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Reflections from Planningness 2014

  1. REFLECTIONS FROM PLANNINGNESS 2014 9 things that will change ! the way I approach work Doug Kleeman, Baldwin&
  2. 1 STOP TRYING TO PROVE THINGS, GET BETTER AT DESCRIBING THINGS. WHAT HAPPENED: Ian Fitzpatrick made the point that, as planners, we are not looking for the truth or the answers. Instead, we are look for interesting. Alexandra Horowitz rattled our impulsive thought processes by teaching us how to look at ordinary things from new perspectives. Lisa Azziz-Zadeh taught us that there is a science behind creativity, but creativity isn’t a science. All of these things serve as a very useful reminder for planners to avoid pontificating on absolutism. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: Being able to persuade others is great. Being able to capture their interest is even better. Looking back at the early stages of my planning career, I recognize moments when I tried to “convince” clients, even creative teams, as to why a certain strategic recommendation or idea was the right one. Ignore your agenda, focus on the interesting. Both clients and creatives are fully capable of deducing their own opinions. Make your goal to describe things in interesting ways. Evoke intrigue. Create new connection points. Consider how seemingly disparate data points may actually connect with one another. But step down from the soapbox.
  3. 2 BE RADICALLY ORDINARY. WHAT HAPPENED: Megan Averell pointed out how Seinfeld became an insanely successful TV sitcom because it featured ordinary people doing ordinary things that ordinary people like you and I could relate to. And I loved this example because it tends to be the exact opposite approach for a lot of advertising today. Sasquatches, Shetland ponies, fiery explosions and midget wrestlers — these are all things that appear in popular ads today. Yet how often do we talk about these things in our normal everyday lives? Turns out, being ordinary is not only unexpected and unique, it’s incredibly impactful. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: Averell says there’s impact in ‘ordinary’. That doesn’t mean ads have to be boring. It just means that ads need to be relatable to people. Beats. Guiness. Cheerios. Brands are beginning to realize that being engaging is all about being relevant. Sometimes fixating on fireworks can muddle the message. It’s why homegrown Instagram stars and user-generated Tumblr sites can garner a bigger groundswell than multi-million dollar brand campaigns. The real goal, as Averell pointed out, is to create communications that make people say “That’s Me!” instead of just “That’s Amazing.”
  4. 3 MAKE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. WHAT HAPPENED: Planningness bills itself as an “unconference” where ‘making things’ is sort of their schtick. But it was the second part, the need to embrace your own uncomfortableness, that really resonated with me. Jeff George gave a great talk on how to transform fear into fuel. Jeff’s thesis was that “your comfort zone” and “where the magic happens” don’t overlap in the center of some Venn diagram. It takes a leap to get from one to the other. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: My own interpretation of Jeff’s talk is that if you’re not making yourself uncomfortable, you might not be doing something worth making. Many planners tend to be very risk averse. Safety in structure, let the creatives be the radical ones, the thinking goes. But this runs a great risk of making planning predictable. Perhaps sterile, too. Scare the shit out of yourself. It applies to our work as planners, our interactions with our clients, our relationships with our colleagues, the way we live our life in general.
  5. 4 EMBRACE UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACHES TO RESEARCH. WHAT HAPPENED: One of the great developments announced at this year’s Planningness was the release of Ian Fitzpatrick’s new low-fi data tool called Pollitt. In fact, Ian’s entire presentation of how to hack research processes was fantastic. Be sure to check out his Slideshare for helpful, low-cost tools and unique ways to jui-jitsu existing methodologies. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: Budgets don’t need to completely confine your capabilities. Get scrappy. Fuel qualitative approaches with quantitative input. Dumb down data so that you can compare it better. But don’t obsess over data points. For example, if you’re working for a running shoe brand, don’t look for the percentage of runners who go running with their smartphone — identify the relationship that runners have with their smartphones. Data isn’t meant to be taken at face value. Stuff like that. It needs to be reframed and relatable.
  6. 5 DEFY DECKS. WHAT HAPPENED: After two days of listening to some incredibly thought-provoking presentations, I came to the realization that some of my favorite speakers were the ones that relied on the slides onscreen, the least. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: Creative teams get to present ads. Tangible, tactical work. Think about the pieces that planners present. What’s the deliverable? Putting together yet another powerpoint seems like a pretty tired approach. Worse, it’s exactly what clients expect. I understand that in some instances, it may actually be required. And I also understand the irony of including this point in a presentation like this. But try, just try, to think beyond the slideshow.
  7. 6 CREATE BETTER CONDITIONS. WHAT HAPPENED: James Brown gave a soulful speech on how to find Flow — a state, as he defined, when we are completely present without trying to be. Lisa Azziz-Zadeh shared research explaining some of the psychology behind creativity, providing a handful of exercises to induce insight — mental state shifts, multiple idea facilitation, changes of perspective, things like that. Alexandra Horowitz’s presentation “How To See” had us outside, roaming the blocks of downtown Portland to investigate the city’s stimuli and assume new physical and mental perspectives. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: It all gets back to the notion that, as a planner, it’s not just what you look at, but how you look at it. This isn’t just an innate mindset that some people are better predisposed at doing. It’s something that can be consciously cultivated. As James Brown said, “we don’t hammer out, chisel out ideas. We arrive at them.” Resist regimented approaches to planning. Reform how you brief creative teams. Get your clients outside of the conference room. Creativity requires spontaneity in order to flourish. Create conditions to induce spontaneity. The world is your laboratory. Don’t swim inside databases and focus groups.
  8. 7 REVISIT THE ROOTS. WHAT HAPPENED: There was a moment during one of the presentations when Planningness director Mark Lewis asked who knew Stanley Pollitt. In a room of 80+ planners only one person raised their hand. Shocking. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: It seems as though planners today can wax poetic about social platform technology and outline these intricate channel ecosystems, but understanding the origins of the craft, not so much. I try to absorb the history and evolution of the craft as much as I can, but I definitely need to hit the books harder, too. I already have a massive cache queued up on Amazon.
  9. 8 FIND PROBLEMS, NOT SOLUTIONS. WHAT HAPPENED: This one wasn’t explicitly mentioned. But I think that’s sort of the point. The speakers at this year’s Planningness were amazingly adept at keeping things simple while keeping things pointed. The speakers had clear takeaways that raised just as many questions as they did answers. There’s value to that. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: I know what you’re thinking. Bullshit. And you may be partly correct. After all, we are in the business of finding creative solutions to our clients’ business. The problem is, planners get so fixated on delivering ‘the’ solution that they often fail to define the real problem at hand. In a world of “we need more online fan engagement” and “how can we create better brand advocates?” — it’s equally as important to identify (and clearly articulate) the real business problem. Our industry loves chasing these novelties with little or no understanding as to why it all matters. Plus, obsessing over the final solution sort of undermines the role of your creative team. Arm them with the right information. Then let them create.
  10. 9 GET GOING. WHAT HAPPENED: Robert Gallup had a hands-on session for building an Arduino-powered LED light board. Jess Seilheimer had us creating business plans for crowd funded projects. Jeff George built a “pop up” coffee, beer and cycling shop without any professional background before. The presenters at this year’s Planningness got where they are, just as much for what they can do with their head as what they can do with their hands. WHAT IT MEANS MOVING FORWARD: The planning discipline often gets knocked for being too scholarly, too academic, too consumed with theory and abstraction. Maybe rightfully so. Maybe not. But there’s one way to avoid it. Make shit. Don’t just present data, create a visually stunning data visualization. Don’t just report focus group quotes, create a compilation film of intercept interviews. These are bad ideas for an otherwise important point, but you get the idea. In a discipline where one gets paid to think, there’s also value in what you make.
  11. Special thanks to: ! Mark Lewis for organizing this year’s Planningness event. No idea how he pulls off such an amazing event every year. ! Baldwin& for sending me to Portland to learn from some of the brightest folks in the industry. ! Planningness’s sponsors Carbonview & W5. ! All the attendees for sharing their ideas, collaborating throughout the event and being genuinely great all-around people from as far as I can tell.
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