The Tao of Parks & Rec, G+A\’s Wordplay + Experience Design for Your Everyday Life

I recently rewatched episode 99, \”The Cones of Dunshire,\” in which main character Leslie\’s husband, Ben Wyatt loses his job running the Sweetum\’s Foundation… don\’t sweat it, he\’s none too sad. While unemployed, Ben first tries to pass the time by baking calzones by the dozens, but nobody\’s into it. NOBODY! But then, Ben fully embraces his nerdiness, creates \”The Cones of Dunshire,\” an insanely complex multi-player, civilization-building board game based in the semi-realistic middle-Earth-meets-medieval-Europe realm called Dunshire and inadvertently strikes gold. (Seriously, watch this clip to learn more and laugh at the dorky gusto with which Ben first explains the game to Leslie.)

While Ben\’s invention at first seems comically unimportant. Later in the same season, Ben finds himself in a high-stakes situation pitching his town, Pawnee, as the long-shot, midwestern choice for Google-esque tech giant, Gryzzl to bequeath city-wide free wifi to.  After being shut down by the Gryzzl crew as the rep for a lackluster, non-starter city, Ben ultimately bests the company\’s tech-bro CEO in a game of Cones thereby securing free wifi for Pawnee alongside the unwavering respect and admiration of the entire Gryzzl staff.

In the series\’ final season, Gryzzl actually moves its corporate headquarters to Pawnee effectively gentrifying the entire city and region in a matter of months, raising the quality of living for residents exponentially! (Yes, I know some would argue gentrification has the opposite effect, but it\’s a fictitious show so relax.) \”So what,\” you say. \”Who cares about Parks & Rec, The Cones of Dunshire, or Gryzzl?\”

The Tao of Parks & Rec

Well here\’s the thing, when Ben created CoD, he wasn\’t contemplating its possibly far-reaching implications for the future of Pawnee. Nope, as far as I know (which frankly isn\’t too far – it\’s not like I\’ve delved too deeply into the psyche of Pawnee\’s most notable husband), Ben was simply creating a really enjoyable experience for himself during troubling and uncertain times.

Earlier this week, on the very day that I was contemplating the Tao of Parks & Rec, I spoke with a friend who shared something that I\’ve heard more than once recently that she was uncertain about what to do next and was experiencing an almost constant mental tug-of-war weighing the pros and cons of this course of action or that one. Rather than pontificate about what I believed she should do, I offered my approach to the design of any experience, personal or otherwise, the very same one, in fact, that good ole\’ Ben used when he created Cones. I asked a single, simple question.

How do you want to feel?

My girlfriend paused to consider the question, and already it began to works its magic.

I continued to explain to her that in my approach to the design of any experience be it a conference, someone\’s master bedroom, a company\’s policies and procedures, or a single day in person\’s life – I\’d found that by identifying the feelings that a dream version of that experience would evoke was the best place to begin.

\”For example,\” I shared, \”if you decided that you wanted your day to feel gentle, cozy, thoughtful, and warm,\” you could then quickly and easily design the million tiny touchpoints that comprise your daily experience to evoke those feelings as often as possible. Outfit? Opt for a sweater and comfy shoes. (Coziness) Breakfast? Invest 5 minutes to eat at your table or breakfast bar without your phone to simply think about the world around you. (Thoughtfulness) Driving? Chose lighter, more relaxing music instead of a doomsday news program. (Gentleness) And then go totally wild and turn your seat heater on before you even put the car in reverse. (Literal + Figurative Warmth)\”

\”Yes, that sounds great, but how does it do anything to help me figure out what comes next in the real world?\” she replied.

\”Well, it\’s been my experience both for myself and for the clients* with whom I employ this approach for any type of experiential design that two things happen. First, it creates immediate emotional and physical relief. Instead of the pervasive, uncomfortable mental sensations and physical tension (are your shoulders up by your ears right now) of concentrating on uncertainty which is not immediately resolvable, I, or in the case of clients, they, begin to experience the sensations associated with the desired feelings we\’re focused on. Before even the tiniest change to an experience has occurred, merely contemplating the feelings one ACTUALLY wants to enjoy evokes the same sensation as if one of Dunshire\’s most magical wizards had waved her wand and actually changed the real-world experience itself. Second, from my much, MUCH more relaxed state, new perspectives, new ideas, and new avenues by which I can reach those new perspectives and ideas begin to reveal themselves to me.\”

Whether she actually bought into my philosophy or she was just flat out exhausted, she conceded to give it a try and asked what she ought to do next. So I suggested the exact exercise I use myself and for my clients, G+A\’s Wordplay.

G+A\’s Wordplay for Everyday Experience Design

  1. Select 3 – 5 adjectives that describe exactly how you want your experience to feel. The more vivid the better, and really, really push yourself to pinpoint exactly what you want. That is to say, don\’t settle for \”fun\” if bubbly or raucous or exhilarating is what you really want. Why? Because what will make you feel exhilarated may be a lot different than what will make you feel bubbly or raucous, and you should feel EXACTLY how you want to.
  2. Take 2 – 3 minutes to jot down one way to evoke the feeling of your selected adjectives by making adjustments to the stuff you do each day. For example, if you want to feel exhilarated, could you give a totally not-yours name to your barista today… GASP!? Well hello, Joconda, shouldn\’t you be on the wall of the Louvre instead of at this Starbucks?  No matter. It\’s a pleasure to meet you, you sassy minx!
  3. If you have another 2 – 3 minutes, keep jotting until you have a nice, little list of easy ways to design your day\’s experience. If not, once you\’ve gotten even the first everyday XD task checked off, add another one.
  4. Keep your head on a swivel for other chances to enhance your daily experience design along the lines of the words you picked and watch the magic ensue!

How does it look in real life? Well, let me \’show\’ you!

Two Cashmere Sweaters, The Art of Palm Tree Selection + Taking Calls in a Greenhouse – The Real-world Application of Everyday Experience Design

Today is March 20, 2020, and I selected the following words to design my daily experience: gentle, cozy, relaxing and educational. (See anything familiar?)

I began my day by layering TWO cashmere sweaters on top of one another and then opting for my furriest faux fur coat (okay, my only one, but it beat out the nylon parka and the cotton trench) on my way out the door. (Cozy) Instead of my normal hip hop bangers, I bumped classical music all the way to my doctor\’s appointment, and when they prepped me for my simple test, I took both the blanket and the music they offered opting for Pandora\’s Relaxing Spa station for the latter. (Cozy, Relaxing, Gentle) With the treatment wrapped, I snuggled back into my warm, comfy outfit, hopped into my car and promptly decided that I would take the slightly longer but much calmer route home. (Gentle, Cozy, Relaxing)

While driving, I noticed Moon Valley Nurseries, a spot I\’ve cruised by 100s of times and pulled in with the bit of extra time I\’d built into my day rather than rushing home. (Gentle) Much to my delight, Moon Valley revealed acres of verdant plant life beautifully displayed in what I can only describe as a real-life secret garden-tucked away behind a 6-lane Las Vegas thoroughfare in the heart of the city. (Relaxing) With my daily wordplay in mind, I actually slowed down enough to read placards of several types of plants, including the Piru Queen Palm and the Mexican Flat Palm, and now know that selecting palms of different ages mimics the more natural look one would find in nature whereas selecting similarly aged palms creates a more uniform, formal look! (Educational) Then, I headed to the greenhouse (Cozy again) and strolled through it while I made a call to a friend and former colleague who works in PR. (Relaxing) Rather than prattle on about myself, I asked her how her industry was responding to current events and got some great perspective and practical tips to share with my own customers.  (Educational). And that brought me all the way to 11:30 am.

Play the Game Backwards

Who knows what else I\’ll stumble across today, but I\’m actively designing a much more excellent experience than if I\’d just let it fly with no forethought!  Not to mention, the focus on feelings elicited a number of experiences I was able to parlay right into the almost effortless drafting of this blog post and related social media promotions.  How were they so easy?  Well, my brain chilled the hell out and sure enough, the words, ideas, and actions to accomplish my to-dos blossomed like so many flowers at Moon Valley Nurseries!

So as the world twists, turns, and churns around us, why not design your daily experience intentionally rather than allow the world to design it for you? Why not play the game in reverse as Ben Wyatt so excitedly suggests? (If you don\’t know what I\’m talking about watch this Cones of Dunshire clip already!) You never know when a little experience design may be the small step in the right direction that ends up being the biggest one of your life…

Dream Boldly, Dream Beautifully,

*If you turn to The Prince for guidance about how to live your life, may I suggest \”Parks & Rec\”, the Tao Te Ching, or almost anything else instead??
**Which is all of them. Wordplay, the formal name we use for this exercise is typically activity #2 in every one of our client Discovery Meetings.