Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Process vs. Principles

Almost every time I've taken a new job, I've been asked to develop some kind of "proprietary planning process," complete with steps and diagrams and tools of the kind I've appended here. (They usually have a lot of ovals and arrows, often circling back on themselves like ancient pagan symbols of fertility. Though some agencies prefer triangles. The triad/dialectic/trinity also possessing talismanic power. I had an old colleague that used to collect all these things and pull them out randomly to illustrate any point at hand.) In any case, as you can probably tell, I found myself ambivalent about the project.

I understand that the demand for these diagrams comes from a whole bunch of sources: from consultant-penned-RFP's which always ask for the "agency's strategic process" to big consulting firms who are great at finding ways to charge for process rather than results to the conventions in American business which tends to see the potential of repeatable success in any process map.

The problem with most top-down process models is that in order to be broad enough to address all the different clients and challenges an agency faces, they have to be so general as to be almost vacant of specific content. They certainly aren't proprietary in any true sense of the word. Most of the good planners I know tend go about the task of gathering and interpreting evidence for creative inspiration in relatively similar ways. There are differences in tools, techniques and emphasis, but quite a few of us tend to be interested in similar things at similar times. For awhile, it was integrating data analytics and qualitative research; these days its collaboration and co-creation. Whatever our differences, they usually aren't represented by these charts.

In place of process, I always wanted to assert principles, that is, a set of working guidelines that informed our approach. These guidelines could be specific enough to put a stake in the ground but flexible enough to address a range of different efforts without needing to add more circels or arrows. Like any good set of principles, mine are constantly evolving in response to new experience sand new evidence, but the following set have been relatively durable:

1) You have to ask new questions to get new answers.

2) We are in the persuasion business, not the documentary business. Our job is less to find out what people are thinking and doing then what we can make them believe.

3) Details Matters: executional choices have profound impact on strategic choices. All consumer contact is an opportunity to find clues to potentially powerful executional elements

4) Research is opportunity for inspiration as well as focus

1 comment:

Giles said...

This is so true. We are forever being asked about our process in new business tenders and we find it quite difficult to say that the process is "ask questions, think, discuss, think, panic, ask more questions, think really hard, share it with client". I could tart it up on Powerpoint but I don't think it's what they want to hear.