March 3, 2016 ColorFuzion

How NASA’s Artist-in-Residence is Changing the Way We Think About Space

Simply put, a marketer’s job is to translate a brand into exciting, informative, and empowering consumer engagements. In that regard, Dan Goods is the ultimate translator. At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, he serves as the company’s Visual Strategist, translating high IQ scientific concepts into public art exhibitions. He and his work in and of itself, truly define out-of-the-box thinking. That is of course, if the planet were square and not round.

When I interviewed Dan on my podcast, Innovation Crush, he shared some examples of his work, things he’s learned, and how a true artist ends up affecting the way we think about science and the universe.

Here’s how this NASA artist says you can give your creativity a boost.

1. Be a Fish Out of Water.

When Dan was in art school, he had a professor who not only had him observe the swimming mechanics of otters, he took him to a pool and made him swim like one. Often times, creative minds simply observe and translate culture into marketing ideas, businesses, creative collaborations and the like. The key reason a great majority of them fail? They don’t go and immerse themselves in the culture. Observe and translate is very different than immerse and translate.

Working with influencers? Spend a full day with a few of them. Collaborating with a brand? Visit their facilities and bug their creative director. Redesigning a store? Go visit some of your favorites and ask the managers and shoppers questions. Further, the benefit of getting outside your norm to look, see, feel, and touch, will work wonders for your creativity and inspiration. Unfortunately, the usual reviewing data, reading a few articles, and brainstorming won’t always cut it.

2. Don’t Speak Geek.

NASA employs some of the smartest people on–and off–the planet. They understand mathematical theories and rules of physics and compositions of atoms and distances from stars far more than any of us average tax payers care to explore beyond our 3rd grade science fairs (“C+? YES!!!”). However, we are tax payers, and much of our money goes to the programs NASA creates. And we have questions about how that money is spent.

It’s a rare individual who can translate between the two worlds. In your worlds, you might be need to give a report on analytics to a creative team, plead for the latest wearable technology to your chief financial officer, or explain that Ferrari to your board of directors. Avoid jargon and the inclination to appear well informed to your audience. With a bit of empathy, you can speak in their terms, using things they understand, and gently guide them into your world of rainbows and unicorns.

3. Make the Mundane Spectacular.

Whether you’ve known someone a lifetime or a few short minutes, “How’s the weather,” is probably the driest, most unimaginative question you can ask someone. (Mom, I’ve lived in LA for 15 years, it’s pretty much the same all year). But for NASA and its team of scientists, the weather is filled with the glorious wonder of the planet, its position in the universe, and deep seeded answers to our future. In the San Jose Airport, there is a walkway with hundreds of small, white tiles dangling from the ceiling at slightly different heights. Every few seconds or so, each one changes opacity on its own interval. It’s amazingly beautiful. As you approach the end of the walkway, there is a computer that reveals you’ve just observed real-time weather patterns from 100’s of locations around the world. Dan just made the weather cool again.

In our day-to-day, there is a tonnage of drab action items, tasks, and things we need to communicate. Adding some flair and conceptual repositioning just might help us–and the people we communicate with–get over the yawn hump.

4. Help Your Colleagues.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Dan and his team’s influence can be seen everywhere. From redesigning conference rooms to bringing play back in to brainstorms, crafting mission pitches, and a whole collection of really cool science-infused art sprinkled all around the campus. Walking around with him, you can’t help but notice how creativity has sparked new levels of ingenuity. All separate from his own special projects.

When you help others in your organization on work that is not your own, you increase your social currency. That social currency has value when it’s time for you to get your creative idea(s) pushed through, approved, and completed. As much as we can get bogged down in our daily to-dos, it’s always good to lend a helping hand, as you’ll never know when you’ll need one.

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