Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why strategic planners are annoying - Kahneman says your brain is lazy

There are several different types of planners, and to describe myself I often use “intuitive”, which for me means I “see” things, I´m good at finding the most important parts in a huge amount of material, and “see” how facts and factors from various worlds can be merged to lift marketing. I “read” people and situations. But I should really use the word “intuitive” with care.

After I´ve started reading Nobel Leureate in economics Daniel Kahneman´s fabulous book “Thinking, fast and slow” I´ve understood that “intuition” can simply be another word for “lazy thinking”. Ooops.

In the book, Kahneman describes how we have two thought systems, one intuitive and one rational (or as we could say: we think with either the heart or the brain). The intuitive system reacts immediately – based on what it knows – and the rational system starts gathering more data to make sure it has what it needs to make a decision. One system thinks fast, the other slow.

According to Kahneman, they are both lazy though... Humans are always trying to take shortcuts, to base our opinions on what comes most easy. But this will mess up our judgements and make us walk in the wrong direction. When we don´t have time (or are hungry), the brain – both the emotional and the rational brain – will try to find quick answers, and in that process make rapid assumptions based on previous learnings, however small the number of experiences is.

To me, this explains why we have so many great marketing campaigns for young people. Most marketers are lazy –because they are time-poor and stressed to come up with something fabulous in seconds. But when young people market to young people they don´t need to do that much research; they have an intuitive understanding already. When those young people have to market to older people though... Perhaps not so good to just turn to your “gut feeling”. I´ve so many times seen first meetings about a pitch for a product targeting Gen X or baby boomers turn into some kind of focus group where all sorts of Gen Y´s are venting their own feelings about the brand. So wrong!!!

Intuition works well when it´s based on a solid ground of knowledge. When you read, absorb, study and are curious about life, and when you have a little bit of life experience, you are more likely to come up with something amazing based on instinct. This is why really great marketers have interests and passions outside work, and hang out with people who don´t work in advertising (spooky, I know, haha).

Make sure you gather impressions from various worlds though. If you are really into art, your “instinct” will always attract you to arty ideas, and if you are hanging out with Northern Beaches girls you will think everyone will react, act, feel, think and be like them. Your subconscious is no Oracle, it is not the almighty God who knows everything about everything. Your brain only absorbs whatever information you have filled yourself with and judges in order with that. Don´t think “gut feeling” is a higher Truth. It´s just your lazy automatic response, the one your brain uses to get away from the challenging task as quickly as possible to keep drinking cocktails in the sun.

Kahneman writes that the brain feels more comfortable the less it knows. When it has too much to digest and consider it will freak out and feel confused, less eager to “run with an idea”. This is why many creative people and suits think I am a little annoying J What a planner do is bringing in wisdom, facts, insights and thoughts. I see things from several angles, I stretch the thinking, I turn it all upside down in the end to see if the ideas can handle it. Sure, I will present patterns and give directions, but I like to inspire all with a big variety of data instead of just giving a one page brief (which I believe only amplifies the lazy mind set). But getting lots can be overwhelming... Sigh. I´m a “thought sparker”, and what Kahneman tells us is that having too many thought in our head is exhausting. Hence a meeting with a strategist can irritate, because it challenges...

I know it would be easier to come up with something fun based on those first intuitive thoughts, but hold your horses! Those who have been around for a while and are heavy consumers of all sorts of information, who meets various types of people, are more likely to answer a pitch in a day and win, because they have a strong base to build intuitive ideas on. Those who are rookies should put some work into research before they get into the ideas generation phase. Anything else will be arrogant.

What is your challenge today? Talk to someone random, someone older or younger? Read a magazine about a topic that does not interest you? Open the newspaper? See an exhibition? Travel to another suburb? Put your lazy thinking and your comfort zone at risk. Time to step up!

I still wish to be "intuitive", but make sure I´m not simply lazy :)

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