Actionplannin' in the USA (as Debbie Harry never sang…)

So, I just ran my first New York based Actionplanning session (with the new ‘Actionplanning 2.0’ sheet), and it went pretty well (apart from the fact they don’t have A3 paper here, but something called ‘tabloid’, which foxed me a little when I tried to print the sheets…


Of course there’s no great surprise that it worked the same as it does in the UK; the communications planning we do nowadays for clients is based around having a ‘big idea’ that works with what you know about people (or ‘consumers’), rather than tactical ideas for which in-depth local knowledge is needed. 

If you can get to the big idea, the people on the ground locally can interpret and implement that however it most naturally fits in that territory.  Actionplanning is just a great way of creating those big ideas with whoever you’re with at the time, be they in America, UK, France or whatever.

{note to mum; my god, it might actually meant that I’ve learnt something that can be officially classified as a, wait for it, career…}


Fast Actionplanning

Lorraine up in the Manchester office asked yesterday if there were any principles for doing a ‘fast Actionplanning session’… one that doesn’t take an hour and a half or so, but still delivers a plethora of interesting ideas…


If you want to run a fast Actionplanning session, I’d suggest the following guidelines…

i) Set a really easy-to-get objective, which doesn’t need any over-analysing of the audience, background or whatever, and write it on a board at the end of the room…

“Use media to help sell more smoothies as a mid-morning snack “

ii) ONLY use randomisation… it takes virtually no time to explain, so it’s as fast as divergent thinking gets

“Using the word TRAP, come up with an idea for using media to help sell… etc “

iii) Break people into twos/threes, and give them some Actionplanning Sheets to capture the ideas. 

They will use their random words to build up an idea between them, then commit it straight to the Actionplanning Sheet…

Doing an Actionplanning session this way, each group should be able to create an idea on a sheet every 3-4 minutes over a twenty minute period… it’s amazing how fast the creative juices can flow when you get going, but people will run out of energy.

So, realistically, with a group of eight people, split into twos, you should be able to generate at least 20 ideas… go on, give it a go 🙂


How often are you doing it?

After doing the Actionplanning training session about ten times now, it’s time to look back and survey whether it’s done any good.

My first impressions are it’s something that, like everything, you get better at the more often you do it.  The teams here at PHD that are in Actionplanning sessions every other day are the ones that are getting really into it, and doing different variations, and trying different things… they take the various principles, and then do something new.  And the ideas they’re devloping are constantly challenging and fresh.

But it’s perhaps that because of the nature of the businesses they work on, they get more of a chance to do that… they have multiple smaller briefs, rather than one big ongoing one.

So for teams that don’t think they get the opportunity to run sessions that often, because there’s not a brief that often, I wonder if there’s a different way of doing it?

Perhaps a ‘scenario planning’ session every week for an hour, where each of them proposes a question like ‘what would happen if X launched into our market, what would we do to combat it’?  Or switch it the other way round, ‘what if our client launched into this other market?’

It’s not seeking to create work for work’s sake, but instead taking your knowledge of the brand for a stretch of the legs… a quick stroll down a different route home, to see if you bump into anything interesting…


A general tour of Generalism…

When you’re setting up an Actionplanning session, and you want to draw people away from their day-to-day thinking so the brainstorming is more productive, I’ve always found it helps if you have lots of interesting distractions from other places to show people.

So, for instance, I’ll point you now in the direction of the ongoing Generalist vs. Specialist debate.

Essentially, if you’re a ‘Generalist’, you have an understanding across many areas, picking up and fusing inspirations from these places to help frame a specific strategy or problem.  You’re ‘well-rounded’, you define the goal.

A ‘Specialist’ is someone who works exclusively in one area with advanced understanding and capabilities in that area, and delivers a solution to the goal.  You’re an expert, you solve the problem.

Anyway, this image from Dave Gray, of visual thinking company XPLANE, perfectly describes the issue (and I found it first on Mark McGuinness’s brilliant synopsis of the Generalist/Specialist debate)


Thinking about the two stages of Actionplanning, you are seeking to get people acting as both Generalists AND Specialists. 

So, for the divergent thinking section, when you want people to stretch their brains as far as possible to explore pioneering solutions, you want people to be Generalists… “tap into lots of potentially exciting, different areas, but not in great depth.”

Then, once you’ve identified the most fertile areas, you get people to start working up more thorough, descriptive, fleshed out versions of what the solutions would be; they’re being Specialists… “design a precise solution based on this defined territory”.

It naturally follows that if you need people to be Generalists and Specialists in Actionplanning sessions, the best sessions you run will have a mix of Generalists and Specialists from around your agency.  Just like the best parties, you’ve got to invite the right mix of different people…


"Battle Actionplanning"

Here’s something I tried this morning for the first time when running an actionplanning session, which I’m going to dub ‘battle actionplanning’ for the immediate future.  Essentially, it’s a bit like this:

Remember “War Games” with Matthew Broderick?  No, OK – the plot was thus: in the early eighties, the US have a computer system which plays out ‘scenarios’ of nuclear war – who launches first, where they strike and so on – in order to perfect their defence systems.  Matthew Broderick, in best Bueller guise as anti-establishment kid, hacks the system, makes them think there’s a nuclear war on (by accident, of course, and bleak hilarity ensues…).

Anyway, the premise is essentially ‘take two teams, and have them ‘battle’ each other, striking and counter-striking, around a common theme’. 

Firstly, set up the scenario for them, and split them into two factions (a ‘pro’ and an ‘anti’, or two competitors, or whatever).

Then get them to go away, come up with ideas for five minutes, and come back and present those first ideas and positioning.

Then, once they’ve learned what the opposition is doing, get them to go away again, and come up with new ideas in light of the knowledge they just gained about the opposition.  Then they come back and present those, and you can repeat this as often as you like.

The result?  It worked pretty well for a first time, people got into it (the competitive element helps, I reckon), and it gave us lots of interesting areas to work up ideas around for a real campaign.  It’s also quite a high energy, and really rips people out of the ‘day-to-day’ and into the space you want them to be thinking in.  To be repeated, methinks…


Running better brainstorms…

When you’re running an Actionplanning session, how much do you think about how you personally are in charge of the session?  You really can make the difference to the ideas that come out of the room by the way you behave.

Have a read of this article by Mitch Ditkoff at the Ideas Champions – it’ll make you think about how you behave as the facilitator in your Actionplanning sessions, not just what subject preparation you do.