The IPA does so many good things - the IPA Effectiveness Awards, the industry-wide training programmes, the retirement funds - but on this occasion, I think they're steering us in the wrong direction.
The IPA is sponsoring their second Fast Strategy Conference on Wednesday, making it one of the few things they're running twice in 2008. There's no denying that the pace in our industry is quicker than ever; my question is whether greater speed should be celebrated and encouraged. Guy Murphy is quoted on the IPA website:
The most important skill that strategists need to learn in this era is speed. The quality of a strategic answer is now partly determined by the time taken to create it. Slow-baked strategy, no matter how good, can never be great.
I have my doubts about this statement. There's no proof offered that off-the-cuff, instinctual decisions are better than considered ones. I think that too many of us have read Malcolm Gladwell's 'Blink' and have fallen in love with the idea of fast thinking. In our search for the new we're celebrating an idea that has generally led to bad things. Fast thinking leads to mistakes. Shooting the wrong man. Assembling the bloodthirsty mob. Pressing the wrong button. Starting the inadvisable war. Betting the entirety of your company's future on collateralised debt obligations. You get the idea.
As a department, I'd like to think that we're rather good at delivering things quickly when we have to, but let's not celebrate this fact. Let's not hide the fact that settling on the first answer is a bit lazy and often leads to wrong thinking. The writing in the plannersphere would lead you to believe that it's more important to be interesting than right. Bollocks. I'd hope that Russell Davies meant nothing more than we should be interesting and right when possible. Obviously, we should avoid being boring and wrong; let's go a step further to say that it's a foolish goal to be interesting and wrong.
We get paid - our jobs exist - because more time needs to go into thinking. I've been going back to the origins of planning here at BMP (now DDB) and the beginning of the planning role is rooted in having someone thoughtful who could concentrate on the problems and opportunities at hand. If speed is what you're after, why not have the account managers write the strategies? There's nothing wrong with this approach; many agencies globally run just fine without planners. But if you have planners the point is to give them time and space to think.
Five years ago, I helped organise an 'Iron Planner' competition onstage at the AAAA's planning conference modelled on the popular television programme 'Iron Chef'. The idea was almost identical to the one we have at the IPA event, but the goals were different. Our goal was to give younger planners a chance to work directly with notable strategy directors. We also wanted to give less experienced planners watching the event a window into the pitching process.
An explicit warning was attached to the proceedings. Doing things in such a compressed time frame would result in less than ideal thinking. Working too quickly should be avoided, given alternatives. Perhaps this is why I can't believe that we are holding a festival of fast thinking. It's like holding a rain festival for kite-flyers, or a cloud festival for sunbathers. Why are we celebrating an industry constraint when we should be finding ways to break free?
I'm not against faster cycles of thinking and more iterative 'design thinking'. Nor am I against diverse, collaborative thinking, which we call 'open planning' at DDB UK. The more times we go around, and the more people are involved, the better the ideas get. As an industry, we are mistaking mere speed as the primary benefit of working collaboratively and iteratively. It's the quality of ideas that improve, not just the speed.
So, with apologies to friends onstage at the event and after much careful consideration, we're not sponsoring anyone to go to the fast strategy conference. See you at the IPA Effectiveness Awards!