Saturday, July 12, 2008

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.


lauren said...

i'm pretty sure that in the next 5-10 year's time, i will still need to know how to speak another language. whether that's learning new programming code, or to speak german better to seb and nina, or to understand mandarin so i'm able to communicate with my art dealer (not that i have a chinese art dealer, but hey, in 5-10 years, i might).

i also know that in 5-10 year's time, i'll need to know what my cholesterol is, my blood pressure is, how much water i need to drink and when i need to take my iron tablets.

nothing else is certain, by i think if i can wrap my mind around stuff and know what the hell my body is doing, i'll be ok i guess, nomatter what the markets are doing.

can you blog some more please? it's pitiful over here...

TeamSmithy said...

Comics did pretty well during the last depression, so I'm not too worried.

Mes petites merveilles said...

You have a very interesting blog, I like it! :)
Signed: a Spanish girl who was here.

c u!

Seb said...

I remember 15 years ago when I attended a convention for young journalists, we were told that the future belongs to the generalist.

Then years later when starting in advertising, I was told that you need to be a specialist. Planner, account management, copy or design.

I think the opinions about whether the generalists or specialists will be more important will always diverge.

In my opinion, as an effect of the sheer amount of information and ways to communicate there will be a need for specialists who focus on their area and broadens its borders. But to combine the abilities of all these specialists you will always need generalists.

Let's take an integrated campaign for example. You will always need someone to come up with the core idea, with content, with the story for a product / brand. Then they will have to collaborate with specialists to let this story become alive in every possible way.

So in the future collaboration between a few generalists and a lot of specialists will be important. Or that's what I hope as a generalist. Does all this make sense?

Cynical Rob said...

Google isn't making people stupid and people are just becoming lazier and 'responsibility-phobic'.

Nice to have you back online matey ...

Niko H (nom du guerre) said...

I'd say it's about being able to create value. whether it be monetary, comms, design, whatever... that and being able to sell something...

If you can think of an idea that makes cents/sense and you can sell the fucker, there will be a job for you..always

Willem said...

Nice post, and I think pretty navel-gazingish. But as you (kind of) said, it's important to take a step back and think about stuff sometimes.

No idea, what we'll need in the next 5 years - hopefully we should learn to drive flying cars and terraform other planets, stuff like that.. It is the 21st century and these things are overdue now!

Also, check this cool presentation out about future stats, if you haven't seen it before:


Carl said...

Good to see you blogging again.

In my humble opinion know what you are good at and do it well but more importantly know your limitations. There is room for both specialists and generalists, in fact I think they can all live together harmoniously.

There is an agency over here in Aus called HOST (about 65 people there last count and are arguably the hot agency at the moment in Aus depending on who you speak to) who essentially don't have a creative department. They solve the problem from a relativly generalist perspective then get specialists in to do the work. It looks like it's working for them.

sexy said...







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