This is the year NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of its historic Apollo 11 moon landing mission. Simultaneously, NASA continues to do deep dives into research for its future unmanned missions to Mars. It also devotes a significant amount of its budget to research here on earth, especially our oceans. To think through such expansive issues, NASA scientists get support for their creative process. An example of that support is the Studio at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. The Studio's research and development process is something from which strategists can also learn.
First, there's cognitive diversity. The Studio is staffed by a thoughtful and eclectic team of designers, artists, and social scientists. Daniel Goods is a visual strategist and director of the Studio. The Studio finds creative ways to support the scientists. Goods and his team help scientists frame their research questions, explain their research story in tangible, visual story form, such as the Line of Sight installation, and even help install way-finding for conferences. In many ways, the Studio is made up of a collective of gifted translators. They are able to communicate really complex ideas from physicists and astronomers into engaging and inspiring stories that spark new ideas and questions.
The second takeaway is the metrics they use. They start with really good questions. When I visited the Studio, I was struck by the three questions they use to determine a project's desirability, viability, and feasibility:
- Does the project achieve and exceed clients goals?
- Does the project make you grow as a designer?
- Is the project innovative, fresh, and new? Do people want to imitate it or steal it?
You might substitute a few words here or there. For example, in question No. 2, you might ask how the project helps you grow as a marketing professional, or coder, or strategist. What I like about question No. 2 is that client work becomes an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Client work sparks inside-out growth. Question No. 1 starts first with the clients' needs. And I also like the second part of question No. 3. To ask if people want to steal your idea reminds me of Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist--a high form of flattery. The Studio fundamentally wants to ensure that its work starts with clear expectations, engages people, uses story, and is timeless.
If this is how our country stimulates its most audacious explorations into space and our oceans, imagine what it will do for your business.