Category: Planning

A planner’s guide to reading

12__Reading_young_man

“You adapt yourself to the contents of the paintbox.”

Paul Klee

“What should I read to inform and inspire myself?” I was asked by a planner recently. It’s proven a perennial question, and one I have dodged more often than answered. But I’ve finally given some thought to the kinds of reading we should be doing. For it struck me that if what we read has the capacity to expand our emotional and intellectual resources, then this is a good, necessary, and important question.

The great American writer Annie Dillard was good on the subject of our internal resources. Citing the painter Klee when he said You adapt yourself to the contents of the paintbox” Dillard observes that:

The painter, in other words, does not fit the paints to the world. He most certainly does not fit the world to himself. He fits himself to the paint. The self is the servant who bears the paintbox and its inherited contents.

We can choose how varied our literal or metaphorical paintbox is. The more we invest in it, the more possibilities we have at our disposal. Mastering the technique and craft of our chosen domain is an important first step in developing our paintbox, as is embracing, understanding and appreciating its achievements. But of course we can and must go further. The more we cultivate an interest in what lies outside our domain, the more we open ourselves us to new possibilities, to new and exciting combinations. As the choreographer Twyla Tharp has put it: “Everything is raw material. Everything is valuable.”

So with that in mind, I’d want to suggest that there are seven kinds of reading we (planners) benefit from:

1. That which expands our capacity for empathy

2. That which grounds us in the basics of strategy

3. That which grounds us in the basics of how brands are built

4. That which illuminates the present state of things

5. That which lets us peer into the near-future

6. That which deepens our appreciation for creative instinct and craft

7. That which expands our capacity for persuasive expression

I’ve provided below some humble, and largely subjective serving suggestions, based on reading that’s stayed with me, reading I keep returning to, and more recent reading.

Some observations and caveats:

My point is to provide a point of view on the kinds of reading we benefit from, NOT, heaven forbid, to provide a comprehensive reading list.

Non-fiction does not hold the monopoly on truth and wisdom. The absence of fiction (which arguably contains more truth than any non-fiction) from recommended reading lists for planners is utterly baffling.

The fiction titles included are necessarily very personal and subjective choices – we must each work out our own tastes and preferences.

For the most part I have eschewed those breezily written books usually located in the psychology, business, or marketing sections of bookshops. More often than not they are of dubious methodological integrity. And everybody else has read them.

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1. That which expands our capacity for empathy

Because without that we fail.

Ali Smith, How to be Both

Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins

Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday

James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Fiction teaches us empathy like no other art form.

(These are just some personal and recent favourites).

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2. That which grounds us in the basics of strategy

Because there are basics to be learnt.

Stephen Bungay, The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results

Lawrence Friedman, Strategy: A History

Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin’s (ed.) A Master Class In Brand Planning: The Timeless Works Of Stephen King.

Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference And Why It Matters

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3. That which grounds us in the basics of how brands are built

Because there are basics to be learnt.

ed., Advertising Works: Cases from the Advertising Effectiveness Awards

Les Binet & Peter Field, The Long and The Short of it: Balancing Short- and Long-Term Marketing Strategies

Paul Feldwick, The Anatomy of Humbug: How to Think Differently About Advertising

Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know

Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising

This is the canon. There’s little else to bother with. The rest is just noise.

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4. That which shines a light on the present state of things

Because insight.

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology

John Brockman, ed., What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up At Night

Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity

Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Atticus Lish, Preparation For The Next Life

Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist

Zia Haider Rahman, In The Light Of What We Know

Laurence Scott, The Four Dimensional Human: Ways Of Being In The Digital World

Duncan Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

etc.

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5. That which lets us peer into the near-future

Because our task is creating new futures for our clients’ businesses.

David Brin, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

Don DeLillo, Zero K

David Eggers, The Circle

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story

Jaron Lanier, Who Owns The Future?

John Markoff, Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground

John Tomlinson, The Culture Of Speed: The Coming Of Immediacy

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6. That which deepens our appreciation for creative instinct and craft

Obviously.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Harold McGee, McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History, and Culture

Gerhard Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

James Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas

Sophie Lovell, Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible

***

7. That which expands our capacity for persuasive expression

Because forward progress depends on convincing others.

All great writing.

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As I said, my point is to provide a point of view on the kinds of reading we can benefit from, NOT to provide a comprehensive reading list. And when it comes to kinds of reading, I suggest we that range across seven kinds:

1. That which expands our capacity for empathy

2. That which grounds us in the basics of strategy

3. That which grounds us in the basics of how brands are built

4. That which illuminates the present state of things

5. That which lets us peer into into the near-future

6. That which deepens our appreciation for creative instinct and craft

7. That which expands our capacity for persuasive expression

In 2006 the chefs Ferran Adria , Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, and the writer Harold McGee put forward what they termed ‘the international agenda for great cooking’, and while its focus was food, it could well serve as the agenda and manifesto for anyone in the business of ideas and creativity who wishes to nurture and expand their intellectual resources:

We believe that today and in the future, a commitment to excellence requires openness to all resources that can help us give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food. In the past, cooks and their dishes were constrained by many factors: the limited availability of ingredients and ways of transforming them, limited understanding of cooking processes, and the necessarily narrow definitions and expectations embodied in local tradition. Today there are many fewer constraints, and tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can choose from the entire planet’s ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions, and draw on all of human knowledge, to explore what it is possible to do with food and the experience of eating.”

Happy reading.

Le fou du roi: What he teaches us about the giving of strategic advice

MP 433; Matejko, Jan (1838-1893) (malarz); Stańczyk; 1862; olej; płótno; 88 x 120 [106 x 135 x 9]

It is in the nature of jesters to speak their minds when the mood takes them, regardless of the consequences. They are neither calculating nor circumspect, and this may account for the “foolishness” often ascribed to them. Jesters are also generally of inferior social and political status and are rarely in a position (and rarely inclined) to pose a power threat. They have little to gain by caution and little to lose by candor—apart from liberty, livelihood, and occasionally even life, which hardly seems to have been a deterrent. They are peripheral to the game of politics, and this can reassure a king that their words are unlikely to be geared to their own advancement. Jesters are not noted for flattery or fawning. The ruler can be isolated from his courtiers and ministers, who might conspire against him. The jester too can be an isolated and peripheral figure somehow detached from the intrigues of the court, and this enables him to act as a kind of confidant…

The foolishness of the jester, whether in his odd appearance or his levity, implies that he is not passing judgment from on high, and this may be less galling than the “holier than thou” corrective of an earnest adviser. One of the most effective techniques the jester uses to point out his master’s folly is allowing him to see it for himself. Rather than contradicting the king, the jester will agree with a harebrained scheme so wholeheartedly that the suggestion is taken to a logical extreme, highlighting its stupidity. The king can then decide for himself that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The jester is in a sense on the side of the ruler. The relationship was often very close and amiable, and the jester was almost invariably a cherished rather than a tolerated presence. This leads to the kindliness of jesters: they could be biting in their attacks, but there is usually an undercurrent of good-heartedness and understanding to their words. If they talk the king out of slicing up some innocent, it is not only to save him from the king’s wrath but also to save the king from himself – they can be the only ones who will tell him he suffers from moral halitosis.”

Source: Beatrice Otto, Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World

Looking for the edge effect

055at-the-edge

Fresh from an interesting conversation with a candidate, and our discussion around the necessity of collaboration between strategy and creative, I stumbled across the words of the poet Alison Hawthorne Deming:

In ecology the term “edge effect” refers to a place where a habitat is changing–where a marsh turns into a pond or a forest turns into a field.  These places tend to be rich in life forms and survival strategies.  We are animals that create mental habitats, such as poetry and science, national and ethnic identity.  Each of us lives in several places other than our geographic locale, several life communities, at once.  Each of us feels both the abrasion and the enticement of the edges where we meet other habitats and see ourselves in counterpoint to what we have failed to see. What I am calling for is an ecology of culture in which we look for and foster our relatedness across disciplinary lines without forgetting our differences.  Maybe if more of us could find ways to practice this kind of ecology we would feel a little less fragmented, a little less harried and uncertain about the efficacy of our respective trades and a little more whole.

  ‘Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide’

They illuminated a truth for me – one that the cheap and easy talk of ‘collaboration’ obscures.

It is self-evident that we need specialist disciplines.

But if we find ourselves working in an environment in which the specialisms do not overlap, in which they are doing entirely different jobs, in which they do not speak a common language, in which they do not understand each others’ contribution, and in which there is no edge effect but merely a gaping chasm, then something is seriously, badly wrong.

Deming cites the mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, who in 1925 warned of the risks that came with increasing scientific and technological refinements: 

The specialized functions of the community are performed better and more progressively, but the generalized direction lacks vision.  The progressivism in detail only adds to the danger produced by the feebleness of coordination … in whatever sense you construe the meaning of community … a nation, a city, a district, an institution, a family or even an individual … The whole is lost in one of its aspects.”

Planning, account management, copywriting, art direction, interactive, design, production… whatever our specialism, and whatever new specialisms we might add, we work in the service of a greater whole.

The creation of value through the building of brands through the power of ideas.

That shared purpose demands that we feel and experience our relatedness to one another.

And it demands that rather than stick within our respective habitats, we go out to live and operate where the edge effect happens. Where our respective habitats merge and become the other.

Which is why I’m glad to say, we expect creatives to get involved in the strategic process, and expect planners to get involved in the creative process.

And it’s why we are looking for planners* who can thrive in and nurture the edge effect.

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* 5-10 years’ planning experience – able to engage senior clients in discussions about the things that matter to them, bring both structure and inspiration to the table, play a decisive role in the development of creative solutions, have a proven ability to help develop world-class creative solutions, preferably have experience developing global or multi-market work, be able to work well with internal and external specialist disciplines, be excited at the prospect of a life in Amsterdam… and nice to be around.

If that sounds like you, e-mail sophie.worth@wk.com

On the necessity of briefs, client briefs, and creative briefs

General-Bosquet-giving-orders-001

“Every order which can be misunderstood will be misunderstood”

Jacob Meckel, 1877

Briefing is difficult to do well and has a major impact, for it essentially determines how people are going to spend their time and what outcomes they are going to try and achieve. Few things could be more important for any business. In view of its importance and difficulty, it is remarkable that it is little taught.”

Lesson: Demand great client briefs.

Briefing is radical in the way in which it unifies effort. The effort is directed towards a desired outcome – everybody has an ultimate goal which is defined in terms of the state of affairs to be attained in the world.”

Lesson: Great client briefs define outcomes, not means.

In the backbrief three things happen. The first obvious thing is that the unit being briefed checks its understanding of the direction it has received or worked out. Secondly, and less obviously, the superior gains clarity for the first time about what the implications of their own actions actually are, and may revise them as a result. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity to ensure alignment across the organisation as well as up and down it.”

Lesson: Creative briefs should move the thinking on, not merely replicate the client brief in more cogent or interesting language.

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Source

The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results by the military historian and management consultant Stephen Bungay. It looks at how the organisational model developed by the Prussian Army in the nineteen century holds lessons for how today’s organisations and companies can more effectively execute strategy. When a former high-ranking officer in the British Armed Forces recommends you it read, you know it’s worth a read.

Beyond ‘ship and blip’: Why platform thinking is for everybody

signs-of-church-health

I was invited to take part in Campaign’s ‘Adland in Amsterdam’ feature. “Write about anything you want,” they said. This is the slightly longer version. You’ll find all the contributed opinion pieces and a write up of a roundtable discussion with fellow friends and inmates from adland here. My thanks to Suzanne Bidlake and Philip Smith for the opportunity of taking part. 

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Ours is an age of immediacy. Immediate communications. Immediate information. Immediate feedback. Immediate gratification. And the siren call of the short-term is seemingly inescapable in adland.

In such an environment, advertising could do worse than (re)learn some lessons from the product and platform builders.

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Now amongst those involved in the development of digital products and solutions, the argument often goes that advertising, is a fire-and-forget solution. While building products and platforms is about building (and iterating) sustainable solutions. Campaigns come and go, platforms are “built to last”.

And indeed within the tiny world of adland, it’s easy to find evidence of a fixation with ‘ship and blip.’

Thanks to the immediate feedback loop of all things digital, our fixation with the short-term has been turbocharged. We ship. And then look for evidence of buzz. We count the views, likes, shares, +1s, pins, comments, tweets, retweets, downloads, links, follows, clicks and buys. And then we move on to the next bright shiny thing.

Our new fixation with so-called ‘real-time marketing’ with its promise of real-time optimisation is going to do nothing to encourage long-term thinking. As the novelist and cultural observer Douglas Rushkoff has argued, immediacy is more and more the central defining characteristic of our culture:

Our society has reorientated itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always-on. It’s not a mere speeding up… It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now. So much so that we are beginning to dismiss anything that is not happening right now – and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.”

Indeed so short is our collective horizon that work that forms part of a long-running campaign struggles to be rewarded by creative juries. They’re just “not new’.

Consider the Cannes Lions Festival. For all its undoubted prestige, it is patently not (with the exception of its recent effectiveness category) a festival of brand building, but of creative innovation.

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So perhaps the product and platform builders have a point.

Except that those who believe advertising ipso facto to be a ship and blip, fire and forget business, fundamentally misunderstand how advertising creates profit.

For we know that sustainable value is built over the long term.

We know that pricing improvements are more likely to drive profit growth than volume  growth alone.

We know that pricing improvements take longer to effect than volume increases.

We know that the most profitable of all campaigns are those that drive both incremental volume and the strengthening of margins.

And while short term (i.e. temporary) volume effects can be achieved through discount pricing, offers, incentives, incentive, or new product features, we know that longer-term effects such as share growth or reduction of price sensitivity demand creating, sustaining, and strengthening long-term memory structures.

The data from the likes of the IPA’s DataBank is plentiful, and is there for inspection by anybody who cares to look. 

So while some will tell us that campaigns work like this:

 MartinsGraphic_02

We know from the work of Les Binet and Peter Field that effective campaigns actually work like this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 12.21.07

It is the curve that matters, not the blip.

If we cannot grasp the necessity of long-term thinking to profitable advertising, it is small wonder that agencies should stumble and fail to make the move into the development of products and platforms that have a real, enduring role in people’s lives.

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So perhaps this suggests that rather than think in terms of campaigns, we should all be thinking more in terms in platforms and products. And perhaps the now-famous words of Jeff Bezos should be the ones we all create by: 

If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.”

Thus:

Rather than stop-start-start spurts, we should be thinking of sustained engagement with the consumer.

Rather than looking just for short-term spikes (in buzz, ‘conversation’, and sales), we should be looking for evidence that we’re driving sustained growth.

Rather than simply counting the mute evidence of exposure and interaction, we should be using interaction as an active, on-going source of genuine consumer understanding.

Rather than thinking in terms of temporary audiences that come and go, we should be thinking of accumulating audiences over time.

And rather than thinking of strategy as a one-off event, we should be treating it as something that is continuous. As Lawrence Freedman (Professor of War Studies at King’s College London) writes in his recent magnum opus:

Strategy is much more than a plan. A plan supposes a sequence of events that allows one to move with confidence from one state of affairs to another. Strategy is required when others might frustrate one’s plans because they have different and possibly opposing interests and concerns… The inherent unpredictability of human affairs, due to the chance events as well as the efforts of opponents and the missteps of friends, provides strategy with its challenge and drama. Strategy is often expected to start with a description of a desired end state, but in practice there is rarely an orderly movement to goals set in advance. Instead, the process evolves through a series of states, each one not quite what was anticipated or hoped for, requiring a reappraisal and modification of the original strategy, including ultimate objectives. The picture of strategy… is one that is fluid and flexible, governed by the starting point and not the end point.”

Strategy, in other words, looks like this:

iPod_Family_by_zerocustom1989

And like this:

netflix 3s.001

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Much has been made of the (rather obvious) differences between the product and its advertising, and much silly nonsense – “advertising is what you do when you don’t have a good product” – peddled.

But when we look to what makes for effective, profitable advertising, we see that effective advertising is not so different, not so divorced from good products and platforms. For both are by necessity, long-term activities.

It is of course an inevitable feature of a world of finite budgets and an ever-expanding array of possibilities and disciplines that vested interest works to silo and set into competition all the disciplines, products and approaches we are now presented with.

But recognising the shared agenda of advertising and platforms serves to remind us that marketing is not a bolt-on to product, and that product or platform development and advertising need not be antithetical.

Indeed it reminds us that sustained mental (and with it, physical) availability is as useful and valuable to people as products that meet their needs or wants. Advertising in other words, is a fundamental and intrinsic part of a product’s manifestation and value in the real world.

Speaking at an event to mark the fortieth anniversary of the planning discipline, Jon Steel, made an impassioned plea for better, longer-term thinking:

We should be angered by the accountability mindset that means we’re making more and more decisions based on what can be measured, rather than what’s really important. How many companies today are setting “Big, Hairy Audacious Goals?” Certainly not enough, and we are also culpable in their failure to do this. We need to inject more ambition into our objectives…  the role for planning in the next forty years is to help clients once more to set the right objectives. The right objectives for brands and for business, not just for communications.”

It really is time for a more holistic perspective on marketing. For a more vigorous rejection of short-termism. And perhaps time that we gave up on the ‘campaign’ mindset with its attendant baggage, and adopted the perspective of long-term platform building.

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Sources

Jeff Bezos, letter to shareholders, 1997

Les Binet & Peter Field, The Long And Short Of It: Balancing Short And Long-Term Marketing Strategies

Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History

Jon Steel, ‘Planning at 40: Solving the wrong problems