Through Cubemate‘s guiding hand, I came across Watson Phillips Norman‘s Todd Norman’s thoughts on planning and creativity. The gist of the article is that people like one double first from Oxford in physics and mathematics are bad planners because they’re too smart, while humble and empathetic enthusiasts of pop culture and media who occupy a grey zone between creativity and ignorance are great planners because they are dumb. A good test of this hypothesis would involve a generation of systematic hiring of Ph.D.-carrying anthropologists (oddly omitted by Todd), archaeologists (understandably omitted by Todd), sociologists, psychologists and other social scientists for planning positions around the globe and an improved curriculum for these young professionals that would include applied training for product design, advertsing, PR and business strategy consultancy. Anecdotal cases of Nobel laureauts not being able to establish a rapport with an art director are hardly convincing. Alternatively, in order to fully exploit their teams of planners and not relegate them to self-deprecating advisors to all-powerful creatives, ad agencies should start working with the clients and the consumers at an earlier stage in the evolution of the relationship between the latter two. Product innovation, business strategy, field research into corporate and consumer culture are just the few trends that may help “planners” find their unique identity, an identity rooted not in imagination and not in rationality (both of these remain within the “known”) but in the discovery of the “unknown” about human culture and behavior. That’s how originally anthropology built its brand equity.
I attached a photo of a pen-as-toothbrush that I’ve picked up at a dentist office for a reason. This mutant is, in my opinion, a symbol of what a planner, a strategist, and an applied anthropologist is. He has to be able to inspire creatives and to remain detached from their creative process just to let it flow naturally and not be bummed by a “wrong course.” But on the other end, he has to be able to author a brand/business strategy, a cultural analysis of a political campaign, a semiotic analysis of old ads, and a case study of an ad campaign that he’s just let go of in order to recapture it later on a new level of execution. Finally he should be prepared to write a book of his own experiences doing all that. There’s definitely a grain of truth in Todd’s article, and a good balance of hardcore analytics with serendipity makes a great planner, but the wonderful workings of this mechanism still need to be explicated in order to salvage Todd’s thoughts from falling into a grey zone between banality and failure.