A conversation with Google’s Megan Henshall
Ahead of IMEX 2023, our Daily News editor caught up with Google’s Global Event Solutions Strategic Lead, Megan Henshall, one of our line-up of stellar speakers at IMEX Frankfurt, for the lowdown on Google Xi, the Google Xi CoLaboratory at IMEX, the Neu Project, experimentation and cultural continuity.
Daily News: What is the Google Experience Institute (Xi), when was it created and what is its purpose?
Henshall: The Google Experience Institute (Xi) is a global community of more than 200 leaders, event and experience designers, artists, creators, technologists and researchers that formed in 2021. We serve as explorers and bridge builders to drive towards the best possible futures for events and experiences. We collect and share ingenuity and insights intended to help the industry move from ROI (return on investment) to TWI (time well invested). Our mission is to provide a safe sandbox for ideation and testing, driving incremental change where possible, provoking when needed and seeking out interesting tools, processes, technology and best practices.
For 2023, our focus areas for research and experimentation are radical inclusion, designing for belonging, and more humanistic value frameworks and impact narratives. With this work, we're testing three possible futures: 1. the democratization of experience; 2. the actualization of the authentic self; 3. experiential alchemy.
These were determined by leaning into research, macro shifts in adaptive behaviours over the last three years and community interest.
Daily News: Part of your remit at Google is to understand how events promote cultural continuity. What is cultural continuity, and how do you feel events can promote it?
Henshall: Cultural continuity is the ‘transmission of the meanings and values characteristic of a culture, down through time and generations.’ We believe that events and gatherings play a huge (maybe the most critical) role in helping teams at Google, and Google at large, instil and maintain our core values and bring the Google magic to life for employees, customers and communities. Events are a tangible expression of culture and, when done well, representative of the people who drive and influence that culture.
Daily News: The IMEX team are given a lot of freedom to experiment, to try out new ideas without fear of failure, so we love your 2023 motto, ‘It’s all one big experiment.’ How are you acting on this? And is this sentiment reflected in the Google Xi sessions at IMEX?
Henshall: We aren't white-knuckling anything in Xi. We acknowledge that the work we're doing is way bigger than us, our egos or what we want. We're totally comfortable with being wrong and changing course. We constantly rethink, re-evaluate and fight bias, which is why our diverse community of thought partners is so critical to our mission. It's really liberating to take this approach and it is absolutely infused into all of my perspectives now – we don't need to be right, we just need to learn and deepen our understanding on how to move forwards in ways that support humanity.
Daily News: Your Google Xi CoLab sessions at IMEX are described as design-thinking/ideation/brainstorming sprints. Can you give us hint of how these sessions will be run? Can people attend just to sit back and observe or is it full-on, hands-on interaction only?
Henshall: The CoLab sessions will be fast-paced conversations, centred on ‘how might we’ questions or provocations that we're currently curious about (or actively working on) within the Xi community. They are modelled after a typical design-thinking workshop at Google; so in a way, it's a small peek behind a typical sprint in any Google conference room around the world. People can absolutely listen in and observe, but we love to hear and learn from others. The beauty of these sessions is that it gives the opportunity to collect many diverse perspectives and spark lots of ideas in a condensed period of time.
Daily News: You’re running the CoLab together with Storycraft Lab. Are you working with Storycraft beyond IMEX – and how?
Henshall: Yes, Storycraft Lab have been key members and partners since the inception of Xi. Storycraft CEO Naomi Crellin and her amazing team serve as our community moderators and are helping us (with other companies and Xi partners) continue our work around designing for belonging, inclusion and permeating the industry with empathy-first approaches.
Daily News: One of your sessions covers the Neu Project. Can you tell us what the Neu Project is?
Henshall: The Neu Project explores the topic of neurodiversity and neurodivergence. More than 20% of the global population, or 1.8 billion people, are neurodivergent (with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, tourettes, sensory processing differences), and events can be especially challenging for many of them. The Neu Project is our love letter to neurodivergent communities, and our effort to extend considerations and interventions to include them by enabling experience designers and event professionals to better understand and design with all neurotypes in mind.