What Machine to Rage Against? Why Planning Must Find A Fight To Pick If It Is To Stay Healthy
It’s easy to overlook, but at its inception account planning was something fundamentally counter cultural. From the start, it set itself in opposition to the unhelpful and deeply spurious research and pretesting methodologies of the time. Championed by Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt, planning sought to bend research to service the needs of effective creativity, not vice versa.
Reading the reissued papers of King or Alan Hedges’ Testing to Destruction for example, can give one the feeling that nothing much has changed. Certainly the battle is far from fought and won. That notwithstanding, planning since the days of King and Pollitt has become a mainstream agency offering. Agencies want it. By and large. And clients expect it. To varying degrees. Certainly its existence is no longer something unusual and radical.
And maybe that’s a problem. Because by its very nature, planning cannot afford to become wholly domesticated. It cannot exist simply to grease wheels and smooth paths. Nor can it allow itself to act as an enabler of the status quo. Or apologist for the fad du jour.
Yet to be a real agent of change - which I hope planning believes it is - requires one to push and be against something. Emmeline Pankhurst, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King... They all stood in opposition to something. Change requires destruction and dismantling as much as it involves building and creating.
This rather begs the question - what should planning’s cause be? What specifically, should it stand in opposition to? What should it seek to dismantle? What should it work against? The scourge of short-termism? The absence of rigorously and clearly defined commercial and behavioral objectives? The treating of effectiveness as a post-event audit process, rather than a vital input into the development of work? The viewing of people through the lens of technology rather than technology through the lens of people?
... What is the big fight that twenty-first century planning should seek to pick? It must have a view. Because if planning loses any sense of what it is against and what the enemy is, it's in trouble.