A long time ago now, I was going to university for design and photography. In addition to my intellectual, creative and conceptual skill pursuits, I wanted to learn as much from the “masters” of design and design thinking; not just the principles, but the philosophy as well. My journey brought me to a designer named Bruce Mau; a man who started in design but broadened his application to focus on architecture and philosophy. Mau developed a set of principles in the late nineties called, “The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.” The list of principles and guidance made its rounds in the design community and ultimately to me. I was so inspired by his humility and direction, I never forgot them.
More presently, I have made my own manifesto for professional progress; a list of directional thoughts, axioms and inspirational ideas of things I’ve learned throughout my career. This manifesto is meant to direct and inspire; a living, breathing list to light the way as I continue down my professional path.
Part of this exercise is share and inspire others through stories and creativity. As a result, I give you my Manifesto for Professional Progress:
Always Bring A Notebook: Take notes, turn the page, repeat. Doesn’t matter if you don’t go back to read them, at least you have your thoughts captured so you can go on to the next
Keep Creating: Creativity broadens the mind and soul; offers new avenues and a refreshed perspective
Listen Loudly: Intently and without compromise, always listen to what people are saying. You will never learn anything new from others if you’re always the one speaking.
Allow The World To Change You: There are so many perspectives, experiences and events outside of your bubble, allow those to change you, your thoughts, perceptions and beliefs – it’s the path to growth.
Go In Uncomfortable Directions: The path unknown is more interesting than the one you always follow. Being uncomfortable means, you’re tuning into something new and that is progress.
Debate: But Don’t Argue: The civil act of debate, the sharing of ideas and perspective is essential to progress as a person, but make sure you’re not just arguing and that you’re allowing and recognizing a different perspective.
Embrace The Passion: If you leave your passion at the door, then you’re always going to leave yourself behind
Do A Dance: Sometimes you just have to let it out, even if you look like a fool, you may inspire others. Don’t take things too seriously.
Forget Process. Start Anywhere: Don’t get stuck in process. Start where you think you should start; progress is individualistic.
Close Your Eyes: Take a pause, close your eyes, think; progress doesn’t need to be evergreen.
Shower Daily: Routine Is important: You can’t move forward smelling like that, can you?
Wake Up Early; Find Quiet Time: Start each day as early as you can but take a moment to appreciate the new day in all its grandeur and to listen to your thoughts for the day.
Push The Convention: Just because everyone did it that way, doesn’t mean you should. Try new things and push against what has always been done; progress doesn’t exist if we don’t move beyond what has always been done.
Use A New Framework; Make Your Own: Don’t always follow the rules, find a new way of thinking.
Work A Late Night Once A Month: Something special happens when we’re sleep deprived and under the gun.
Work Smarter Not Harder: Don’t work as hard as you can, work as smart as you can. People notice when you figure out ways to work more efficiently and productively. Additionally, working harder leads to stress and stress is not an ally for any type of work.
Always Tell Stories: Knowing where to go means you need to know where you came from. People like to know how you got to a conclusion; they like to know how you got there.
Free Flow Ideas: A river carves out its own path; you never know where your ideas will take you, flow with the current
I’ve been giving PowerPoint SmartArt a great deal of thought lately and how beholden we are. More often than not we are reliant on the simplicity of SmartArt, using in it all of our presentations and documents to communicate ideas and our approaches. SmartArt is a simple way of organizing our complex thoughts and representing them visually– in order to communicate more effectively. I admit, I’m a heavy user of SmartArt myself.
However, I’m wondering if SmartArt is, by its own nature, limiting our thinking.
Linear Thinking: It’s so much easier to think linearly, to think in steps, to present in order. The sheer nature of PowerPoint as slides numbered, illustrates this and SmartArt is not immune to this thinking either. By using PowerPoint, we present steps, processes, approaches, you name it in an order that is reliant on the step before.
Forced Frameworks: Trying to jam our thoughts into a pyramid or some sort of relationship venn diagram, forces us to communicate a thought in a language which may not be the right one.
Two Dimensional Thought: Every piece of SmartArt represents two dimensional thinking. Whether it be a process, flow, hierarchy, relationship or list, it’s all about the presentation of thought in two dimensions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a three-dimensional thinker by any means, but wonder if it limits our ability to attempt to do so.
Forward, Rewind: Most SmartArt forms represent some sort of flow to a determined end point or goal. However, I have not seen one that allows for moving forward and moving backward or any sort of free flow of journey.
Too Simple: I understand the goal, as mentioned above, is to reduce complexity to simplicity. However, I would argue that most thoughts are not as simple, nor are actions. There is a vast amount of complexity, a consumer journey as an example and it’s difficult to articulate those nuances or complexities using SmartArt; it limits the thinking too much.
High Expectations: It also appears that if there isn’t some sort of SmartArt or derivation of SmartArt, people assume there’s no strategy. When did this become a thing?
I would argue that linear thinking imposed by SmartArt, where it’s easy to communicate thought, may wind up limiting our collective cognitive growth and may innately present an inherent bias in our strategic presentations. I would recommend trying to create something as it is, rather than force an idea into a preconceived image.
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.