A List of Our Own

Since my October 2006 hardcopy issue of Fast Company just arrived in yesterday’s mail, I like to bid farewell to the September issue — and its stellar list of Customer First award winners, honorable mentions, and local heroes — with some commentary my own portfolio of exemplary businesses (which as you’ll see, overlap with FC’s chosen few).


Let me note that FC’s Customer First winner American Girl was the recipient of our (Strategic Horizons LLP) first ever Experience Stager of the Year (EXPY) award back in 1999. (Actually, its flagship experience, the first American Girl Place in Chicago, was honored with the award.)

We announce the EXPY winner each year at our annual thinkAbout event. Here is a list of EXPY winners to date, which I share as a means to encourage you to learn more about these exemplary experience-stagers.

1999 – Geek Squad

2001 – Joie de Vivre Hospitality

2002 – The LEGO Company

2003 – Cerritos Library

2004 – Charthouse Learning

2005 – HOK Sport + Venue + Event

2006 – Cereality
Cereality, our EXPY winner this year, was picked by Fast Company as (understandably) just a Local Hero, as the company only has three outlets to date. Indeed, Joe Pine and I have a tendency to risk making premature picks, before waiting to observe actual commercial success, as we want to practice what we preach in terms of experience innovation. Mattel had just acquired American Girl in 1998. Would the giant maker of plastic toys spell the demise of the education-based doll maker? (So far, so good.) The Geek Squad had less than two dozen special agents at the time they won the 2000 EXPY; today, over 12,000 agents roam the globe helping to alleviate the world’s computer problems. We awarded Chip Conley’s JDV the 2001 EXPY less than two months after 9-11, knowing full well that the hospitality industry would be hit hard in the economic aftermath of that horrific day. LEGO was being trashed in the media in 2002; we saw their new portfolio of experience offerings as a move that would pay dividends down the road. (Indeed it has.) A public library? You have to visit the place to fully comprehend the impact that the Cerritos Library has had in its community. Seattle’s library may have attracted more architectural press, but Cerritos is clearly the leading exemplar of staging compelling library experiences, not just erecting acclaimed buildings. Charthouse’s Fish! offerings can be wrongly forced down employees necks, but Charthouse truly points the way in helping to stage more compelling human performances. And just when one thinks HOK has seen the end of its run in innovating large-scale assembly venues, it goes off an invents the first retractable field in the (now) University of Phoenix Stadium for the NFL Cardinals.

Viewed together with FC’s lists of exemplary businesses, all these wonderful enterprises merely scratch the surface in depictig the experience innovation entering today’s marketplace. Be such a company. Fast.