Seeing the Unseen

How do you inject a familiar idea, or event, with new life? Two creative experts — Dan Goods of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Kati Quigley of Microsoft — share their sources of inspiration.

After studying art and design in college, Dan Goods ended up working in a slightly unexpected place: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he has worked as visual strategist for a decade. His task — to break down complex ideas into digestible visuals and experiences — entails constantly thinking of new approaches. “I have to create an experience for me to actually understand what [the scientists] are talking about,” Goods says in “Seeing the Unseen,” the latest Intersection video from PCMA and PSAV. “I have to appeal to lots of different sides. One is the emotional side, but the other is the practical side.”

For instance, to visually depict the feel of a space mission to Jupiter — a planet Goods calls “a giant storm” — Goods and his team created an immersive cloud inside a room, pierced by infrared lights and the sounds of thunder. “It was a challenge, and it was hard to get people sign off on the idea,” Goods recalls.

How does Goods find inspiration for such ideas? From his children, for one, as well as in a local garden filled with 1,500 cacti. “Whenever I feel like I don’t have an idea, or all of the ideas have been figured out already, I go there and go, ‘Aaah.’ There’s a lot of different variations that you can do,” Goods said. “That’s a big source of inspiration.” 

Of course, business-event strategists are familiar with keeping their antennae oriented toward new ideas in order to regularly refresh their meetings and events. However, Kati Quigley, senior director of partner community marketing for Microsoft, thinks that looking at one’s immediate environment and day-to-day routine with fresh eyes can be more helpful for generating ideas. “If you’re looking for a new way to create an engagement, see it in other parts of your life,” said Quigley. “For instance, don’t just look at other events to say, ‘How do they do that, and how can I replicate that?’ Instead, you look at, ‘How do I engage with companies that I buy services from, or from stores that I might go to?'”

For instance, Quigley said that a few years ago, she noticed that Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference needed a creative jolt. The signage was bland, she said, and she noticed a lack of connection between the 15,000 attendees. “I said, ‘okay, how do we turn this upside down and think about it in a different way?”” Quigley said. 

Quigley began to think about how people gather and connect with each other — and turned to urban planning, and specifically New York City’s High Line, for a creative solution. During the next Microsoft Partner Conference, in Houston in 2013, “we put a path of grass through the convention center, with benches and trees, and we had a center square where people could hang out and talk, and get coffee in the morning and margaritas in the afternoon,” Quigley said. “We called our expo hall The Commons.”

It was a hit — so much so that The Commons, as well as morning coffee and afternoon margaritas, have become a hallmark of the Microsoft Partner Conference (recently renamed Microsoft Inspire). “[The Commons] took on a life of its own,” Quigley said. “It was something that we trialed, and people really did enjoy engaging with each other, and so it’s just continued to grow. Now, it’s a huge part of our strategy.”

Dan Goods’ Tips for Seeing the Unseen

1. Create a visual experience to help people truly grasp your message.

2. Recognize that some of your ideas may be hard for other people to understand.

3. Give people permission to “be crazy” as you explore new concepts.

4. Inspiration can come from many unexpected places; be open to hearing from everyone.

5. Surround yourself with people who will help you succeed.

Want to earn CEUs? Watch the Intersection video at www.pcma.org/theintersection.

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.