#758: Experiential Design for Corporate Consulting, Organizational Transformation, & Cultivating Culture with SYPartner’s Ida Benedetto

ida-benedettoIda Benedetto gave the opening keynote of the Immersive Design Summit where she shared some of the work that she’s doing as an experiential designer as a corporate consultant at SYPartners working with companies on organizational transformation and cultivating a company culture that’s aligned to their mission statement. I’ve previously interviewed Benedetto in episode #558 on her design patterns for transformation where she looked at sex parties, funerals, and outdoor adventures as all having similar risk that provided a ripe context for personal transformation. She distilled down the common elements into a framework that she explains on her site called Patterns of Transformation.

Benedetto has also been personally exploring a lot of more transgressive spiritual practices focused on transformation as she continues to explore the frontiers of transformational practices from the more esoteric corners of culture. She’s been starting to integrate some of these practices into her work as she guided everyone at the Immersive Design Summit on a shamanic journey to help attendees get in touch with some of their more intuitive insights that go beyond the rational brain. She’s hoping to discover some of the deeper and more universal experiential design elements, and then apply them to helping to solve really pragmatic organizational transformation and the cultivation of company culture that’s aligned to a deeper meaning and purpose.

I spoke to Benedetto at the Immersive Design Summit after her opening keynote where we talk about how she’s bringing these experiential design principles into Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks, what she thinks are some of the fundamental components of individual and cultural transformation, and how experiential design is being used to bring about real change through the work of corporate consultants like SYPartners.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So I had a chance to attend the Immersive Design Summit in February, which is one of my favorite conferences of the year, mostly because it's bringing together all these experiential designers from immersive theater and brand managers and marketing and a lot of people from technology, augmented and virtual reality, looking at the future of immersive storytelling. And the Immersive Design Summit's really looking at experiential design abstractly, all the different use cases and applications of experiential design. So the opening keynote speaker of the Immersive Design Summit was Ida Benedetto. And you may remember her from my previous interview in episode 558, talking about sex, death, and survival, experiential design patterns for transformation. So Ida's really concerned about transformation and what does it take to have these transformative experiences. And she had this trespass adventures where she would take people to an abandoned honeymoon hotel and have an entire evening there with people where they weren't actually allowed to be there. So they were trespassing, but it was creating this context where it was putting real things at risk. But in that context, there seemed to be this transformative potential. It seemed to be more powerful of an experience than other experiences that weren't having those levels of transgression. So Ida started to look at this and she wanted to figure out what are the key elements of these transformative experiences. And so she focused in on sex, death, and survival. So she looked at sex parties and funerals and outdoor adventures to see what were the common elements of risk and what are the larger experiential design patterns that she could learn from these experiences. Ida is also during her day job, she works at SY Partners. And so she's a corporate consultant going into different companies like Starbucks and helping to train all of their Starbucks employees into these diversity training or these embodied experiential exercises to help teach these different principles of diversity and inclusion. And also going in and helping C-level executives do these organizational transformation to be able to transform their culture and to cultivate culture. So this is something that a lot of companies face in terms of trying to cultivate their own sense of culture, but it's also something that people within any virtual reality community is going to have to face, which is how do you design the individual practices that is enforcing a certain amount of culture that is in alignment with your deeper purpose for why you're even gathering in the first place. So we're covering all that and more on today's episode of the WSYS VR podcast. So this interview with Ida happened on Friday, February 22nd, 2019 at the Immersive Design Summit in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:43.715] Ida Benedetto: My name is Ida Benedetto, and I am an experienced designer. I've designed a lot of adventures and rituals, and some of them get immersive because we are in vibrant, interesting spaces or doing things that are kind of full-body experiences in one form or another.

[00:02:58.619] Kent Bye: Great. So you gave the opening keynote here at the Immersive Design Summit, so maybe you could talk a little bit about what you were trying to communicate to the broader community of immersive designers.

[00:03:09.621] Ida Benedetto: I was invited to give the opening keynote based on a bunch of research I did, which we've talked about on an earlier interview that you were so generous to do. The research is called Patterns of Transformation, Designing Sex, Death, and Survival in the 21st Century. I was trying to get at what makes social experience transformative. I did that by comparing sex parties, funerals, and wilderness trips. I got to those by a process of deduction. I wrote a definition of experience design, which is the creation of experiences for the purpose of entertainment, persuasion, recreation, and human enrichment, where the emotional journey of the group or individual is the focus. And when I realized I was most interested in human enrichment, I kind of crossed off a bunch of other experiences on my list, and I was left with sex parties, funerals, and wilderness trips. And so in looking at those, I realized that there were common components across all of those, and that as designers of experiences that are ideally transformative, if you're conscientious of those different components, being risk, the magic circle, the structure of the experience, and the nature of the transformation, you can be much more precise in your design decisions. And so I've all written up online. And what's kind of happened since I've done that research and put it up is, you know, again, kind of backed myself into surprising path for at least I find it surprising of doing what I call spiritual trespassing. I kind of got so close to the fundamental human elements that really come to the fore in these very like risky, challenging experiences that I ended up getting in touch with spiritual components and have been doing a lot of exploration of different spiritual practices that are very embodied, very revelatory in their nature. So this includes things like shamanic journeying. And so I ended the keynote by inviting everybody to try out a shamanic journey with me to connect with their power animal and see what they were at the Immersive Design Summit to do.

[00:05:02.958] Kent Bye: Well, one of the phrases that you had used was writing down to the metal. Maybe you could expand on the origins of what that means and how you interpret that in terms of what it means to write down to the metal for designing for the human experience.

[00:05:15.131] Ida Benedetto: So that phrase was something that Noah Nilsson brought up when he and I were chatting about our keynote. He was like, oh, it's like you're writing down to the metal. And that's a term that comes from programming. And it's when the code that you're writing is actually interfacing with the physicality of the machine of the computer, as opposed to interacting with software layers, which are just other layers of codes on top of it. For some folks who are doing immersive design, it really is kind of entertainment, recreation, it might not be getting down to that level. But for some of us, we are getting down to the level of writing to the metal of the human experience. And like, what does that mean? And what is the potential there? And those are really open questions that I pose to the audience. But I think it's important to consider and to make ourselves available to because some of us are developing skill sets that are really appropriate to that. And we can address very deep human needs with those skills. And I would hate for this moment of increasing success in the field to mean that we give up on those possibilities too. I think both are great, but like, let's keep that really like core challenging, fundamentally human element. And for me, that's come out a lot in what I call the spiritual trespassing for other folks that might manifest slightly differently. But that's what I was getting at with this notion of writing down to the metal.

[00:06:25.593] Kent Bye: It seems like that both in the realm of immersive theater, virtual and augmented reality, we're creating these immersive experiences, and then we're experiencing them, and then we're trying to find what is the most compelling aspect of that, and then find these higher-level design patterns, almost like these archetypal elements of what the human experience even is. it seems to me a little bit of an open philosophical question. If you were to like walk up to a philosopher and say, can you give me a comprehensive framework for the human experience? And I think they would maybe be hard pressed to be able to come up with a holistic vision of that. I think you're able to boil it down to these each individual component parts, but how those all come together, it feels like what these immersive experiences are doing is that you're in some ways coming up with these more agile or lean approaches of testing these ideas of what your sense of what the nature of reality is, but you're actually, doing it with a very specific intention, which is to try to give someone an experience and then to either make it transformative or modulate it in some specific way. So that's how at least I think of it. And I don't know if that's matching with your own experience of your own process of trying to come up with higher order patterns of what it means to be human.

[00:07:29.588] Ida Benedetto: That was a dense question, Kent. Let me think about where to start. I would say that something that's core to a lot of my research and my trajectory of creating work is that there is some element of risk or some kind of like larger animating force that is present in the experience that is not something that is actually contained within the experience. And I wonder how much that differs from other immersive forms, you know, where it's like, very much fiction, very much kind of like fabricated and constructed and so you don't necessarily have these elements like you're in a room full of people who are turned on so you're dealing with this element of human sexuality or you're in an abandoned building and like actively breaking the law and like don't actually know everything that's going on in this building that you're not supposed to be in. Or in the case of the spiritual trespassing, it's like I go on shamanic journeys, you know, I rattle my rattle and experience a percussive sound and it's like anything could come up. So like there are techniques that I bring to those contexts, but like the nature of the context and the larger kind of challenge and potential of that context is something that I feel very humble and reverent before. And so I actually see the creation of these experiences, immersive or otherwise, you know, my relationship to the term immersive is kind of loose, but it's really about creating an interface to something that we otherwise do not have access to, you know, for very normal reasons that we all have to construct our day-to-day lives so that they're navigable and livable. And so to step outside of that, something would have to shift and change. And I see experience design being a very potent way to go about that, so that we don't fully lose touch with things that modern civilized society is easier to navigate without. And it's okay that on the day-to-day it's easier to navigate without those things, but that doesn't mean that we should lose touch with them completely.

[00:09:11.516] Kent Bye: One of the things I found fascinating about some of the experiences that you had the whole group of immersive designers do this morning was it seemed to be that you're really trying to get at different information and insights that are coming from more of your unconscious self rather than your conscious mind. And you asked us a question as to why you're here, and then I had a very specific answer. And then you led us in this whole shamanic journey, and then on the other side of it, I had a whole other answer that was almost completely opposite to what I thought I was here for. So there seemed to be like this polarity between the conscious and the unconscious. And there seem to be these practices are part of these immersive experiences are getting access to maybe these things that are hard to articulate, but we can kind of feel it in our gut or in our intuitions. So I'm just curious, like how you make sense of this polarity between the conscious and the unconscious.

[00:09:56.400] Ida Benedetto: I think the best way to handle it is to not try and make sense of it. I think that the sense-making impulse is so conscious that if you operate too heavily in that sphere, then those components are never going to be fully in dialogue. So what comes up for me during a shamanic journey, it's like, again, it sometimes feels like lucid dreaming. It could be like dream logic. And I just have to take a very loose and relaxed approach to it so that the actual meaning of that in my life can kind of show up and manifest, because it's not something that my conscious mind can wrap itself around fully. And something that I've found in playing with this stuff is like, I try really hard to be in touch with my intuition. And you know, my intuition is very different than my intellect. You know, I can run a narrative with my intellect and my intuition, my like kind of embodied felt experience of something is doing something else. And then I go and do shamanic journeying or whatever it is, whatever spiritual trespassing it is, and something else entirely comes up. So I'm actually grappling with three different possibilities. And so which part of that is the unconscious? I'm not entirely sure. I can keep rambling about this, but I want to make sure I'm answering your question.

[00:10:54.558] Kent Bye: No, yeah. And to me, I find the sort of tension of the opposites, the polarity points is really interesting there. For me, it's almost like this alchemical principle, those opposites trying to be reconciled. And there seems to be some sort of dialectic that's happening there between what you think you're doing and why you're doing it versus this information that's coming from altered states of consciousness or from these practices to tap into your insights of your unconscious and more imagery or symbolic form. It seems to be like a similar dialectic between the word and the image. You don't know exactly the meaning of some of the images that you may have in a dream, but it's up to you to kind of draw out those associations and see if that's giving you additional insight that's creating this tension of opposites.

[00:11:32.605] Ida Benedetto: Yeah, I see what you're going for now. I really set the talk up to give people a minute to connect with their conscious intentions and desires so that they could experience that difference. And that difference, it might fully resonate and confirm their conscious desires or come in contrast like what your experience was. And my experience is usually that whatever comes up, I'm surprised by or is different. And so it might not be a complete polarity, but it's something other and something that I didn't have access to otherwise. And so that's what's really joyful about the practice. And also challenging because it's like, well, damn, what do I do with this now? You know? Yes. So I set the talk up deliberately because not everybody knows how to kind of go into that really open space of possibility with like complete openness to discover what is there. But you can kind of get in touch that there is an important difference or challenge or potential if you note where you're starting and what you go in with and how different the place might be that you come out.

[00:12:27.195] Kent Bye: Yeah, to me, I think of it in terms of the Kronos time versus Kairos time, where there's something that's almost very linear and left brain. It's very fixed and scheduled and preplanned. And yet there's the unplanned serendipity and synchronicity of the Kairos time that's more about the quality. And so it seems like immersive experiences are about getting us out of the trance state of technology and all of these structured ways of thinking of our mind and trying to get a lot more embodiment and in some ways tuned into our intuition. So we're making these small choices but are leading to these moments where the external reality is matching what we're feeling on the inside and that there seems to be something that's somewhat magical about that experience that I think is fueling a lot of these immersive experiences. And so I don't know if you found that personally or how you make sense of that dialectic of creating those serendipitous moments.

[00:13:17.215] Ida Benedetto: Yeah, there is a real sense of flow that you can experience when you let your internal Kairos time match the external Kairos time instead of tying yourself to a clear schedule and structure and that sense of flow can be really magical because then it's like things kind of line up in ways that are inexplicable and so that's really lovely. And yeah, immersive experiences, interactive theater, all of this, it creates a very varied and open play space that is so different from the way we usually engage with entertainment or media, which does have so much linearity to it that I think it's opening up really fun new possibilities for creating that harmony in terms of the internal felt intuitive experience and what's actually going on in your external world.

[00:14:02.688] Kent Bye: Well, one of the other discussions that came up in the second talk today was this dialectic between business and the art, and the pragmatism of actually paying for it or solving business needs, but also the more artistic, creative impulse of trying to make a very strong statement without being compromised by aspects of the money, and there seems to be a growing tension within the immersive community in that way. And it sounds like that you've been able to find a job where you're able to do that in the context of those businesses, but to be able to bring in these immersive informed types of practices and experiments, but doing in a way that's actually solving very specific business needs. I'm just curious if you could kind of talk about how, what you're doing and how that fusion is kind of coming together with what you do as a profession.

[00:14:46.808] Ida Benedetto: So my day job is at SY Partners, which is a consultancy. We focus on organizational transformation, and we usually work exclusively with C-suite or top leaders at very high-impact organizations. And so throughout the company's whole history, long before I got there, The vast majority of the strategy was delivered through embodied experiences, be they immersive meetings or different kinds of like what we call like seeing tours in terms of getting out into the world and encountering stuff. And so this is really baked into the DNA of SY Partners. And it's so different than entertainment arts because organizations are coming to us because there is a business need to make some sort of change, but that change is internal to the company and the change is usually very close to whatever the purpose of the company is or the internal culture. And so we're not operating on this business model where it's like transactional around the experience or selling tickets or like headcount and seats. It is a completely different metric. And I think that that creates a very different relationship to the experience that we are creating, the intended impact on the participants. Now, a lot of the participants are there because their boss told them to be there. And so that's also a very different relationship. It's like, how do we make that work? Or, you know, even if they've chosen to be there, they feel these pressures of like there needs to be some sort of results in their external world, but that change actually has to start in them. And so it's a very unusual place to be in and to be doing work, but I love it because again, even if it's in companies, it's interior to companies. And so that alchemy of transformation and that relationship to the experience can have like a richness and in some cases ideally a magic to it that doesn't always happen in experiences where you have to like justify a ticket sale or use it to kind of like have results in terms of products sold because branding reasons and that kind of thing. And so it's a very unique place to be in for that reason.

[00:16:40.378] Kent Bye: Yeah, and how do they measure impact or metrics for success in these types of partnerships with SY partners? I mean like how do they know that it's working?

[00:16:49.835] Ida Benedetto: That's a great question and we have many different answers to that question. So there's not one, there's not a strong relationship to numbers in terms of how you measure the impact again because the change is around the internal culture and purpose of the organization. So it tends to be more alchemical than like a balance sheet would show. But there are many instances where the impact that we've had on the companies is like clearly of financial benefit. Starbucks and Weight Watchers are two big ones that come to mind where it's like you can actually like measure the success of the company based on work that we have done with them. But many companies come to us and the kind of change that they experience internally because of our work, like how do you draw the connection between that and the business case of where the company is at, it's not a straight line. And so it's really through the vision and trust of the leaders that hire us and them seeing a nuance in the kind of change that we can bring to their organization that they take the leap with us. It's very different than hiring a Boehner or a McKinsey. The analogy I've heard people use which feels very apt is that Bain, McKinsey, those kinds of management consultancies are more the surgeons for organizations and we are more the psychologists. And I would argue in certain cases we edged into it being the shamans for these organizations. Yeah.

[00:18:02.735] Kent Bye: Wow. And so I'm wondering if you have any specific examples you can talk about in terms of like a problem that a company would be coming to you and then what it would look like in terms of having these immersive embodied experiences that are trying to get cultural shifts, which in essence is the individual psychologies and beliefs of individuals, but aggregating somehow mysteriously into this culture and how do you really start to turn the knobs to be able to shift culture by changing individuals and how you do that through these embodied experiences?

[00:18:33.622] Ida Benedetto: There was the one example which I touched on very briefly in my talk but I've expounded on more in other contexts was an activity that we ended up calling Walk the Line that I worked on with a team at SY Partners and they were confronting the challenge in the client organization where the changes the organization was going through was so radical that the members of the leadership team started to kind of like turn their backs on each other a little bit because they felt so personally and individually threatened in their role and in their expectations that they stopped kind of trusting each other because they felt so threatened. And so it made it really hard for us to do the larger work of like how they needed to impact the organization as a whole. And so I was brought in to help the team figure out what exercise would actually help them confront these behaviors in a way that is challenging enough that they have to face them, but empathetic and gentle enough that they can face them fully. And so we created this exercise where they would come into our lab in the office in New York and we gave them all blindfolds. And this was in the context of a larger kind of two-day summit. Gave them all blindfolds. They had to stand with their back against the wall and put the blindfolds on and respond by stepping forward to any of a series of statements if something was true. if they saw people hoarding resources from other departments or bad-mouthing leaders outside of meetings, things like that. And then they would take their blindfolds off and see that nobody still had their back against the wall. So everybody had seen those behaviors in one form or another, but you didn't know who stepped forward for what. In the next round, you had to step forward if you yourself had propagated any of those behaviors. And I remember just feeling the energy just sink in the room. And so people would step forward, and they weren't individually implicated, but they were collectively implicated, because they would take their blindfolds off. Nobody was as forward as they were in the first round, but they could see, again, nobody still had their back against the wall. And that was all leading up to this final round of stepping forward if you felt any of a series of fears. Fears like you were faking it to make it, fears like you couldn't trust the other leaders in the room. And again, nobody still had their back against the wall, and so it just kind of stripped down the layers of defenses that people had in a way that helped bind them together. And then from there, it shifted into an activity of like, well, what positive behaviors do they as a leadership team want to espouse? And so that's an instance of doing an experience that is very embodied and very vulnerable, but very much in alignment with what that leadership team needs and what the larger organization needs from them in that moment.

[00:20:56.138] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm really noticing the dynamic of the private and public because you are allowing people to make these individual decisions. If they didn't have the blindfolds, it would then be a public accountability where because they're blindfolded, they could collectively all move forward. So everybody's participating and everybody's culpable. But yet you're allowing people to see that they're all participating in this but without having to identify individuals and have some sort of like accountability process or that and so there seems to be like these collective decisions that are driving a culture that maybe everybody's participating in whether consciously or unconsciously and I guess I'm trying to figure out like what is the process by which you transform is it have to be a collective group like you have to do it as a whole and society of the entire team and do these types of group processes that emphasize the group dynamics of that rather than trying to just focus it on what the power of an individual can do.

[00:21:51.887] Ida Benedetto: I mean in these cases because we're dealing with complex organizations it really does have to be a collective experience in some form or another. Another project I think of that I had the honor to work on was the Starbucks anti-bias training. So we did pretty much all of that in collaboration with some really fantastic experts in the diversity and inclusion space. But we had a long-running deep relationship with Starbucks so when Someone was arrested in one of their stores because they didn't buy anything right away and because they were a person of color Starbucks decided to respond on a system-wide level and so it wasn't about Singling out any individual bad behavior, but it was about running absolutely every partner on the ground and they called it people who work in the stars partners through a training that would ideally change the DNA of the organization in terms of the relationship around issues of diversity and inclusion because of this incident that happened because Starbucks didn't want to let it happen again. So that's an instance of very much a kind of like collective group reckoning that again is not meant to single anybody out but meant to change the DNA of the organization. There was another project that I did recently for the Chan Zuckerberg initiative where I was asked to do an activity about authentic communication. How do you get an entire organization to change their relationship to authentic communication, which again is about managing vulnerability with each other in a different way. And if one person changes, that's not actually enough. It needs to be a system of participation that everybody opts into in one form or another, or everybody is at least available to learn something that can actually be very challenging. if the organization in the past was set up to reward different kinds of behaviors.

[00:23:29.826] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it's also curious to hear as you're doing this type of work in these companies and corporations doing these embodied exercises with this real transformative potential at a cultural level and then on the weekends you're kind of experimenting but also potentially prototyping different transformative experiences either for yourself or for groups and what I am curious about is whether or not you see this trend of if we're moving from the information age to the experience age and if the next thing is the transformation age then are there going to be like these group transformative experiences or if you think it has to go to the individual and be personal transformation Or if there's a way to do group transformative experiences in a way that maybe isn't putting your life at risk, like this element of risk. It's like, how much do you want to put your skin in the game in order to have this transformation? And if like how you see that kind of moving forward and when it comes to immersive design.

[00:24:30.488] Ida Benedetto: Well, I think in terms of the collective versus the individual, I think it has everything to do with the application, you know, like anybody as an individual might seek out some sort of transformative change in their life because they feel alienated from something and they can feel the kind of like pain and frustration of that alienation and that might come from just their cultural circumstances of how they live, or it might come from an acute event that happened to them that left them hurt and debilitated in some way, and they need to address that. And so in those cases, that's really like an individual transformative thing, which can happen in group context or not. Like the research I did with patterns of transformation in each of those experiences, I looked at sex parties, funerals, wilderness trips. Like, I think probably only in the case of the funeral, would you actually like need the collective to get somewhere different because they probably all have some relation to each other. But how they get there is like much looser than say the work that we're doing in these organizations where there is like an organizational vision about where they as a collective need to end up. And so the techniques and the focus and the goals there are quite different and so the organization might not be as invested in like individual transformation. The savvy ones are because they understand that like friction or disharmony in terms of one's internal world versus one's external world actually like is not the best way to get the best out of people. And so how do you reconcile that? And I think that even an interest in that on organizational levels in the context of these big companies is a sign that we're getting to the transformation age. So I think it varies very much in terms of how much companies want to be doing that internally for individuals, but they recognize the need to kind of like change the DNA of their organizations in order to kind of like be present and keep pace and that's really a cultural issue internally. You can't change the purpose of the company and expect the company to just kind of get on board with that without some process of reckoning with what that new purpose means and how people need to be differently with each other so that they can be different for however the organization is operating in the world.

[00:26:30.597] Kent Bye: You think that's like each person has to really believe in that mission and do their own part to form like this symphony or orchestra of everybody playing their own part to serve this larger purpose that as an entity they're trying to bring about change or have a deeper intention for why they exist or deeper purpose and that these practices it seems like they're trying to create these alignments and these companies get out of alignment with that and then the SY partners has kind of figured out how to bring alignment to the deeper intention of an individual but also the collective.

[00:26:59.268] Ida Benedetto: Yeah that's a great summation of like a big piece of what SY Partners does and I don't think the individual ever needs to be like completely and fully in alignment with the organization they are working for but the closer they can get obviously the more actualized anybody would be in their job. So that kind of goes back to this one of the ways I started my talk where it's like stand up if you're doing your dream job and it's like if you're doing your dream job there's a perfect alignment in terms of like your internal needs and like the overt goals of the organization or maybe not even the goals but the goals of like kind of your immediate team or your immediate tasks you know and so like that's always a great place to be in. Can every organization promise that all the time? No and that's why they need to hire organizations like SY Partners to kind of like come in and like do that kind of like work to help get things back in alignment.

[00:27:45.668] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I was at Sundance, I talked to Kathy Bisbee. She runs the public VR lab out of Boston, and she said that she was at the Future of Storytelling and was hearing brand managers talk about what she considered to be essentially like community organizing, and she's been a community organizer all of her life. there seems to be these brand managers who are looking at what's happening in the immersive space and wanting to gather people together. And I know in your keynote, you mentioned about these different practices for creating a context and gathering and really facilitating that community networking and connection. And so just curious to hear how you see that playing out and the importance of gathering communities together.

[00:28:23.495] Ida Benedetto: Well, in the case of the reference I made during my keynote, I was referencing the work of Priya Parker and her book, The Art of Gathering, and she's, because she's bringing this really robust background in conflict resolution, the things that she recommends in terms of gatherings, and she's talking about very broadly, it could be a gathering inside of a company, it could be, you know, your kid's birthday party, like really anything, and that identifying the purpose of the gathering and moving towards that purpose, and even having like a disputable purpose so that people come up with like a stake or an opinion brings the heat to the gathering and that when people can bring the heat in terms of the friction and the difference they actually are more likely to find the ways that they're similar and can get along but it's only by bringing that heat not pretending it's there not starting kumbaya that you can actually like get to someplace really powerful and I think that there's something quite Radical in her work because like we're in a moment in America. We're like as a society were incredibly fractured and so if you can get that impulse in that DNA back into how we gather that Appetite for being clear about your purpose that appetite for moving towards the heat And even the appetite for like being specific enough that like each gathering is really for some people but not for everybody this kind of mindful active like excluding the right people so that the people that are there are fully there. Like these are actually pretty controversial notions to bring into how we gather. And I see the potential being like a really kind of strengthening of the American fabric amid all of this discord and amid all of these challenges with connecting to each other. And so that's what really excites me about Priya's work. And that's why I was so honored to be among the folks interviewed for that book.

[00:30:00.829] Kent Bye: Let me talk a little bit about what you were sharing with her based upon your experiences of gathering people together.

[00:30:07.243] Ida Benedetto: Yeah, well, you know, she interviewed me again because of my work with Sextant Works. We were creating experiences in places you aren't supposed to be doing these trespass adventures. And so somebody referred her to us as like the transgression consultant she needs to talk to. And so a lot of our work was around, yeah, this notion of transgression and how if you're going to like, if the whole premise of the experience in the case of the trespass adventures, like involves a transgression, then like what you give yourself permission to do in the context of those experiences is so much more. And that, we carry that forward in terms of our design process of like well what's the thing what like where does transgression actually like create a sense of like new possibility and liberation and so if you start with the question of like what are people avoiding like what's the thing they can't approach and like what's the gift in actually being able to confront that or approach that then you're creating something that is like actually getting at a core need. And so she was interviewing me along those lines, and it was while I was doing the research for Patterns of Transformation. So all those ideas were really fresh in me, but I hadn't quite solidified them. And in some ways, she's articulated my research in a more beautifully distilled and crystallized fashion than I did, which is always the reason to be in dialogue with folks about this stuff.

[00:31:18.050] Kent Bye: Great. And so for you, what are some of the either biggest open problems you're trying to solve or open questions you're trying to answer?

[00:31:25.212] Ida Benedetto: Well, I'm really in the middle of this spiritual trespassing adventure. And so I don't really know what that is amounting to. And again, I have the freedom to not know what it's amounting to because I have this really interesting, stable day job. And so there's a lot of play and exploration happening there. But I'm just like, wait, what am I doing? At some point, I got through a weekend. And I'm like, I have two certificates. I have a certificate for Reiki and a certificate for conflict resolution training. What am I doing? Like I didn't even know I was going to end up with all these certificates. So that's, I mean, that's more personal in terms of like, what am I soaking up? What does this amount to? And I'm just indulging in the fact that I don't have to have bigger answers for that or be accountable to anybody about that right now. I know that's a very selfish answer, but I don't know. Check back in in a year and we'll see what's up.

[00:32:15.580] Kent Bye: Cool. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive experiences are and what they might be able to enable?

[00:32:24.780] Ida Benedetto: I think the ultimate potential is to get us to relate to our bodies and each other and how we order and reason through life differently because, you know, they are active and they are participatory and they are immersive. There's an extent to which whatever we kind of do or let ourselves do or take out of those experiences can bleed into real life in a really exciting way. And I think that that's relevant whether you're doing some of the weird extreme stuff that I seem to gravitate towards or you're buying a ticket for some entertainment recreation thing that has been beautifully polished. I think having to be in our bodies, having to relate and engage and play with each other and do that actively changes a lot. And I'm excited to see where it goes.

[00:33:08.983] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:33:14.426] Ida Benedetto: I'm glad to be a part of it. And let's see where we go.

[00:33:18.058] Kent Bye: Awesome, great. Well, thank you so much.

[00:33:19.440] Ida Benedetto: Sure. Thank you, Kent.

[00:33:21.462] Kent Bye: So that was Ida Benedetto. She's the creator of patternsoftransformation.com, which is looking at sex, death, and survival in the 21st century, but also a corporate consultant at S-Way Partners, going in and doing these various different embodied exercises that are aimed towards organizational transformation and cultural change. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I think the work that Ida is doing here is some of the most interesting that's happening in all of the immersive industry, largely because it's focusing on transformation. And that's something that is a personal interest of mine is what does it take to actually transform individual consciousness or collective culture? And this is something that she's actively working with these companies who are hiring SY partners to come in and to help consult them to bring about these deeper organizational changes. And the reason why I think that's important is because there's these real business cases and there's a real need to have these embodied experiences because these experiences that are helping to form culture, they're helping to provide an experience that allows a context for people to have larger discussions to be able to bring about larger change. And I think it's finding those common grounds and finding that shared context that's allowing them to break through and to bring these deeper changes. Because just the example that she was giving in terms of having these levels of toxic culture, you know, there's parts in which everybody's culpable and participating in that toxicity, but at the same time, they feel the effects of that toxicity from other people. And so if you were to just get people into a room and to not go through this whole embodied exercise where they're blindfolded, where they have a sense of privacy to say, yeah, actually we're all participating and co-creating this culture that's really toxic. If they didn't do that, they would be starting to point fingers and blame, and it just kind of shuts down this level of authentic sharing to see that maybe they're actually a part of the problem that exists in the culture, and that at the end of the exercise, there's nobody that had their back against the wall in terms of observing the behavior, and certainly nobody with their back against the wall once they went through all the different ways in which people were participating and co-creating that toxic culture. So just the idea that you could take these types of embodied experiences and that it would be different, like qualitatively different than doing an intellectual lecture. This is like a shared experience people are having. So from the own embodied experiences, they're able to have a shared context where maybe the context had been fragmented in different ways based upon the lack of trust that had been cultivated within some of the dynamics within these companies. So whether it's corporate training at Starbucks, which, you know, is trying to bring about these ideas of diversity and inclusion to the entirety of all of Starbucks employees, where they, they shut down all of Starbucks to basically have these training days. And that's the importance that they saw, but also the C-level executives where the communication patterns had broken down within their own interpersonal dynamics or. There's a deviation from a sense of shared purpose for why they're doing what they're doing. There's this sense of mission and purpose that is the company purpose. And if there's alignment for each individual to see what they want to do in their own career, you want to have that alignment so you can have that cohesive culture and that sense of shared mission. Because cultivating a culture and a community is not an easy thing. I've been a part of startups, I've been a part of different communities, and when I was working at a startup called Puppet Labs, they had essentially more than doubled in size in the time that I had been there. There was less than 150 employees that were there, and there were close to 400 people by the time that I had left. And so there's something about like the Dunbar number of 150 people that you can have a sense of like shared culture and community from that small group of people. But once you start to get larger than that, it starts to become very difficult to have that sense of collective culture that's a part of the entire company, unless you have regular gatherings and meetings and rituals and stories and jokes and all those subtle ways that you actually have no control over how that actually plays out with each individual. And it becomes the responsibility for everybody that's in that culture to propagate and support and to enforce those rules. So anybody that has an immersive community has to figure out how to come up with this alchemy of all the different elements in order to cultivate that level of community, to have that distinct vision and purpose, and to have people align with that purpose and to help to create an environment that's not toxic. Now, of course, there's always, in the context of virtual and augmented reality, there's always going to be some level of technological tools in place to be able to help protect people from harassment, or to be able to block people, or to declare their personal space, or to maybe mute people, and to deal with the bad actors who are trying to be simply disruptive. So in order to cultivate these types of healthy communities, you need to have those types of tools. But the extreme of that is that if you start to then do AI moderation, where you're monitoring everything that everyone ever says, and you have these artificial intelligence that's trying to discern if there's some sort of protocol that's violated in terms of the spirit of the code of conduct, and So, you know, there's a lot of ways in which that is going to be playing out. And each company has to figure out how to strike that balance between the technological tools that are going to be able to help monitor reputation and trust and identity mixed with the different reports that are coming in and how to sift through them and to find ways to deal with these different levels of disruption. So that's a technological problem. But there's a whole other level of the cultivation of community and the practices of what it means to gather people together. And that's what I find so interesting about what Ida is doing is that she's going into these different corporate environments and trying to cultivate that culture and that community. And Ida was actually a participant in this gathering that happened a couple weeks ago called the Gathering Summit where they had over 40 different people from many different religious and secular backgrounds that were starting to bring in the different best practices for what does it mean to gather people together under a shared purpose and how to actually cultivate that community. Because that's a big theme that I see within the immersive industry right now, whether it's from people who are doing social VR worlds or cultivating your own community around the work as an artist, as a creator, or brands and companies that are trying to create these different community level of events and engage people because People are so dissociated from the screen based technology that they want to find any way that they can to have a really immersive and meaningful engaging experience for people. So looking at experiential design and experiential advertising to do that, or whether that's you're trying to cultivate your own sense of shared purpose in the community. And just this past week, there's a number of different communities that have I've been starting to meet on a more regular basis within virtual reality, whether it's the sensory design slack and community that's looking at the ethics of design within immersive environments, where I gave a whole talk on the ethical and moral dilemmas of experiential design and really was able to facilitate a community and group conversation that was different than if we would have had it within a 2D realm of just doing a Skype call. you get a different feeling of the circle and the community of really having that cohesion of a shared context of a world as well as just a shared experiences of those experiences that unfold over time that feel like everybody was participating in that event. And also there's a whole immersive open web meetings that just started last week as well, and they're going to be using the XOKit XR Discord, but they're still trying to figure out what they're going to call themselves, but it's essentially a lot of open immersive web developers who are trying to figure out ways to create and cultivate an open metaverse. So gathering is going to be a huge theme in the future of immersive technologies because it's all about trying to gather people together. And you think about someone like Scott Heiferman, who started Meetup and Meetup was all about using the technology to connect people just enough so that they could come face to face and have a sense of shared meaning and shared purpose. And Meetup is wildly successful in terms of being able to have meetups all around the world. And it's. It's been a huge part of being able to help cultivate the different communities within virtual reality, both from the Silicon Valley virtual reality meetup, which then spun into SVVR and the VRLA meetup, which then had whole VRLA. We have a meetup here in Portland that I helped start with Raven Zachary and now Joshua young is running it as design reality. So all this is happening in terms of meetups face-to-face But the thing that's gonna start to happen with virtual reality is already started to happen and has been happening is just the ability for people to start have these virtual face-to-face meetups about topics that maybe you're like one of ten people in the entire world that are really into this very niche esoteric thing and that you don't have any conversations with people about it. But now with these virtual environments, you're able to not only have these virtual face-to-face conversations, but to build entire worlds and culture and practices and rituals in order to cultivate a community and culture that never has existed before. And that's what I find like super fascinating. And finally, it's just also really interesting and fascinating to hear Ida's more personal journey in terms of the type of spiritual transgression explorations that she's doing in her own personal life. Because there's so many different practices that are out there in terms of these embodied experiences that are very nobiotic and esoteric. spiritual, all those words just mean basically that you can't falsify what's actually happening. You have an inner phenomenological experience and then you're taking that information and that you're tying it to the story and the narrative of your life. And the story and the narrative of your life is not something that anybody else can tell you. It's the only thing that you can discern what that is for yourself and the deeper meaning and purpose of the events that happen in your life and to try to find the trajectory of who you are and why you're here. And I think that a lot of these different esoteric practices that Aida has been exploring and getting into is really starting to explore that level of deep inner transformation. And that's also something that'll be interesting to see how those different types of practices start to get abstracted and the deeper principles and then be fed into these deeper experiential design experiences which are about bringing people together to have a shared conversation and meaning and to build a sense of shared context to be able to have these deeper connections. And I think for me, as I was listening to this podcast, one thing that had come up in terms of what are the ethical boundaries around taking indigenous practices like shamanic journeying, for example, and to be able to take it and put it into a completely different context of corporate consulting. So you're taking these Indigenous practices that are existing in a certain context and now you're commodifying them in a certain way where you're giving access to them Into these different companies and what is lost and what are the ethics around that commodification? You know, I look to something like Zen Buddhists who have this concept of Donna which is that they have this open sharing of the teachings and that if you find them valuable then you're going to pay whatever you feel like it's worth to you and And I think there's a really good way to do that, actually, because it has a little bit more of trying to preserve the integrity of those teachings without trying to feel like we're not going to give you access to this before you're going to pay us up front. It kind of changes the dynamic. And so there's something about just the way that our existing economic exchange happens. And when you start to bring in these practices and put them into more of an economic context, then what are the boundaries around cultural appropriation? But also, it's more of like there's some deep truths that are happening within these practices and that there's something that every human being has the right to have access to these altered states of consciousness with whatever different practices and modalities that you have in order to achieve that. And so in some ways, everybody has a right to that. So That for me, I think is probably one of the biggest sort of murky, like, what are the ethics and morals around that? How do you navigate that? How do you ensure that there's a sense of integrity within those practices? But also, you know, these whole new economic models that I think that we're still trying to figure out. And I think in the case of corporate consulting is a pretty clear case to have people to commit into that value exchange. Because there's something about whenever you are financially committing to something, you're actually making a commitment to saying this is valuable. I'm actually going to invest myself into both listening and participating within this. And so there's something valuable within that monetary exchange. But at the same time, there's different tricky dynamics that start to happen just to make sure that it's not being compromised or something's being lost. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to send a shout out and a deep sense of gratitude for the supporters of this podcast on Patreon, because this podcast wouldn't exist without my Patreon supporters. And if you believe in the vision of collaboration, open sharing of knowledge and open innovation, then please do consider becoming a supporting member of the podcast. I do rely upon donations from my members in order to continue to bring you this type of coverage. And so if you believe in that vision and want to have more of these type of conversations then please do become a member and just five or ten dollars a month makes a huge difference and I have to say that there's something about financially committing to something that that's saying you value it and that you're going to take it seriously and that it's a commitment to yourself that you're going to be a listener and to try to apply the deeper lessons of what you're hearing here into your life. And I think that just by becoming a member of the Patreon, you have that type of value exchange where you're saying to the world, this is valuable. I want to support it, but I also want to commit to trying to listen and learn and apply these different lessons into whatever I'm doing within my life. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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