Planners are the new ad industry rockstars. This is a description used by Rory Sutherland in a post about just why it is that the advertising blogosphere has been largely originated and perpetuated by planners. Planners are more willing to be generous with their thinking, he says, less concerned with using ideas to secure individual advantage, more interested in advancing the sum of all wisdom:
“…it is planners who open up their minds to whole-brand questions, in the process becoming the greatest force in promoting effective integration between disciplines”
He cites the eagerness to collaboratively form, foster, construct and share new concepts including ‘generous ideas’ and ‘polyphonic brands’ as being a quality more prevalent amongst planners than anyone else.
He is, of-course, absolutely right, but I don’t think it stops there. The point is made in the comments stream to the post that great ideas are not the sole domain of planners but I don’t think it stops there either. There are of-course a few creatives, account people, media planners and even owners that blog but that’s not the point and nor does it stop there.
No, the planning blogosphere is an example of something much more fundamental at work – a whole new way that business and companies need to operate. A bunch of people who are willing to embrace a new way of working, one that ignores the old rules, one that signals a new and extraordinary frame of mind.
It begins, perhaps, with Tim Brown’s (founder of Ideo) ‘T-shaped’ people, described in his wonderful FastCompany article (which I love). In the development of real-world strategies, he writes, insight into your market and your customers is all important. Empathy and inquisitiveness allow you to have original insights about the world. T Shaped people have a principal skill (like design or engineering) which describes the vertical leg of the T, but they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills (like anthropology) and do them just as well:
“They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need.”
T shaped people naturally work in a supportive, collaborative way:
“They explore observations very quickly and build on one another’s insights. In this way, they generate richer, stronger ideas that are hardwired to the marketplace, because all of their observations come directly from the real world.”
Tim Brown’s article is about stragtegising for business using design principles. Principles and processes not unlike those used in the blogosphere, including the whole idea of prototyping, of putting out ideas which are not fully formed to involve others in helping to shape them through a process of “enlightened trial and error”: observation, identifying patterns and trends, generating ideas, getting feedback on those ideas, refining them and repeating the process until it is ready for use.
If companies need T shaped people, then perhaps they also shouldn’t confine them within strict functionally driven environments where the lines are fixed and impenetrable. Rigid functional silos will be the death of companies that insist on having them. As David Armano has said, “the days of being a specialist are over”. The lines between organisational roles are blurring through necessity. A website editor has to understand about search engine optimisation in order to market the site they are editing properly. A marketing person has to understand the intricacies of editorial environments so they can contextualise advertising properly.
This new way of working involves a new energy, fuelled by the power of inquisitiveness and collaboration. But it also uses an entirely different set of tools. Enterprise 2.0 (awful phrase, great concept) was originally coined by Andrew McAfee, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, to describe a more spontaneous, knowledge based collaboration where use of tools such as corporate wikis, blogs, messaging software enable a flow of learning and communication that create a highly productive environment. In this world ‘Knowledge workers’, or people in organisations who hold a high quantity and quality of knowledge useful to the business they work for, use these tools to endeavour to expand on that knowledge.
Working in this way looks easy. But is it really? A lot of people I meet are still suspicious of this way of working. A lot of companies are still not very tolerant of their employees spending working time accumulating and sharing knowledge in this way. Many people think that if they become heavy users of these new tools they will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs. Many just think they are too busy.
But it has to be worth it. More than that, it’s essential. Every company needs people like this, who have these skills, who work in this way, who are willing to make the effort. Companies should be reprioritising the value they place on these skills as part of both their recruitment and their learning and development programmes.
Why? Because these are the people drive what Tim Brown calls “Innovation productivity” and because “curiousity about life in all of it’s aspects…is still the secret of great creative people” (Leo Burnett courtesy of Advergirl)
The changes which are happening in the world of communications and business are so fundamental yet so rapid, that a whole new way of thinking is required. One of the single most challenging aspects of the new world in which business now operates is the foreshortening of business cycles. Markets can appear (and disappear) at an unprecedented speed. As a result, traditional business models are in crisis, attacked by the pace of technological change, empowered consumers, changing distribution models, collapsing borders. It’s no longer about who’s big and who’s small, but about who’s fast and who’s slow (forgive me for paraphrasing Rupert Murdoch there).
At the same time, opportunities in a networked world are explosive. As James Governor says in an excellent post (“Hyper productivity and Information Saturation Economics”):
“we used to talk about two steps forward and three steps back, and so on, but today it’s more like 50 steps sideways and 2000 steps forward.”
Social based opportunities have the capability to fling us forward at pace:
“ROI tends to be about incremental value. Traditional company budgeting and forecasting tends to be about incremental value…but business in the burst economy is extreme, which calls for new approaches.”
I don’t mean to sound pompous or self-congratulatory here. People value qualities differently, they prioritise differently, so it’s not for everyone. My point is is that the planning blogosphere is a model, and an exemplar for a wider need to work in a wholly new way. Some people are genuinely happy with the status quo. What I read and feel on the blogosphere is far from this: a restless and almost relentless need to understand things more, change things for the better, strive for continuous improvement. The planning blogosphere is occupational collective intelligence in action.
So this is about more than a job title. It’s bigger than that, Way bigger. I just can’t help feeling that an inate curiousity, need to understand and yearning to discover is what it’s all about. Isn’t it?