I find more interesting, is the introverts who flourish. I mean, I adore interacting with people who normally are solitary wanderers. Furthermore, there were quiet and shy participants, glowing with joy when they find something interesting, or when they “transform” into their stage persona. For the same reason, often FB/Instagram profiles were not indicative of everyday modes.
(I don’t know how to express that in words, but there is something
about being authentic, closeness and connection.)
Most of the experiences (especially not workshop-style) work the best when
there is an element of surprise. Since we organized things on the spot, in impromptu squads, conspiring with co-creators. Gathering new creators, people knowing something-but-not all, and people being purposefully unaware, yet — sensing that there is something going on.
It took me 2–3 days to decompress. I felt sadness and emptiness. Partly because it was over, and I started missing people. Mostly, I guess, because of an expected “neurotransmitter depletion” I consistently get after long, intense experiences.