Civility and the Experience Economy: Theatrical Economy

Civility and The Experience Economy

From agrarian, industrial, service and to experience economies: What we need to know about civil interaction today

Contributed by Cindy Ann Peterson, VP Communications

Civility through the ages is an area of constant study and social debate.

Since the age of Socrates, scrutiny has surrounded how society socially interacts leading to constant change in guidelines and rules for social conduct. As a result, societal parameters do exist surrounding how society defines proper behaviors.

Through the four most recent types of economies, let’s explore an overview of economic changes to better understand how economic drivers impact communication skills and society’s social fabric.

As the economy changes, so do communication skills. From these changes, a need arises for new ways to incorporate a healthy social compass into our lives.

Civility is crucial to all our interactions, from face-to-face to the ever-changing global digital frontier.

Here are four economic terms worth learning about:

Agrarian: extract, fungible, natural, trader, characteristics, stored in bulk

Industrial: make, tangible, standardized, manufacturer, features, inventoried after production

Service: deliver, intangible, customized, provider, benefits, delivered on demand

Experience: stage, memorable, personal, stager, sensations, revealed over duration

Source for terms above are from The Experience Economy, Updated Edition (Paperback)

by B. Joseph Pine II, James H. Gilmore

In an agrarian economy, society based a strong guide for the sale of natural products. Sometimes business deals were done on a nod and handshake, with the understanding of the level of honor and that the individual would stand by their given word. The level of communication was mainly one-on-one, thus face-to-face. Global honor and rules of a code of conduct were, typically, understood and implemented. Of course, there were exceptions to this rule. However, consider the societal implications and consequences if you lived and did business in your town and village, and were known as someone that didn’t honor their agreements. Society typically labeled the individual as not honorable.

Your word is your brand and if your word contradicts the quality of what you grow and sell, you will have difficulty in your community in the future. In an agrarian society, word of mouth was your best advertising. Therefore, it was critical that societal opinions of you were positive, as uncivil conversation or business interactions could have devastating effects on your future business.

Trust is a factor in all communications, and civility reflects back to understanding and respecting our differences. Many times, it’s a misunderstanding of what is promised or expected that causes acts of incivility.

As manufacturing ushered in the industrial economy, business deals began to be conducted based upon a customer’s ability to repay the debt and the risk being based on each customer’s credit worthiness. The level of communication was mainly through a store. It was still interpersonal, but a standard for price was not usually like a barter system in the agrarian society. Instead, communication was moved away from the person that grew the natural product, and thus began the industry communication paradigm as beginning change in modern communication skills.

Trust is still in play today, but the products purchased are mass-produced and standardized, and we may never know the source or name of person producing the product. This desensitization of purchasing is brought into communication leading to less human interaction, and in some cases, less civil accountability. People may get mad at the person they purchase the product from if the product does not perform. Acts of incivility against a person defending a faceless machine, beginning the slow decline of social interaction in the industrial age.

In the service economy, service providers render services that clients are unable to perform or do not want to do themselves. They will still purchase goods, while looking for a low price, but have added services to their expenditures. Examples include eye exams, hair care, lawn services, etc. The interaction is transactional and not personal, yet the service many times is one-on-one. The human interaction is easy to interpret and civility can address difficult situations, when handled quickly at the time of the service.

The main problem with service industry civility is where acts of incivility come into play, when expectations and the service given are not congruent. Clearly stating the expectations of service can solve the challenge. In the example of a bad haircut, bring a photo with the haircut desired and speak up with concerns during the haircut. When negotiating, ask if you can discuss the service prior to accepting that service. Many times, it’s a simple misunderstanding of what is needed, so clear communication before and during the service is important.

In business, trust is crucial. As a society, we recognize that services may vary, as the same person may not provide the service each time, and therefore, there will be qualitative differences with each service. This variation of service and varying expectations without clear communication can lead to acts of incivility. Human interaction without clearly stated scope of service can create moments of tension and less positive results. People may get mad at the person they purchase the service from if the service does not meet their personal standard.

So scope it out, don’t shout it out!

The experience economy also known as the theatrical economy, offers 6 new types of charging for time entry fees, per-event fees, initiation fees, access fees and membership fees. Creating new ways for business to grow with the experiences with the transformations created. These are engaging events of multiple dimensions. This is a new area for growth and potential and leads to further research on how this will evolve and affect communications.

It takes us to a grey zone in civility, since we have yet to understand all the possible ways to analyze a theatrical business economy and consistently hold true the keys of civil integrity, and personal engagement and interaction.

Listening with intent to learn holds true for a positive outcome for each economy.

Another consideration is the fact that we all bring our own personal experience and knowledge into this mix and must be sure to express our options and be sure to do it in way that that it respects even those we disagree with. The common goal is to respect ourselves and others.

Civility requires that we listen and interact with intent to learn and respect others opinions.

Trust is a factor in all communications, and civility reflects a respect for our differences.

Learning how to become better communicators and better listeners will help us enter this new age of the experience economy and walk, talk and grow with civility as our foundation.

Exercising good communication skills are key to unlocking civility in the new experience economy.

Civility begins with me.

Cindy Ann Peterson, AICI CIP, Co-Author of ‘The Power of Civility: Top Experts Reveal the Secrets to Social Capital’, speaker, designer, style editor and award winning AICI Certified Image Consultant is the VP Communications on the Board of Directors for Image Impact International (III), a 501(c) 3 non-profit philanthropic entity engaged in a number of projects, including Mentoring 4 Impact, Training 4 Impact and the Civility 4 Impact, global civility initiative. Our programs eliminate disadvantages, such as being under-prepared for internships and entry-level jobs. We focus on the social and cultural capital needed for college and workforce success. To learn more contact Peterson at

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