Terminology Glosses: Experience economy and experiential learning

Some words quietly take the stage. They enter new domains, specialize in new areas, translate in new languages and bring new notions to new places, across cultures. In so doing they change, or attest the changes of our view of the world and of our expectations. They are used in unprecedented combinations. Sometimes they qualify another word so strongly that they almost become prefixes, the entry point to concepts, thus marking new memorable ideas.

Experience is one of these words. According to B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore, authors of an article published by the Harvard Business Review in 1998, “leading-edge companies — whether they sell to consumers or businesses — will find the next competitive battleground lies in staging experiences.” Now, 20 years later, startup business owners cannot refrain from considering this basic principle: consumers are no longer looking for ingredients, goods or services, they are looking for experiences, or specifically “a distinct economic offering, as different from services as services are from goods,” explicitly designed to provide unforgettable events to their customers.

This is the reason why the terms I am adding to our ideal termbase are experience economy and experiential learning. From a terminology management perspective, the term experience economy is a regular noun-noun formation in which experience, as the first element, describes economy. Of the two constituent words, experience is the one really worth noticing from a semantic standpoint.

If a quick glance at Google Books Ngram Viewer confirms how the word experience has been used with growing frequency in the last few decades, it is nonetheless evident that the adjective experiential literally spiked after the 1940s, with both terms starting to slow down from the year 2000. By looking at how p is used, the education field proves to be the real winning turf for this adjective. Experiential learning being the theoretical construct behind its success. Well-known to educators and learners alike, this whole theory was developed at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, by David A. Kolb. Wikipedia defines it as “learning through experience and, more specifically, learning through reflection on doing.” Its model, published in 1984, revolves around four main concepts: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. Even if we don’t know how much impact Kolb’s approach has had on the teaching of translation and localization, it is rather sure that experience, this time intended as knowledge accumulated in years of practice, plays a major role for most linguists. In reality, experiential learning occasionally comes up in linguistic conversations: recently, for instance, it was mentioned in a panel discussion named: “Bridging the Industry Talent Gap” at the GALA 2018 Conference held in Boston in March. There the panelists lamented the need for more experiential learning and early exposure to the localization industry outside of the academic environment.

Going back to startups and the language industry, the initial question remains: “How can we make our services a memorable experience for our customers?” We want to keep in mind one central factor: in the experience economy, millennials — the customers for the present and the upcoming years — are attracted by the indelible impression left by their purchases more than by the goods or the services they purchase. With this in mind, I ran an online search for experiential taglines and catch phrases used by various linguist service providers, including the ones published by Brand Quarterly in their Experience issue in November 2017. I was not very lucky. Basically, only one major player in our domain advertises adaptive machine translation (MT) as being able to provide a “unique MT output, personal to you,” a message containing several elements that are appealing to young prospective buyers: first, output automation — very important to a generation for whom the world without computers is history. It’s also a self-learning machine, in line with the innovative changes introduced by artificial intelligence and, last but definitely not least, it offers a personal, unique translation.

Statistically, many of today’s decision makers will retire in the upcoming years and the new generation of leaders will have an experience-oriented landscape in mind. Not a negligible factor for new entrepreneurs.