What planners need

Image courtesy of Identity in Newcastle.

We have finished the Summer Scholarship for 2012 at Saatchi & Saatchi. It’s a programme where we take ten or so young people into the agency for the summer and then give the best candidate a job at the end of it. Going through this process made me think of the things I think planners really need, whether starting out or progressing through the ranks. I’m sure there are loads of other characteristics that make a good planner and these are just the top ones for me.

1. An intellect and a good one at that

There is no getting round it: to be a good planner you need to be clever. I personally hate the image of planners as intellectuals and the truth is that being a bit useful in the brain department is a hygiene factor whatever job you do in this business. However, a planner is dependent on the quality of their brain and the things that they can make it do. This doesn’t mean you need a great degree from an academic university but you certainly need an agile mind.

2. A logical mind that can simplify the world around it

Perhaps the greatest skill of any planner is the ability to simplify the complexities of life so that people can get to work on a solution. Simple strategies, simple ideas, simple briefs, simple conversations and simple feedback. Simple but never simplistic. That’s why planners like shapes – triangles, wedges, concentric circles and venn diagrams – they help present thinking in a simple way that’s easy for everyone to understand. Without doubt the the greatest crime of any planner is to make things unnecessarily complex.

3. Capable of daring leaps

Logic is a wonderful thing but the one thing it’s useless at is creating the future. Edward de Bono is credited with saying that great ideas look logical in hindsight but it is never their origin. So use your logic to understand and perhaps reframe the problem but use your imagination to build the solution. The creativity of a planner is raw invention, not of executions but of ideas.

4. Humanity and empathy

I have always believed that you can be too intellectual for this business. In the end we are building brands and creating things for normal people. Good planners combine intelligence with a passion for the lives of real people and are able to see things through the eyes of others. The legendary copywriter, Steve Henry, always asks planners to describe the audience in ways that made him love and respect them. That works for me.

5. A dose of anxiety

I think great planners aren’t self confident in the way that great suits have to be since self doubt causes you to question yourself and propels you to better solutions. A bit of anxiety also tends to connect you with a problem personally and not just intellectually. If you constantly question why you do things the way you do, and why you think the way you think, then you increase your self awareness. And self awareness is a powerful tool for unlocking real insight.

6. Weird wiring

Planners are often subject to the same information and stimulus as everyone else but they use it and process it differently. It’s as if there is a crossed wire somewhere in their brains that means they make connections that aren’t obvious. I have always loved the conversations that takes place between planners because they jump around, drawing in references from a huge spectrum of experiences and ideas. An old boss maintained that in interviews she looked for the people that spoke in analogies – they were the ones that made great planners.

7. Moderate geek tendencies

I don’t mean this in the technological sense, though that may well be your bag. Geeks obsess and so do good planners, because being interested is the shortest cut to being interesting and having interesting ideas. A planner recently told me that whenever he flies he goes to the newsagent in the airport and picks up a magazine about a completely random and unfamiliar subject in order to dive into other peoples’ worlds, whether nursing, cross stitch or steam railways. I have always believed that a planner’s reading matter should confuse and slightly repel your account handler, because face facts, you’re a geek.

8. The ability to perform

Unlike creative teams, we create no tangible real world product so we are dependent on other people to implement our ideas – whether clients, agency people or partners. And to do this we have to convince them of our approach and thinking. This isn’t about being theatrical but it does need conviction and passion and that takes performance not just presentation. The art of performance is an invaluable tool for any planner.

Those are mine, what are yours?

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6 Replies to “What planners need”

  1. Very interesting post Richard.
    Being geeeky and a William Gibson fan, I would only add “the capability to recognize patterns”: it is a byproduct of the intelligence and different wiring you talked about, yet I think that a rapidity in recognizing developing patterns is also pivotal, mainly because it seems like clients are turning to planners for a lot of business problems and not only comm ones.

  2. The combination of literal/logical and lateral/creative skills is key – what I believe the IPA calls ‘diagonal thinking’. They have proved that successful people in advertising have this combination much more than in other professions. A good indicator is someone who did both arts and science A-levels.

  3. Two great comments IMHO, each one worthy of a blog on its own.
    “Pattern Thinking” and “Diagonal Thinking”.

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