“Creating experience” – An interview with Christoph Schmidt-Mårtensson

What do our speakers do when they are not just about to hit a TEDxVienna-stage? Christoph Schmidt-Mårtensson, who gave an inspiring talk about participation in urban spaces at CityX in September, is founder and CEO of the Austrian award-winning new-media-company create.at. We met him to chat about his “daily business” between storytelling, dramaturgy, experience design and innovation.

Q: What does learning have to do with dramaturgy?

Christoph Schmidt-Mårtensson: A lot! As soon as we we are invited to experience something, anticipation is initiated in our mind, and this anticipation is based on the dramatic structure of exposure, rising action, climax. When I recount a story, I have to present content in the correct order to apply this dramatic structure. In a learning scenario, a teacher is confronted with similar challenges: How do I structure the scenario? What happens when? When do I present which content?
These questions are essential, no matter if I am planning a face-to-face training of three hours or a learning video of 90 seconds. As a trainer, I can apply dramaturgy to my didactics in order to invite my learners to enroll in a story. And learners become part of that experience: In the first phase, the exposure, they clarify their own expectations. At the climax, they experience their personal “Heureka effect” when they realise what they will make out of the stuff they’ve been learning. Just before the climax, another crucial moment occurs: the inflection point where a person understands his or her role. Take Spiderman: Up to the inflection point, he is just a boy growing weird stuff from his fingers. And then, his perception changes – he becomes Spiderman, the hero. In a learning scenario, that is the moment when the learner understands where the teacher is directing him to, that he is the target. He will be successful.

Q: How would you recount the story of your company, create.at?

Christoph: Let’s start the story like this:  All my life, I have never worked for a boss – but always for my customers. I founded the company at the age of 25, together with a friend I’ve known since kindergarten. As teenagers, we did what we are still doing today; we sold our first Business2Business film at the age of 16. When our projects grew bigger and bigger, we realised that more stability would be good for us and our customers. We founded an internet business – in the year 2000: While the dotcom-bubble was bursting spectacularly, we sat in a notary’s waiting room, ready to register our company. That’s how it started. Storytelling with new media was our core business from the very beginning, and it led us directly to the field of learning communication. We only discovered the wording later – but our passion has always always been “to create experience”, and luckily, there are according terminologies in all the “worlds” we operate in today: LEARNING EXPERIENCE – USER EXPERIENCE – CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE. So that’s what we do now, with almost 40 employees in Austria and Germany.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what does innovation mean to you?

Christoph: Innovation and creativity cannot be separated. In a media project, not only the art director and the developers unfold creativity, but also your customers. We create rooms which allow our customers to exploit their own potential, not only ours. Very often, this involves more listening than talking. And then, there is innovation on the strategic level. A company that has a strategy does not only deal with the past and the present, but also with the years to come. Our motto is “Create your 21st century!” We invite our customers to ask questions like “How are you going to develop as a learning organisation?” “How can we work together on the learning culture of your social system?”

Q: How does the concept of participation that you dedicated your CityX-talk to, relate to your other passions, like learning, dramaturgy, experiences?

Learning is observing. An important part of learning is the ability to listen. And listening is the first stage of participation, which leads to the start of smart city development Participation is a very strong, connecting element in all my worlds – learning, customer, user experience. Storytelling and dramaturgy is the way of communication in these worlds. A system that wants to develop participation has to accept inclusion, not just involvement. Inclusion in a system means that the system itself is open to change by the participation process. And this is the bridge between all these things. Participation happens in learning environments, in virtual rooms, in customer projects – and it can happen in urban space. If I transfer the leitmotiv of participation to the context of cities, I ask questions like: “How do we deal with new, tense, exciting urban spaces? How do they move, transform? And how can participation enable a journey towards the unknown, the future of our cities?” In the end, it all comes down to: “As a system, how can I learn from my constituting elements?”


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