One of the most frequent pieces of advice one sees handed out to young communications planners is ‘be curious’. I used to say the same. But I’ve changed. What I now recommend to a young planner is not curiosity, but the right curiosity—that is, the right balance of curiosity. Because what I frequently find is too much curiosity about what’s happening on the edges, and not enough about what’s happening at the centre.
Let me explain. We all know that curiosity about the edges is key to innovative thinking, to ideas. And it’s easy, and delicious, to graze on those edges; they offer rich pickings of novelty and conversation, and the chance to appear smart, interesting, and on-the-button to client, creative and boss.
But the edges increasingly seems to be the only focus of curiosity. What one sees much less of is planners who are as curious about the centre: who take the time to really understand and explore the seminal, data-based research, for instance, by Byron Sharp and by Field and Binet into how marketing does and doesn’t work—the things that really keep their marketing CMO up at night. To take an even more specific example, one sees a great deal of curiosity about Big Data as The Next Big Thing (the new front edge), but not enough about what the evidence (such as Field and Binet’s learnings in The Long and The Short of It, for instance) tell us about the circumstances in which Big Data will represent either a springboard or a landmine to their client’s marketing success (the centre of the issue).
The media imperative around innovation has made us obsessed with the new; planners are just reflections of their agencies in this regard. And any obsession creates an inherent imbalance, which is not healthy. We need to be aware of the new, but with a deep understanding of the centre. We need not only curiosity, but the right curiosity.
Adam Morgan is founding partner of eatbigfish and is on Twitter @eatbigfish.