I have been working in strategy and planning for the majority of my career, and it has been a learning experience every day. I guess that’s one reason I love working in this field, I’m constantly learning. Strategy and planning wasn’t my first career, I was a designer, a creative thinker to start, then pivoted into strategy.
This is my effort to encapsulate what I have learned. My hope is that someone finds these observations valuable and if not, that’s cool; just want to share my learnings with others as others have shared theirs with me.
In no particular order, here we go:
- Find Simplicity in Complexity: There’s a lot of information out there, and that’s an understatement. The role of a strategist or planner is to sort through that complexity to achieve simplicity. That’s it.
- Briefs Are Not Commandments: More often than not, we perceive briefs as the end-all-be-all roadmap for the project. This is not the case. Briefs are not infallible nor are they concrete, they are fluid documents that are meant to direct not dictate the journey.
- Briefs Require Action: This may be a no brainer, but every brief needs to direct some sort of action. If briefs become a compilation of observations, a translation of what clients said and or pithy statements, they do nothing other than showcase “how much you know” – briefs need to illicit or inspire action.
- Cleverness Versus Understanding: A strategist can be clever, their words can be clever, but a really good strategist or planner understands what truly needs to be done, what the target cares about, how the category is evolving, etc. and convey that understanding to others in a clear way. Save the cleverness for poetry.
- Find The Jewel: A jewel is a valuable piece of information, shiny and precious. The hunt for precious knowledge, an observation you need to nurture, something someone has overlooked, or something so pure and right for the moment is what our strategic search is all about; the hunt for the purity of thought in the chaos of information.
- Aha Is Not An Insight: Aha is surprising and new. An insight is an observation based on data, mixed with a human behavior or truth, that has some significant tension built in or wrapped around. Simply, insights take time to craft and hone unlike “aha” which is just something new.
- Also, Observations Are Not Insights: This is one that we have to try every day to fix. An observation is just something that has been discovered, an insight is crafted. To call observations insights is to confuse what you see with what uniquely needs to be done.
- Everyone Wants To Make Their Own insights: I’m just going to say it, I don’t know where or when creatives were told, trained or taught to make up an insight to set up ideas. it’s a relatively new endeavor, but one that confuses strategists and planners as we have long been told, by creatives, to provide them insights. But, as you will read later, everything is iterative.
- There Is No Ownership, Only Partnership: Long have I thought that deliverables or briefs that I write are “mine,” and that is most definitely not the case. Work, all work, is developed in partnership. The idea of ownership only manifests in what is assigned to you – and those two ideas are different.
- Who, What And Why Are Your Most Important Questions: As a strategist, you must always ask “who…”, “what…” and “why…”. If you don’t ask those questions on every assignment, in every meeting, you have extreme difficulty understanding the “how”.
- Strategists And Planners Are Business Development: Planners and strategists, by their nature, are generators of new business through the discovery of new avenues, new ways of thinking, or new problems (or the right problems). Since they’re unafraid to ask questions, dare I say need to ask questions, the answers lead to new discoveries.
- Time Is Your Best Friend And Worst Enemy: There is no perfect amount of time to write a brief. Each brief or project is under some sort of constraint and a planner or strategist must be accommodating to each scenario; you can’t rubber stamp insights. Pressure is the necessity of strategic thought. The same thing holds true to the notion of too much time; if you have too much time, it’s the absolute worst.
- Challenge And Concede: It’s within everyone’s right to challenge preconceived notions, directions or agendas; even more so as strategists or planners. However, know your boundaries, conceding is just as important – you may be wrong.
- Humility: You’re not always right; there’s always someone who knows more than you.
- Creative and Account Leads Are Your Best Friends: You need to make a partnership with creative and account; the relationship turns out the best in all. It’s like the Avenger’s, each has a unique superpower and together you can take down the worst of the universe.
- Don’t Be Afraid Of Excel; There Are Jewels In The Data: It’s a tricky platform and feels daunting if not intimidating, but in most Excel documents there is a nugget of information that is incredibly valuable. It’s okay, I’m not an expert in Excel either.
- Ask For Help: This is agnostic of any particular role or discipline, but ask for help when needed – you can’t solve the world.
- Anthropology And Psychology Are Essential: The understanding of the human condition, where we’re from, the why we act the way we do and the reasons why is what we do; you must have at least a basic understanding of both.
- Find The Problem, Solve The Problem: Sometimes the problems we are provided are not the correct ones or sometimes we don’t even get a problem to solve. Finding the problem is just as essential as solving it; if we don’t have a problem, then there’s no need to write a brief.
- Never Stop Reading, Learning, Questioning: This seems to be another no-brainer, but seriously, don’t stop reading, learning, or questioning… it has to be in your nature. Offer a fresh and new perspective. (Note: It doesn’t always have to be about work either.)
- Keep Writing Briefs, Even If They’re Not Used: Get in the habit of starting off all your assignments with even the most basic brief, it keeps your skills honed.
- Frameworks Matter Less Than What’s In Them: Every agency has their own “proprietary framework” but the irony is they’re all similar if not the same. What matters most is what is IN the framework then the framework itself.
Get Shit Done