Sandie Dilger

the future of planning


Embracing career crazy paving: how the future of planning lies outside of planning

Forget the old Irish joke - planners can start from anywhere, argues TBWA\London's chief strategy officer

By Sandie Dilger

There’s a well-known joke about a lost tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions to Dublin. The Irishman replies: ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here’.

In my ten odd years as a planner, I have had the great fortune of meeting many enthusiastic and inquisitive students, apprentices or job switchers seeking advice on how to secure that elusive first step into planning: securing a role as a junior planner.

Each time, I have, rather subconsciously, channelled my fellow countryman in my response. Essentially (and rather unhelpfully, I imagine, for the person who has just got their notebook out) ‘well I wouldn’t start from there’.

Like many, I really struggle to succinctly define the role of planning, but amidst most of my attempts to describe our craft, the concepts of inspiring and navigating change, bringing new perspectives to problems and being able to metaphorically walk in the shoes of others would all feature highly.

If change, perspectives and empathy are core to our job description, it stands to reason that in order to excel, we might be best served to bypass the relentless pitch research and endless competitive reviews of junior plannerdom and instead start somewhere else.

In trying to understand the factors that lead to what he calls career ‘hot streaks’ (periods of time where you effortlessly flourish at work), the Northwestern University economist, Dashun Wang, identified that the best predictor of the onset of a hot streak could be summed up as “explore, then exploit”.

This idea of a period of experimentation and then intense focus could easily be applied to strategy career paths. Whether the stakeholder heavy world of client side, the process rich world of consulting, the rigour of finance, the relationship building of account handling or the ‘I know how it feels to receive a brief’ world of design or copyrighting, most of the best planners I have worked with have all flexed their “explore” muscle elsewhere before focusing on planning.

At risk of this being a call to arms to those interested in our discipline to pursue their interests elsewhere, I would apply the same logic to the well documented industry talent crisis. For our discipline to flourish and continue to mark out the lines on an increasingly complicated creative playing field, it stands to reason that we need to be recruiting more people with ‘lived experience’ of change, experimentation, and diversity of perspective. This would require us to break down the walls of the traditional planning career paths and instead open ourselves to the idea of career “crazy paving”, a term coined by Dominic Cadbury. For us to continue to bring the outside world into our agencies and to take bold lateral leaps of thinking, diversifying our talent pool isn’t just a noble purpose but a duty to our craft.

The tourist in Ireland may have been ridiculed for not going the most efficient route, but the planners of the future should be able to confidently start from anywhere.

Sandie Dilger is chief strategy officer at TBWA\London

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