When 2020 dawned, it was to be just another year. But at the very start, it picked up an ogre of an infection that went viral at the speed of a sneeze, stopping the entire world in its tracks. The corona sporting alpha grew to be a pandemic, having a date with history.
2021 was supposed to be the year that would bring a respite from the frenzy of death and devastation, in the form of a shot in the arm and a return to normal prefixed by ‘new’. All that happened was an ever-expanding river of sorrow that wound its way towards a delta.
In anguished resignation, 2022 was greeted with no hope or fanfare, but that still didn’t stop it from attracting a new variant from the Greek alphabet. It was a milder, gentler avatar, but the worldwide disruptions causing panic and deja vu are anything but that.
And so it goes. Year upon year that has the world in constant ER from mutant ninja strains, the global business and industry in ICU from the intermittent lockdowns and the hopes and aspirations of the international community dying an unnatural death.
The pandemic is not all. Add economic roller coasters, political trampolines and climate change bombshells to the mix, and the world emerges as a terrifyingly volatile, complex and unpredictable platform on which to conduct the business of life. And the greatest challenge is how to make sense of the chaos that surrounds us and plan for a future that seems increasingly fluid and confusing.
The time-tested ritual of planning for a new year at the beginning of it, whether for individuals, corporate entities or the government, has taken the biggest hit. The systematised process of chasing dreams, aspirations and challenges is now at the crossroads of unpredictability and ambiguity. How do you harness opportunities and find answers for the future when the ground beneath is constantly shifting?
One way out of the current quagmire is to adopt certain qualities or characteristics of a planner, elevating planning as a way of life, whether it is in the personal or professional realm. This would work towards changing the way we think, act, learn and lead. These practices also help you connect to the goal of building better lives and futures. The key is not to cherry pick but use all of them in tandem so that their impact is greater than the sum of their parts.
Develop x-ray vision
Go deep with your vision, hear with your eyes. Sometimes, the most powerful communication between individuals and amongst a group is the non-verbal kind. If you compete with them in speaking or are distracted by other people or voices, chances are you could miss 90% of what is actually being communicated.
Sprout sonic ears
It’s not about walls having ears but you having the ability to virtually hear through walls. What people usually say and mean are two different things. It’s best to not get caught up in the words that are being uttered by someone. The tone and manner in which those words are being delivered could communicate the true message even more loudly and clearly.
Be an Xplorer
If you base your understanding of people predominantly on theory, whether by wading through books or flitting from one research to another, you will only be able to plan theoretically. The real awareness or insight can only be gleaned by exploring and embedding oneself with the real world so that you experience what people go through. If you want to know how a lion hunts, go to the jungle, not the zoo.
Understanding human behaviour is not the only job of those involved in planning. They are at the fulcrum, distilling insights and presenting it in such a way that the creatives are inspired to imagine breakthrough creative solutions. All the understanding in the world is of no use to creators if it doesn’t light a spark under the seats of their pants.
Ride the instinct
Numbers don’t always reveal the entire story as human behaviour is rarely predictable. When numerical data analysis only takes you so far and no further, you need to back your gut, stick your neck out and go out on a limb. You never know, you may just stumble upon a whole new way of looking at the problem, provided you are able to see it through. Instinct is untaught ability.
The world is constantly changing. Circumstances change, perspectives change, people change. For someone to remain static in a constantly evolving, dynamic world would be like having a set answer to every problem. Precisely why, they need to have a perpetually curious mindset, asking more relevant questions than providing convenient answers. Leave no answer unquestioned.
Being a player
Creativity is not predictable. Neither is it always likeable. Human emotions are a pretty tough gateway to get past. There are times when an idea may be bigger and more audacious than what the focus groups or the quantitative numbers may suggest. People who plan need to have the wisdom and the magnanimity to accept that. Play, else you’ll be played.
Have an open mind
Understanding people and judging them are two opposite ends of the spectrum. It becomes critical to see things from multiple perspectives and not just their own. The perspectives may be in keeping with the hypothesis, radically different or make no sense. The important thing is to accept the infinite possibilities. It’s the only way new things can get in.
Nurture a motherly aptitude
In these times of indiscriminate alternatives and a compulsion to play the numbers game, it pays to nurture and protect brilliant ideas like they were your own children. As much as possible, one needs to explore ways of improving an idea that has potential and not resort to eliminating them by being hasty in one’s judgement.
Be a hunter
Gathering information is not enough anymore. It is passive, time-consuming and infused with a subjective component of the many respondents and collectors. One needs to hunt down foresights beyond insights, ruthlessly. It’s about getting to the kill quicker.
Be a chameleon
There are no boundaries on how to plan well. One needs to blend seamlessly from the real world into the world of brands and marketing, and then move back again. They could be at ground zero gauging how people react to the product or service, and the next day hold forth at the boardroom, helping sell innovative ideas that will transform the brand or business.
Be a passionate lover
Boundless passion is something that is non-negotiable if you are going to plan for the future. Love for good ideas, love for the strategy, love for creativity, love for the business, are intrinsic characteristics that one needs to have. As well as having as much pride in the work that is produced, as the teams producing it.
Ultimately, we are in an era where the past has not much relevance, the present is riddled with confusion and the future is uncertain and unpredictable. Planning for anything in life, under these circumstances, is fraught with pitfalls and the danger of failure.
The solution in democratising planning as a way of life, is not to prescribe how to plan for specific situations, but rather imbibe and inculcate certain characteristics and qualities of planning that will help people live and plan for life like a professional planner. And by doing that, take a stand on planning for the chaos called life.
(The author is chief strategy officer- Apac, MullenLowe Group)
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