Culture values velocity vs quality, the sound bite over substance. More and more, the top qualities in planners and strategists are speed and the ability to multitask. That’s a dangerous state of affairs when thinking is your profession. This piece offers a few techniques for slowing and calming the strategic process, and in the process, creating space for brilliant minds to do their best work.
For those of you out there who have recently interviewed, or been interviewed, you might have been discussing ideal qualities in a candidate, the modern model strategist. Personally, I have a laundry list of traits that I’ve assembled over the years: a combo of relentless curiosity, renaissance thinking, dot-connecting, passion, data prowess etc. And speed and the ability to multitask comes up time and again. However, a recent growth spurt at our lovely agency, have occasioned a re-evaluation on this front, and I wanted to share these small enlightenments, in case they are helpful to all you readers, recruiters and candidates out there.
These are four techniques that can be individually useful, or taken together, might one day add up to an entire self-help manual for surviving modern advertising. I try and stick to them as best I can, and when I do, I find things work out quite a bit better for mind, body and brief. Here they are for you to read and enjoy and maybe start to employ:
First, and most important: The 16-day no drama diet
Advertising is an emotional business. That’s literally what we sell to clients, and to consumers in the stories we make. And all that emotion we’re making often swirls around individuals and teams till we are soaked in feelings and drama. We debate, argue, gossip, get angry, outraged etc etc. And all these emotions are quite addictive, a surge of something to get the blood pumping. Maybe they’re like caffeine on a plane journey and they make the time pass, or a way to bond with people and creative solidarity. But they are also exhausting and distracting. And they wear us down. So just try 16 days of not rising to bait, not reacting or creating drama. When stuff happens don’t clench up, relax and just let it happen. The calmness that comes with it is so cleansing, you’ll find your mind sharper and lighter. And you’ll be a much more pleasant human being, partner and collaborator.
Two: Ruthlessly reject your first brilliant idea
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The brilliant ideas that change the world are rarely the very first thing that crosses your mind. I was once told by the world-renowned strategist, the late Charlie Robertson, (BBH, Red Spider), that the first 7 creative ideas the team came up with were bound to be crap. I’m sure some of you have experienced this for yourselves in reviews of early ideas. Most creatives would probably agree. So it is with strategies. If something comes easy, it’s worthwhile setting it aside. You can always come back to it later. Keep going, have patience and you’ll get to the good ideas in the goodness of time.
Third: the 3-second rule
Culture rewards velocity vs quality right now. It’s another unfortunate artifact of our meeting culture, where everyone wants to have the last soundbite and leave the room as fast as possible. So it pays to be the first responder in the meeting, the one who answers the client’s question first or who throws out the big new way to frame an idea, or defend an idea. Lots of us our naturally competitive, and as there’s only so much time and space to make your mark, we often leap in when we should wait. Especially the strategists, who should be the most considered. Just counting to 3 in your head will create space to be a little calmer and more considered. It will also make you look less reactive and more credible to clients, which is usually a good thing.
Four: Only go as fast as the last person to get it
Research studies show over and over again how we all have very different learning styles. And yet the briefing method – usually super verbal, densely packed with information, discussed in a time boxed manner, doesn’t comfortably accommodate the different kinds of thinker. So, in the meetings and discussions that you lead, don’t try and push for closure too fast, let the facts and thoughts you’ve assembled soak in. Genuinely encourage. Go slowest vs fastest to get the most out of your team.
So, I hope there’s some value in the points above. However else you might frame it, Strategy is a thinking profession, the slower you simmer your ideas, the richer, and stronger that thinking will be and the more satisfied you’ll be with the journey and the results.
Caroline Krediet is the Partner and CSO of FIG. She has as developed winning strategies for some of the world’s biggest brands including Coca-Cola, Revlon and Samsung. At Havas she built the strategy for Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign, one of Ad Age’s campaigns of the 21st century. Immediately before FIG, Caroline was Head of Strategy at digital and social innovation shop, Noise (now Deep Focus) working with brands like Unilever, Intel and Amazon Fashion. At FIG, Caroline leads all marketing strategy work, using data-driven research and insight discovery to reposition our clients to compete and succeed in today’s world.