Sudeep Gohil
Guest Article

Is the account planner still the smartest person in the room?

A special article from the desk of a planner.

Once upon a time, a planner was meant to be the cleverest person in the room. Truth be told, many of my fellow planners still behave like they are. But in general, those days are long gone. I'm not saying planners are getting dumber, far from it, but let's be honest - the world is more complicated now than it has ever been.

Is the account planner still the smartest person in the room?

Sudeep Gohil

When you last checked, how clever was your planner?

Actually, I would contend that it really makes no difference whatsoever. Our world is more complicated and multifaceted than ever before, likewise our communications environment. So the likelihood of a single person in any function, knowing everything about everything, seems highly unlikely, right?

Knowledge is still critically important, but the number one value that clients and agencies should demand from the modern planner is curiosity. Curiosity feeds creativity and it makes for an interesting thinker. It sounds so easy, if only it were. Knowledge can be learnt, but only curiosity can make someone more interesting than they already are.

If being interesting is more important than being smart, what makes an interesting planner? Chances are, while they love the communications business, they probably have a host of outside interests. In fact, they probably spend more time talking about that stuff than they do advertising. These people will be voracious consumers of popular culture and, more than likely, be obsessive about a few random things in their lives. (My team consists of 'semi-professional' musicians, teachers, cat enthusiasts, motorcycle freaks, warning sign spotters, and aspiring restaurant critics amongst others.)

Why does any of this matter? I am sure many of you are reading this and thinking that all you actually need from your planner is the right answer for your burning questions; the right proposition for the next creative brief or a carefully curated research debrief. That's what you have them on your team for after all...

The truth of the matter is that if you spend all of your time searching for the right answers, you might miss something even better; a case of not taking time to smell the roses or something like that. In reality, those roses that you missed might actually be something even more valuable - a genuinely new way to look at something; a fresh way to unravel a problem or a solution that is quite unexpected. A new way to ask a better question.

The need for divergent thinking, born from curiosity, is rapidly accelerated and emphasised in a place like India. Not only is the place we call home incredibly complex, with no 'one India' to speak of but it is also evolving at a rapid rate, arguably faster than almost any other country in the world. This complexity and rapid change mean that even if we think we have our hands on a solution today, chances are that our insights, observations and thoughts will need to rapidly evolve tomorrow.

In this kind of environment, as marketing specialists, we can either keep our heads down and stick to what we know best or embrace the change with a view to uncovering and creating new solutions.

So, what weapons should we have in our arsenal to address the situation?

Firstly, I believe we need to push harder for a greater breadth of solutions; there is more to life than TV commercials and celebrity endorsements. The need to be open to trying new things and learning by doing and collaborating is now a strategic imperative. It is critical in order to have a genuine cut-through and connect with consumers in an even more cluttered environment.

Second, openness to serendipity (or randomness) will become a hallmark of the smartest thinkers and the most surprising brands. While we may have valued consistency and reliability in days gone by, our new ADHD brains don't seem to value those traits in today's rapidly changing India.

Third, I think we could all work a lot harder... rigour is terribly underrated. The 'near enough is good enough' culture we find ourselves in, can't possibly lead to the best work. Where we used to spend time interrogating a brand or product simply to find a compelling brand truth, perhaps now, we need to spend more time pushing harder to ensure we are finding the best possible solution.

Let's face it; at the end of the day, the world is too complex. One clever person won't know the answer to every question. Even if they have an unlimited research budget and more time than they know what to do with, they may not arrive at the most compelling answer alone (or by sitting in front a computer).

Great ideas come from genuine collaboration between disparate groups of individuals, each with their own sphere of knowledge, influence and interests. Brilliant ideas are the result of pushing conversations outside of the comfort zone. Most significantly, we need to embrace difference as an essential element of world-changing ideas.

(The author is Chief Strategy Officer and Managing Partner at Publicis India)