What Makes a Great Planner – and What Makes a Bad One

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What makes a great planner? This is a personal compilation from the last few years of thinking about thinking.

1. We are not explorers, we are inventors

Planning is not excavation, its not digging into the ground to find something that is already there. Its digging into the ground to find something that didn’t exist five minutes ago. Our job is not to copy some affinity brand of the Internet or mumble some top-of-mind conclusion at the end of a standardized strategic process. If you’re not bringing something new to the table, you are wasting a lot of peoples time and money.

2. Nobody’s there to listen to you

Planners are not presenting their insight to show of their own brilliance. Our job is to empower others. If the people at the other end can’t make something useful with an insight, then we shouldn’t waste their time presenting it.

My old photography teacher used to say “half the job is editing the pictures”. Planners should spend more time editing and reshaping their insight and strategies. We need to be constantly thinking: “how is this useful for the people at the other end?”.

3. Respect

I’ve sat through planner get-togethers with people more full of themselves than a newly poured stout. Planners are not the most important people in the room, they are not excellent, they do not belong in every part of the creative process. A planner is an integrated team player, understanding that the job is to make the next ones down the food chain as brilliant as possible, and know when to get out of the way.

4. Companies compromise, customers don’t

Its easy to create strategies for companies; its a handful of people in a room wanting an answer that’s good enough for senior management to approve. Companies are political, they compromise, they make boxes with rounded corners. Customers on the other hand don’t compromise they don’t have the time. They either notice you or they don’t.

For them the product is a bar of chocolate – not the reason for waking up in the morning.

Designing strategies for people who give you a split second is completely different from designing strategies for people who will spend months tinkering on every word and possible meaning.

5. Listen

I’ve hear planners are essentially curious people, they listen – a lot, because they are more interested in other peoples wisdom than their own.

6. You don’t have format

How often is the delivery in the shape of a brief and/or a Powerpoint? We are stuck in old formats. The way we communicate our knowledge and insight is as important as editing the content. Powerpoint is a lazy man/woman’s tool. And take note next time; it’s never the facts that ignite the audience – it’s the stories you tell. Planners need to get better at storytelling, at analogies – and stop lazing over their powerpoints.

7. You’re job is to minimize risk, not enable it

Risk and guts are often cited as key ingredients to a successful creative process. I couldn’t disagree more. Risk is about uncertainty, it’s about not having the answers that gives the client the confidence they need to see that the “riskiest” option is the safest option. Clients shouldn’t need to take risks, and we shouldn’t demand it.

8. Nuanced

Nothing is black or white, we don’t shower in hot or cold water. The world is nuanced. When do we include nuance in our work, and when do we ignore it?

Image by: Marky Bon

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