The plan. (Not halfway there.)

It always helps to write stuff down and I’ve been asked once or twice what I plan on doing, so here is an explanation of what I meant with ‘a planner – planning to pack his bags’:

I finished my master thesis in November and had my graduation exam in March.

We – that is Stephanie and myself – are planning to move abroad.

I took the hard decision to leave LHBS.

I co-founded a software testing company as a side project.

I registered myself at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and am since then able to do freelance stuff all over the world. (This also means: if I can help you with anything, let me know.)

I am looking for an opportunity in planning abroad.

So I’m starting. I’m off to China, Hong Kong and Singapore on June 1st, for a few weeks to get a feeling for the culture, meet people and maybe do a bit of work here and there. I’m trying to meet a teacher, a former colleagues from UBC, two entrepreneurs, an activist, obviously some backpackers and, of course, fellow planners I ‘know’ from the plannersphere. I’ll be around Beijing until the 7th, around Shanghai until the 12th, around Hong Kong from around the 15th to the 20th and in Singapore from the 20th to the 25th. If you’re there, if you’ve got work to do in China, if you simply want to meet up or know somebody who’d like to have a drink with an Austrian ginger, aka myself, please let me know.

But that still doesn’t sound quite like a plan does it? ‘An opportunity in planning’ sounds a bit like this is just some ‘well I have no idea what to do, so I am looking for an opportunity in planning’ kind of thing. Really, I am not only looking for an(y) opportunity in planning abroad. I really want this. I am looking for a place to learn as much as I possibly can while exploring a culture I haven’t lived in and having fun along the way. I want to be pushed out of that cozy area people call comfort zone. I want to get better at everything from the business end of analysis, to creative ways to do research, to coming up with strategies to helping execute it.

While plotting that plan, and being asked by Rob and Neil and others what it is that I want, I had a bit of a think about what I wanted to do and how I see the kind of stuff we’re doing or supposed to do. Not that thinking about our profession is always the best thing to do – even less when it leads to seemingly endless conference talks and the notion of ‘rockstar’ planners –, and maybe it’s an even worse idea to do, if you’re the one going abroad and being the newbie and all, but hey, why not?

The way I want to continue to learn planning, I don’t want it only to be about advertising (including whatever form of communication) and writing creative briefs. I also don’t want creativity to be limited to the so-called creatives. I think of planning as helping companies doing stuff in a relevant and original way that actually makes them money (at least long-term), while not fucking with people. If it’s product innovation, it’s product innovation, if it’s because their internal culture is dismal, it could be a solution for that. I don’t think planning should know it’s outcome beforehand, even thought it might still be advertising 90% of the time. I am convinced that making things people want is not only a matter of objective and ‘functional’ innovation, but one of cultural context, symbols and framing as well. (But that’s a longer blog post …) – I want to work in both.

I had to smile when Martin Weigel started off his fantastic posts on brands and advertising with all the papers, science and literature he’s using for them. I think I’ve read 90% of the stuff he’s quoting. That doesn’t mean that I know how to apply it all in strategy (that, I want to get much, much better at), but that I like arguments grounded in some reasoning, be it found in science or because of what people did or failed at.

I tend to believe that advertising or any other branded stuff works mainly because what people do with it, not because it does things to or at people. I still believe it works – there are beautiful examples for long copy in the youtube videos by Anonymous and the Occupy Movement – and I still see digital ‘only’ as a pervasive context for what is otherwise known as life. I write that because I think I can do better work at places that just takes that as a given, instead of ones spending time talking about it, again, and again, and again.

I think brands are the outcome of everything done around them and that they play the role of a change agent in culture and society. That’s why I like working with clients who have a point of view about the purpose of their organisation.

I want to explain and make people understand lives in a lively way, with stories and pictures, rather than the contrived psycho-babble of many segmentation studies. I at least want to try to feel what that other person was feeling. I want to see what he or she is seeing. And I want to work with people who care about the daily lives of others and can imagine living in a small flat, taking the metro. While there are more than enough reasons to be cynical about marketing, I think there are not many reasons to look down to the people we’re supposed to sell stuff to.

I don’t believe in brainstorming as the tool to come up with brilliant and new ideas. I don’t believe in anything that predicts and promises success – be it Lovemarks or Design Thinking. Things fail just way too often to fool myself into believing that kind of stuff. I think having a discussion in a group when everybody is somehow prepared helps, but I don’t want to rely on any tool that delivers the solution.

I think that only people can tell you how they feel about things. I don’t know if the outcome of what I do is always an ‘insight’, or if it’s just empathy and an injection of relevance. I’m definitely not used to the ‘so, this is the insight’ approach and now work from that. I want to get better at digging deeper, at digging in strange places, at  selecting topics that are worth digging deeper, as well as in coming up with new ways of finding out things.

I have some ideas myself about doing things, trying out stuff and making things. Some of them evolve around ambient learning and serendipity, others about creativity in organizations, ideas and ways of conducting fieldwork, maybe even everyday.

I’m further than I was five years ago, but I’m still ‘not halfway there’, as my blog reads. And now that I think about it, maybe I never want to arrive, and enjoy doing it.


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  • Thomas Miskin

    Good luck!

  • Willemvdh

    Awesome news Thomas, sounds brilliant!!