I usually try and avoid telling people I did my degree in politics. Not only do they think I must be a bit wierd (and they're right of course) it gets a bit difficult when they start to vent spleen on whatever issue is bothering them that day.
The other thing is that people find if hard to understand how someone with a politics degree ended up in advertising (amazingly no one calls it brand communications, brand architecture or integrated communications..funny that). I usually want to ask what's wrong with learning for learning's sake? But that's a bit political and let's not go there.
The obvious answer is that the natural skills that helped me muddle through a politics degree help me stumble through planning too. And I learned one or two new ones along the way.
Anyway, I happen to think the worst thing someone who wants be a planner can do is study nothing but marketing stuff - the people that have inspired me the most, in anything come to think of it, have done something else before they do what they do now.
Here's why doing a politics degree has helped me do my job, and manage a few bits and bobs in everyday life too:
1. You get really good at looking for stuff. Most of the course work, and the finals themselves, tended to be essay writing. The first part of that is showing you've done some reading - not just one book, or periodical - as much as you can. Only then did you consider what conclusion you might come to. It was thinking hard about why the writer was making that point, what their agenda was, what motivated them....and looking for holes in the evidence. You learned to trust no one.....the true story was somewhere in between what everyone said. You learned to look, sift and digest and hold lots of arguements in your head at the same time. That probably sounds familiar doesn't it?
2. Speed And since there was beer to drink, bed to lay in, girls to fail with, Going for Gold to watch and pools to train in, you learned to do it bloody quick.
3. You get good at making an argument. The stuff that really got good marks was the quality of how you put the pieces together into a strong, watertight conclusion. There was no right answer, all that mattered was making making your point as convincingly as you could. Come to think of it, essays were like long form creative briefs. Like getting a brief into one page can be tough, so could getting your essay down to a few thousand words.
4. You can't cut corners. When we were doing US governemnt, my tutor group had to take it in turns to present an argument on a certain issue. When it was my turn I thought I could get away with reading one book and padding it out with argument. But I forgot that people could ask questions at the end. And they did. And I was ruthlessly ripped to pieces by a pack of rabid wolves with the scent of fresh blood flaring their nostrils. After being made to look the slack arsed fool I was, I left the room, went to an empty corridoor and threw my books againts the wall. I never made that mistake again.
5. Which showed the value of being surrounded by people who force you into doing your best. I was just as ruthless with others to be honest. Fair's fair.
6. And to surrender my ego. I found my presentation 'style' pretty quick. Which is to not have one. I'm not the most confident of people, but people seemed to warm to the vulnerability, as long as looked like I'd worked hard.
7. Be better than you need to be. So I always over-prepared for sessions like that. That way no one could catch me out, and I even cut THEM to bits once or twice. By the way, the best way to disarm someone in full, agressive flow is agree with them. Trust me, knocks them sideways.
8. Know what audience you're writing for. Unlike school exams, your teachers marked your exams. It's not fair, but every lecturer had his own view on stuff - and they don't like it when you argue. They often say that pitches are not about being right, they're about winning, finals were like that too. You'd make an arguement in your work, but you'd make sure it wouldn't offend the marker too much, unless you knew you could dazzle them. I suppose it was either blow them away with talent, or win easy. Talent's one thing, doing all that extra work just to be right didn't seem worth it.
9. You're not that special. It's easy to think that if you're half decent and school, every class is a mixed bag, skills are varied. But doing university is great leveller - people far cleverer than you are make you feel out of your depth real quick. This seemed espescially true of politics which was full of opinionated people arguing passionaetely for their point of view.
10. Make your words count. In a room full of students wanting to make their point, some very articulately ( some just plain loud) you get used to not having much chance to say a lot. You learn that when you finally do, the shorter and zingier it is the better. When people are watching your lips for when you'll pause, that really helps. You also realise that people will listen to you far more if you let them speak first. Plus.....if you've given them some rope to hang themselves with, it's far easy to counter, improve, or even (God forbid) agree. If you're first they'll do it to you.
11. Everything you know is wrong. Apart from philosophy, I probably loved international relations the most. Nearly everything I learned flew in the face of what I thought I knew about how the world works. Some of it scared me to be honest - how little control not only individuals have, but governments too. It showed the importatance of seeing the bigger picture and figuring out where you're bit of the story fits in. Most low politics, and indeed diplomacy, is merely tactics amidst the unfolding of a much bigger story, sometimes that story has been developing for centuries. The more you look, the more complex is gets. It took a long time to get interested in domestic politics again after that, but that was a mistake too. In the end, it's useful to understand the bigger context for what you're doing......and there alway is one. It's a great skill to then feel for how far to ladder up and down...and being ready to taught something new.
12. Get a grip. I learned as much from working in a nightclub as I did from my course. Handling grumpy creatives is nothing next to creatin swilling bouncers and bitchy dancers (and as for the drunken revellers). All kinds worked there, it was as if someone had made life into a stick of rock and sliced down the middle for you to see properly. All that poncy academic stuff was put in it's proper place. Something that should happen in middle class agency offices a little bit more. Just like most UK people don't care about a written constitution, but they do care about taxes going up, no one cares about how the internet may well save advertising, they just like being able to show their friends funny stuff on you tube.