What do I have to know?

A Hungarian chap looking pensive. Cheers Gaby/Crumplestiltskin.

There’s a very real trait in the planning world to gaze, thoughtfully, at one’s navel for what seems like a very long time. And I’m just as guilty as most when it comes to this. Sitting around and not doing quite what I should be doing, thinking about the consequences far ahead of the actual event. Which, in itself, can be hugely paralyzing. And not that useful.

Most of this lies in the economic uncertainty that most readers will be familiar with (if you aren’t, stop reading this blog immediately and go and have a look at the FT, or the Beeb) – bluntly, wondering what the advertising world is likely to look like when it all hits in the next 6 months to a year. Whether this’ll increase the fragmentation of the entire communication industry, and help speed it up (privately, I think it will, and I bet we’ll see a rise in the number of ‘communications agencies’ who used to be PR/Advertising/Integrated shops).

So, this leads me to wonder just what skills will actually be of use in the next five to ten years. God knows, skills like rigorous analysis of data (whether it’s qual/quant or otherwise) will still be of interest. And so will creative (though, again, whether we’ll have more designers, people who know how to actually make things, and web ninjas.

Part of the nature of most planners, I think, is to want to know more about anything and everything. Turning this off is often quite difficult, especially when you are trying to balance much-needed reductive behaviour with your desire to open 15 tabs, and 5 of them are work related – the other 10 are open because you, like the net equivalent of collecting bits of string, think ‘it’ll be useful’.

I was having a very interesting conversation the other day with Jon Leach (formerly planning supremo of HHCL, now head of planning at Chime), about the nature of conversations, and how a lot (particularly ad agencies) of comms agencies don’t wish to engage with the conversations that’re going on around them, and how so many of them are pretty bad at engaging the general public/promoting themselves. And this, in short, can turn out to be death. Track your conversations – don’t worry about squeezing out another 30 second spot which either won’t engage or will be ignored by the general public. I’m reminded of this quote from his blog:

“If you had the choice of bringing your friends or your books to a desert island, we’d call you a sociopath if you took the books over the breathing humans. Yes, track the content, but if you don’t track the conversation then you’re missing the main story.If you had the choice of bringing your friends or your books to a desert island, we’d call you a sociopath if you took the books over the breathing humans. Yes, track the content, but if you don’t track the conversation then you’re missing the main story.”

Contrary to this is the current situation though – those agencies that’re doing well at the moment concentrate on their own disciplines, to become true specialists, rather than being creative generalists.

So it leads you back to the central thought – what do I have to know? Should I forsake a rigorous approach to data in favour of keeping an eye on conversations about my brand? Can I do both? Is the concept of ‘T Shaped people‘ the only way to keep a handle on what people should learn – namely, take an avenue you think you know the most about/want to learn about, and explore it fully, without keeping your mind of the notion of other items of importance? Is the job title, as a result of this, effectively redundant?

It’s amusing; I’ve been calling myself a ‘plannerger’ at work, because I am involved with a few basic account management things, and don’t mind ever increasing amounts of client contact. But this, I think, may dilute my abilities as a planner (and I do believe each planner falls into either a creative or business focused role – dependent on how your mind is geared). I suppose the overall question is this: What part of your brain will be neglected (and necessarily so, to keep all of your marbles)?

Again, it ties into the question of whether google is making us smarter, or stupider (read the comments, especially the one about intensifying your personality). I think it leads to a tendancy to be a little bit more lazy, definitely – less interested in the search, and what you’ll find out along the way.

And I don’t want to be this lazy, technology dominated person. I want to be challenged, and learn ‘what I have to know’ along the way. It comes back to the notion of using a team of planners on a piece of business, or just coupling two people when trying to solve a problem – preferably with complementary skills, as each person will have an ability to ‘fill in the gaps’ with the other. Of course, also to keep your eyes open for any potential black swan – allowing the role of serendipity to enter your life.

So tell me, humble reader – what do you, regardless of experience in your role, think you’ll need to know in the next 5/10 years? Or is it one of those navel gazing questions after all, and you don’t know until you move forward?

No, I’m not going to quote Rumsfeld at you. Not this time.