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On the dangers of being too specialist

August 31, 2012

(Call a spade a spade: Hiscox got it right)

I was in a meeting with a client this morning where we were discussing internal stakeholders on a project.

Their IT manager was going to be a key audience – but my client couldn’t remember the “new fangled job title they’ve got […] head of … talent and information something-or-other … something like that maybe … but it’s still IT”

It reminded me of something that I read recently in John Shaw’s ‘Back to the Future’ Planning 3.0 paper.  In fact there were a lot of really interesting points in the paper, but for now just to focus on one that stuck out:

“Planner titles will keep multiplying.  The blurb for this competition mentioned seven strands of account planning and there are more out there.  I’ve come across planners who called themselves ‘imagineers’.  It’s good that different disciplines want their own planners; my only wish is that those planners don’t become myopically channel-evangelistic, because that is counter to the objective belief in effectiveness central to planning philosophy”

Of course it is brilliant that different disciples (and the client-side as well) all seem to want to use planners. And it also makes sense that they would want to establish a sense of specialism and ownership in terms of the job title – it needs to feel relevant to the business.

But surely attaching a different discipline to the front of the job title is a counterintuitive to a planners role?

The way I see it:

  • Planners are there to try to understand as closely as possible how people think and how they behave.  People, in general, don’t tend to silo themselves off into ‘digital people’ or ‘social networking people’.  So if we have a breed of planners who are becoming too specialist, and specialist beyond how the people they are meant to understand act, then surely that is downright silly (if not even slightly dangerous). They end up considering problems through a single lens, rather than how to solve it
  • Alternatively maybe it’s just that I can’t bear the thought of being told that something isn’t my job.  All these new channels and ways that people talk to each other are interesting, and I’m selfish enough to want to learn more about it – I accept that there do need to be specialists, but is planning really the discipline to do it?  That is where the danger of what John Shaw describes as “myopically channel-evangelistic” lies – it’s no longer about people, it’s about channel.

At the end of the day, surely planners should be concerned with how to solve problems – thinking about how people behave and what our clients can do to interact with or change these behaviours?

I had always thought that it was my job to think in the broad brushstrokes and work out what we need to achieve and the bones of how we’re going to get there – not working out the minutiae of exactly how it’s going to work.  Or more dangerously, what we have to do because I’m not trained to look at it more objectively.

Surely that’s why we get invited into things, because we have a different viewpoint.  As soon as you specialise too much, people won’t get you involved on projects because it “wouldn’t be relevant to your role / experience / perspective”.

Plus, on a more prosaic note, don’t we have enough problems trying to explain our job title to people without making it even more confusing?

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