The Lottery Effect

Two Purple Easy Money Slot Machines

Now, consider how doing those things would make you feel. Quitting your job? Most likely, that would evoke feelings of freedom and/or cheerfulness. Traveling the world? Adventurousness, excitement, or giddiness. Hiring a private chef? Calm and relaxation.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

Yes, each of the things we dream of doing with our lottery jackpots, we dream of because we believe they would produce highly desirable feelings (freedom, excitement, relaxation, etc.) for us. This idea — that solving an unsolvable problem (winning the lottery) produces specific outcomes (hiring a private chef), which enables us to experience desired feelings (relaxation) is what we at G+A have coined The Lottery Effect.

The Lottery Effect (n.): The belief that only the solution to an unsolvable problem can produce outcomes that will evoke desired feelings.

Interestingly, The Lottery Effect is not just restricted to fantasizing about the mega millions.  It extends to how someone or a group of people approach all kinds of challenges at work and in their personal lives, which is a big problem because The Lottery Effect is a recipe for disappointment and frustration.

As experience creators, we often fall victim to The Lottery Effect when we accept the false paradigm that only once we have solved an unsolvable problem can we produce the specific outcomes that will create the “right” feelings.  We approach experience design one directionally: solve first, feel next.

Without realizing it and even with the best intentions at heart, we are operating at a disadvantage from the jump.

For example, an organization faced with the seemingly unsolvable problem of how to transform a historically place-based event into a virtual experience was grappling with this question: “How can we create a virtual event that meets attendees’ needs and successfully replaces a place-based event?”

Pursuing the answer to that question seemed like a valid approach to problem-solving.  Upon closer inspection, however, the seemingly innocuous question revealed itself to be squarely within Lottery Effect territory and latent with much more nefarious subtext.

The implied problem statement the team was facing down sounded more like this:

“Once we can convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and that they believe will adequately replace our annual event, we will achieve our registration goals, improve satisfaction scores, and make our budget goals.  Then we\’ll feel more secure, more confident, and more satisfied.”

Notice any similarities?

Winning the Lottery Designing a Virtual Event Experience
Unsolvable Problem
  • Once I win the lottery…
  • Once I convince attendees that we\’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and that they believe adequately replaces our annual event…
  • Quit my job
  • Travel the world
  • Hire a private chef
  • Ample registration
  • High attendee satisfaction
  • Increased revenue
Desired Feelings
  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Relaxation
  • Confidence
  • Security
  • Satisfaction

The Lottery Effect: A (Were)Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Although the unsolvable problem questions that comprise the first portion of Lottery Effect Statements almost always seem important and worthwhile, they are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing, or, more accurately, werewolves in sheep’s clothing. In reality, these \”critical\” questions create a merciless series of implied requirements for success and set us on a nearly impossible path to victory.

When we begin with a target even the most skilled marksman would be hard-pressed to hit, we are resigned to the idea that we have no choice but to toil endlessly in pursuit of elusive answers to impossible questions, silver bullets if you will.  We incorrectly believe they are the only means to experiencing what we\’re really after all along: feelings. (Remember, you only want to win the lottery and hire the chef so you can feel relaxed!)

Quickly, the search for silver bullets, rather than the creation of feelings through thoughtful experience design drives everything we do.

In the case of the lottery, the question “How do I win the lottery?” yields a laughable set of implied requirements for success: \”In order to win the lottery, I must identify the correct sequence of numbers from an infinite number of combinations, pick the correct date on which to buy a ticket, purchase the ticket from the correct vendor,\” and so on.

When viewed through the lens of a real-world example, say, virtual event design, the implied requirements are sobering.  Teams are suddenly aware, often for the first time ever, of the enormous roadblocks they\’ve erected themselves, and it becomes clear why success was impossible no matter how hard they worked.

From a well-meaning question such as, “How do we convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and that they believe adequately replaces our annual event,” springs forth a slew of implied obstacles, transforming the question into something unspoken but rough like this:

“In order to convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event will meet their needs and that they believe adequately replaces our annual event, we must:

  1. Accurately identify and prioritize the needs of a wide variety of individuals;
  2. Convince that group of individuals that we hold the monopoly on the definition of their needs and that we can fulfill all of those needs via a single event;
  3. Define “adequate replacement” for a divergent body of stakeholders and garner their universal acceptance of that definition; and
  4. Achieve attendance, revenue, and satisfaction goals.”

Many groups never realize just how much these implied truths end up battering their decision-making efforts.  Once the false binary of The Lottery Effect has taken hold, “We’ve just got to get through this,” becomes a common refrain and rallying cry.

Instead of evaluating a choice or an opportunity based on its ability to evoke desired feelings, teams believe anything but the resolution of implied problems is tantamount to failure.  They become victims of their own silver bullets and they don\’t realize it until they\’ve completed the post-mortem — at which point, it\’s is far too late.

The Lottery Effect: You’re Already a Winner

Fortunately, the Lottery Effect problem is far from unsolvable. In fact, it only requires a paradigm inversion. In place of a “solve first, feel next” approach, G+A’s 4D Framework employs our unique “feel first, solve next” approach. What do feelings have to do with experience design? Universality.

When we begin with feelings first, the difficulty, struggle, confusion, and other commonly accepted ‘realities’ inherent to experience design fall away. Why? Because feelings are universally understood on a level that needs no definition, effectively creating immediate success and rendering decision-making and evaluation effortless.

Returning one last time to the quandary, “How do we convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and that they believe adequately replaces our annual event?” we can see how a feelings-led approach truly shines.

In place of trying to convince attendees, we can ask:

  • Are we confident in the program we’ve produced?
  • Are we confident in our messaging about the program, both tone, and content?
  • Are we confident in the level of innovation our program includes?

Instead of agonizing over how best to meet attendees\’ needs, we can ask:

  • Are we secure in our approach to assessing those needs?
  • Are we secure in our efforts to address them?
  • Are we secure in our communication about what we’ve done and why?

In lieu of hoping to create an adequate replacement for an annual event, we can ask:

  • Are we satisfied that we have designed a high-quality virtual experience that can stand on its own two feet?
  • Are we satisfied with the experience we created for ourselves as a team while we planned and produced the event?
  • Are we satisfied that we’ve done our best work, no matter the bottom line outcome?

If and when we respond to a feelings-led question in the negative, we need only ask simple follow-ups to regain our footing and move forward with assurance: How can we evoke more of desired feelings as we design this touchpoint? How can we once again feel first and solve next?

To learn more about the power of a feelings-led approach to experience design, and for an overview of G+A’s 4D Framework, read about Our Approach and Join The 4D Community of experiential design enthusiasts for more great content!