Category: Planning

Going beyond ourselves

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Art is one of the prime ways we have of opening ourselves and going beyond ourselves. That’s what art is, it’s the product of the human being in the world and imagination, all coming together. The irrepressibility of the life in the works, regardless of the times, the histories, the life stories, it’s like being given the world, its darks and lights. At which point we can go about the darks and lights with our imagination energised.”

Ali Smith

Going beyond ourselves feels like the most urgent necessity for all those in the marketing community. And yet nothing is no guaranteed to shut out the world and close down minds as the institutional and intellectual paraphernalia with which we surround ourselves. Happily some of us are digging tunnels out into the daylight.

A planner’s guide to reading

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“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

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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

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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

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“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.