Planning Is Invisible

In my sleepy-almost-not-working state, I almost reacted to this post here on ‘I Am The Client’ (HT to Adlandsuit)…

…thankfully, I realised after reading a few more posts that it’s a satirical blog.  At least, I’m pretty sure it is…

The post is called ‘Planning – I’m getting the fucking hang of it‘. 

I should have twigged immediately, in hindsight. 

Here’s a sample…

Planners.  Don’t.  Exist.

Think about it! Have you ever seen a tangible something that a planner has produced? No! Me neither! I mean, sure, there are things written on paper, and powerpoint slides that look like Jackson Pollock got gang-raped by seven pie-charts and a calculator, but anything actually real? Never!

They aren’t real! It all adds up! They aren’t fucking real! They’re just people who got together and worked out a way of using their very expensive degrees for something nobody can hold them to!

When you sit back and look at it, it’s fucking genius! Imagine: your entire professional existence boils down to absolutely nothing because you’ve made yourself up!

It’s sensational! What balls! What absolutely colossal balls! Bravo, planners! Bra-fucking-vo! I’m jealous. I’m jealous because I thought I’d created a job for myself that meant I could do what I wanted, when I wanted to do it and get lots of nice lunches along the way.

Now, good satire is always close to the bone; it works because it’s so close to reality that it’s not hard to imagine it being true. 

And the whole post is certainly rooted in what you may come across in the worst kind of planning… confusing, bewildering PowerPoint documents that mean nothing at all.  Making the simple complex, rather than vice versa.

But that first point is right; it’s hard to identify what planners produce.  But not because planners don’t exist

It’s just that you shouldn’t really know that they’re there. 

Planners should be invisible



No, not literally.  But they should provide something that’s only noticeable when it isn’t there, rather than when it is.

There are various analogies that have been used over the years to help describe this…

Will pointed me to the ‘bass player’ one from Russell Davies’ blog a few years back

“I’d add something. BE LIKE THE BASS PLAYER. Like Sting on Walking On The Moon. Like McCartney on tons of tracks. Be a backbone, keep it simple but unforgettable.”

…which Will himself extended here in his Art Brut inspired ‘we formed a band’ post

Planners then. We’re quite clearly the bassists of the whole operation. Making sure the work hums along, is in rhythm with what the client and the audience want. Bands/Advertising can work without us (Sony ‘Balls’ is clearly an extended guitar solo of creativity), and we must never forget that. But with us, we can make the work groove along

But just to confirm to a planner stereotype, here’s another analogy, spurred no doubt by the snow in Brighton today.



Imagine a lovely fresh Alpine mountain, ripe for snowboarding down… 

…I mention snowboarding because as we’ve now got an eleven week old son, the chances of us going in the next few years are slight, so I’ll live vicariously through my own analogies instead



Planners aren’t the snowboarders.  They aren’t the people carving and jumping all around the piste.  That’s the creatives, or the digital guys, or the direct guys, or the client themselves… anyone who’s actually ‘making’ the visible things you can see.

Planners are invisible.  They come out at night.  They’re setting out the poles at the edge of the piste, bashing down the snow, de-icing the lifts.  They’re creating the perfect space for everyone else to board down the next day. 

They find new runs across the mountain, and improve the most popular ones… all the time creating space for people to rip down the next day.

They’re only noticed when they stop doing it.  Or do it badly.  When the pistes are too boring, bumpy, dangerous or tame.

So if great planning should be invisible like this, we get to two problems.

Firstly, personal recognition and feedback is difficult for the invisible (wo)man. 

Hence, no doubt, the number of planners who write blogs and talk at conferences… in an industry that thrives on recognition, the ‘invisible planner’ wants to be seen.  Not an insurmountable issue, and not as important as the second one…

Which is this; thinking back to the ‘I Am The Client’ post, and the satire/truth issue…

…if clients (and in this day and age we’re talking procurement folk too, remember) can’t see the ‘invisible planner’, then how do/can we expect them to pay for planning? 

Why would you pay for something that you’re told is there, but is impossible to see if done well?  From another perspective, it might all seem a little ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’…