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What’s a planner to be? – lessons from planningness

October 3, 2010

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Kudos to Mark Lewis for pulling off the second edition of Planningness, this time on a much bigger scale with the action happening in two venues at the same time.

At the heart of the Planningness concept is the idea to turn the audience into meaningful contributors by getting them to first learn, then work and finally transform themselves into speakers as they present their ideas to the crowd.

This structure means Planningness is much flatter than the typical conference and makes attendees feel like valid contributors. This is perfect, because Planners are constantly looking to prove themselves and show their smarts.

The big thing Planningness does is to demonstrate just how wide the Planning remit has become and I would suggest it’s starting to stretch a little too far.

Relevancy in a changing world is what every career professional wants, no one wants to get left behind in the tidal wave of change, so there’s pressure to know what’s what and how to get things done.

This is especially true for planners who are seeing their old core competence; helping make ads, decline in importance.

Judging by the two days I spent at Planningness, there’s no shortage of rabbit hole opportunities down which the bright young planner can disappear and there lies the problem. With a whole bunch of shiny new objects, there’s a danger that craft skills could easily get lost in the chase.

At the conference, this was easy to see when random ideas got frequently presented by attendees that were too often devoid of strategic insight. The potential for a planner to simply become be a bad creative is a big trap.

In the real world, outside the idealistic confines of Planningness, there’s a need for valid contributors who can bring consumer insight and understanding to the table and help make better things, rather than just things.

These means the core mission of Planning which was always to bring consumer insight into the process is alive and well. What’s changed is exactly what insight is brought to the table and how it’s used.

The broadening of a the Planning space to include digital, mobile, social and all forms of media in both on a quantitative (now there’s more data than ever before) and a qualitative frame is significant. If you want to include the in current vogue, Behavioral Economics, it’s a lot of stuff.

The problem is that this expanding universe doesn’t stop there; planners need to be much more creative. In order to communicate their ideas to bigger teams they need design and even programming skills and if you want to make it even more complex; the ability to facilitate and lead brainstorming, would also be nice.

I feel these developments are leading to the emergence of two types of Planner ; The Specialist and The Generalist. The former will live deep in one world and be able to understand the evolving technologies and behaviors and the later will know a little bit about everything and act more as a producer; bringing in Specialists when they’re needed and working with the ones they have in house.

Knowing which type of Planner you are is going to very important, because the temptation to pretend you know a lot about a specialist area is going to catch many people out, because these areas are simply too complex and demand dedication and focus.

This transformation has big implications for agencies trying to work out what mix of skills their Planning Departments need to have, but also for educators who have to equip future Planning talent with the skills.

Educators are just going to have to get broader and equip Planning students with more specialist skills, but the area that has to be developed is creative; planners need to be good at making stuff and that’s going to take some teaching.

The good news is that Planning STILL really matters, the challenge is to get it working in a way that’s right for the times.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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