The Dream Continuum

White paper 

Draft 1 - Last updated 28 may 2018


The Dream Continuum is my new research and customer journeying tool with inbuilt customer retention.

The Dream CONTINUUM of millennial customers of opera

This white paper gives strategists in business, design, ethnography and the cultural sciences an overview of how to use The Dream Continuum to research and design their customers’ journeys, retention and solutions.  

The Dream Continuum is a new journey mapping tool with a naturally inbuilt customer retention. It comes with a set of research methods that I created after interviewing over 100 industry leaders across 4 continents. I have proved it in startups, with UX consultants and a major bank design executive. I’m looking for new opportunities to consult applying it to innovation projects and to teach its use in hands-on workshops. While I prepare writing a book on The Dream Continuum, I blog about it to support a growing community of strategists who find their own unique interpretation and benefits of using it. 

My friend Andy has kindly helped me illustrate how The Dream Continuum works. 

Insert image of Andy.

Andy loves to collect Mercedes. But there is one Mercedes he won’t collect because he says “it’s more fun to dream about it”. If he were to buy the car, it would spoil the dream.

Insert image of Andy’s collecting habits (5 cars, online adds, magazines, photos from events.)
Interestingly, his collecting habits involve first studying different models of the car online. He then takes a step closer to realising his dream by purchasing a Mercedes magazine to enjoy more context. He’s now committed his first $12.95 towards his Dream. Eventually he joins a Mercedes club for a $100 annual membership fee, and travels to shows to see the car for real and meet its owners. 

And this is typical of how a Dream unfolds along a continuum. It begins virtual / low-fi and becomes gradually more real with each step the customer takes to achieve the dream. And with each step, they reflect on their achievement and reimagine parts of the Dream a little bit. But the essence of their Dream and their own purpose stays true to them. 


Unique problems The Dream Continuum solves

The Dream Continuum offers businesses an easier way to plan sustainable customer retention while doing well for their teams and their customers.  

In contrast, today’s behavioural design tools formulate customer retention to make short term gains. Some tools do so by persuading customers to become as close to addicted to a service or product as possible. But addiction hurts long term customer retention. It also plays on designer’s ethics, who by nature champion customer needs. 

Today’s behavioural design tools are also complex to use, and sometimes require more maintenance to help a solution to adapt to change. Plus, subconsciously retraining the customer to adopt new habits is hard work that takes a much longer time than to simply helping customers get closer to achieving their Dream.


The Dream Continuum is beneficial for


  • Easier: It is a faster, easier (and therefore a potentially more certain) way to design solutions that have customer retention built into them, than using current behavioural design tools.
  • Leaner: You don’t need to design the whole journey to start serving customers. The method helps you know what the customer may want to do next and stay one step ahead of them.
  • Less red tape: To avoid the delays of red tape, you can launch small, incremental research experiments, and below your designated expenditure limit, almost right away to:
    • capture data that maps out the customers’ Dream Continuum  
    • prove impact
    • make sales
  • Sustainable customer retention: The Dream is a natural source of customer retention because the customer provides it themselves. And by knowing the direction customers are heading in and what naturally drives them to immerse themselves deeper each time in their journey, you can evolve with their journey and add value to it. 
  • Resistant to Disruption: Going with the customer’s flow is easier when their behaviours change to find workarounds and the industry is disrupted.
  • Can be used with a range of common Design Thinking methods


Building empathy is easier: The Dream Continuum uses designer’s research skills and natural desire to be curious about their customers’ journey.
Pleasure and ethics of designing: As a strategist, it feels wonderful using the Dream Continuum because you’re not trying to lure the customer off their preferred path. You’re just listening to why they feel fulfilled chasing a Dream and then help them go about doing just that.
Mindfulness: The Dream Continuum may resonate with strategists who practice mindfulness.
For customers
Being themselves more: It empowers customers to enjoy the experience of being themselves and living their preferred lifestyle more often and for longer periods of time.
Dreams increase wellbeing: Dreams have intrinsic value and are not toxic with extrinsic value like aspirations. 

For customers

Being themselves more: It empowers customers to enjoy the experience of being themselves and living their preferred lifestyle more often and for longer periods of time.
Dreams increase wellbeing: Dreams have intrinsic value and are not toxic with extrinsic value like aspirations.


Domains The Dream Continuum works well in

Projects with a long term, social perspective including:

  • Cross-channel customer experiences (CX) that support building and maintaining a lifestyle
  • Smart cities and future-proofing smart city operating systems
  • Downtown City and Main Street revitalisation
  • Education and museums
  • Services for social good
  • Digital mobile & web applications
  • Events and Social media engagements
  • growth marketing 
  • Spaces and physical products designed for the common good
  • Aligning R&D of emerging technologies with go-to-market 


The Dream Continuum contains two things

  • The research methods used to discover an endless journey of discovery, consumption and creative production that customers are keenly pursuing, and why they keep coming back to engage in that journey. 
  • A customer journey and retention mapping tool all in one, used to design solutions and customer experiences


Why is it called The Dream Continuum?

  • Because customers make their Dreams purposely elusive by perpetually evolving how the Dream looks to them, they keep chasing the Dream along a continuum. There’s no end. 
  • However, you may choose only to serve to facilitate a part of customers’ Dreams, like when they carry the Dream into a new industry and you lose them as a customer.


What is a Dream and How Does it Work?

A Dream is an experience we’d love to have. It’s more fun to daydream and fanaticise about it than it is to achieve it. To achieve having that experience, about would spoil the dream and end the pleasure of pursuing it. Such a Dream is an expression of who we are right now along our journey. And every time we do something that helps us take a step closer to achieving the Dream, we gain the health benefits of being true to ourselves and “living in the now”. Each of those actions along the journey has intrinsic value. 

The customer’s Dream is therefore their core value proposition.


Dreams are not Aspirations

Dreams are our own making and not aspirations. Aspirations are toxic feelings of wanting something with extrinsic value, like more money or a bigger house. And the most toxic aspirations are things with an inflated value that take a long time or are even impossible to acquire. Andy’s dream is not a toxic aspiration so long as he can easily access (create or consume) experiences related to what gives him pleasure about dreaming of the classic car.


What types of Dreams drive the most traction?

The dreams that drive most traction and keep us immersed the most often are the ones that are impossible to fully experience, like catching a time machine to experience the past. The Dreams with slowest customer traction are those where the customer has to stop themselves from buying the experience they dream about, like Andy’s classic car.


What can a customer journey look like when they are in pursuit of dream?

When we set our minds to pursue a dream, we want to get a little taste of it first, that begin a journey of learning through play.
Insert a diagram showing these annotations: 

  1. The customer starts with sampling a virtual experience that is free.
  2. The customer then progressively commits more money and resources towards experiences filled with learning
  3. The experiences get increasingly real and enrich their world view of that Dream.
  4. The customer produces and contributes content
  5. The customer discovers and consumes content and experiences as learning material

How do you research The Dream Continuum?

Although no additional Design Thinking skills need to be learned, these interviewing questions are powerful in helping identify the Dream and their journey – The Dream Continuum.

  • What Drives you to do what you do?
  • What Frustrates you?
  • If you had a magic wand and could wish for / achieve anything, what would it be?
  • What haven’t you done yet that you’d like to achieve?

Discovering the journey – The Dream Continuum

Like a painting with found objects, the insights and data you collect ends up determining how you map them out along the customer’s journey to identify their behavioural patterns. The easiest format to draw further insights from and to communicate with is a continuous timeline.

Insert image of a journey map

Keep in mind
The customer has already chosen their journey and formed their habits. That’s directly opposite to artificially constructing people’s journeys and habits using motivators that make them want to come back for more. Retraining the consumer market is hard.
The Dream Continuum is a way to listen to the customer to understand the direction they are already most happy going in right now, instead of changing their path to experiencing short-lived moments of instant gratification without the guarantee of ever experiencing intrinsic happiness in the future.


Where to find The Dream in secondary research

Look in autobiographies and how-to guides. They often give personal quotes and a story of the writer's personal transformation. I look for quotes beginning with "I hope..." to identify the Dream.  The story of how they transformed shows the different personas they became along their journey and where they are headed to next. With that story, you then have different personas you can target your research with who have not yet made the full transformation (eg through learning new skills and knowledge) but are on the same path to doing so, just like the author. You may find quotes from others they reference too. Below are two different examples.

Insert examples of minimalist living and Main street movement.

A lean approach to identify The Dream Continuum

The leanest approach is to put sensors into the field and install rough experience prototypes to collect live data from and allow you to run contextual enquiries with to compliment any research you’re planning. While the first experience prototypes will likely fail, you’ll quickly get great data proving impact and possibly sales. The research findings trickling in will also help you understand the customers’ Dream and map their Dream Continuum to refine the experience prototypes into a solution.

Experience prototypes are critical to communicating the vision as well. 

This lean approach allows you to start proving the impact of a project quickly without the red tape and lengthy approval processes on exceeding your designated expense limit.


How do you use The Dream Continuum to design a solution for your customer?

Like a collage, you’ll end up overlaying your ideas onto the format you chose for mapping out the behaviours. The result is your concept design at its simplest. 


How do you use The Dream Continuum to support other common strategies?

  • Empathy map: Capture the interview questions with a more holistic template dedicated to The Dream Continuum.
  • Gamification: The Dream Continuum can be gamified or, vice versa, its psychological mechanisms can add value to a game.
  •  Service Design Blueprint: This can help you flesh out and budget the concept designs and plan prototypes to see if the customer’s Dream was the correct value proposition.

How did I discover The Dream Continuum?

WW2 story already on my website, summarised as one paragraph.


Case Studies

One paragraph and one image.
1.    Opera Australia
2.    Frock Stars exhibition
3.    Online hardware store