Consequently I’ve got quite fast and quite thin - and now tend to spend more than a couple of quid on kit that will make me go faster. Lighter wheels actually make me go quicker, deep rims on said wheels cut through the wind when I go over 20 miles an hour, which is more frequent than a man of my age might expect.
Controversially, as far as my wife is concerned anyway, I also own a couple of ‘aero jerseys’. Skintight tops that don’t flap in the wind and manage air turbulence. I haven’t the foggiest if these actually make go faster, but here’s the thing…because I feel faster, I go faster.
They’ve tested skin-suits on cyclists and found that the ones with bad design, that do naff all to slice through air resistance, make them go faster as they BELIEVE they will.
That’s right, you can con yourself into being better than you are. For a planner and agency folk in general, that’s massive.
Because the other things about all this overpriced cycling gear is incremental gains. Lots of little changes and adjustments can add up to a lot.
Your clothes, dressing like you think a brilliant planner should dress, will probably make that presentation easier to write, or put you on top form for that critical meeting. For some that might mean a corduroy jacket and spectacles. Others, I’m afraid think it means Birkenstocks and Queen T-shirts. But whatever works.
Your environment. I can be very critical of agencies who insist on locating themselves in Shoreditch, Manchester’s Northern Quarter or The Meat Packing District. I believe they need to be closer to where real people live and feed off that. But then again, if you believe you’re in a place full of creative energy, it will drive you forward in a way working in non-descript business park will not. There’s plenty of evidence working in a buzzing city makes you naturally better at creativity and ideas.
Your office. It’s easy to laugh at impossibly well designed, achingly cool offices, but they do help, as long as they’re places you can relax and flourish in, that foster collaboration and allow space to think alone. They don’t have to cost the earth, but they do have to suit you. I guess, whatever you think a brilliant agency looks like, make it look like that and it will actually make you a little more brilliant.
Your work-space and tools. Surround yourself with quality and what you think clever, creative people like and enjoy and it will rub off on you. If you think they drink amazing coffee, make sure you get an aero press. Overpriced fancy notebooks? Do it. Walls you can write on? Feel free.
Real incremental gains. But it’s not just the placebo effect, there lots of little things you can do that actually do work.
Choose your colour wisely. A blue room fosters deep thinking, a green room fosters creativity (the light wavelengths work on your brain in different ways). So put some green into your workshop. Put pot plants around the office.
Make caffeine widely available, it actually does stimulate brain function.
Read lots about everything. Ideas are just new connections between different things, the more you have in your brain, the more likely a new connection will form.
Enforce time outs. The subconscious works on problems for you. Which means you need to not think about stuff for a while as it does its work.
Talk to lots of people about your project. The mirror neurons fire when you talk to someone else, you see your work from another perspective and enables you to edit and precis a lot quicker. I often find a have a maddening ‘smudge’ of an idea or direction and talking someone else through it usually results in them saying, “So what you mean is…” Most of my propositions where written this way when I was in a creative agency.
Anyway, whatever works for you probably works, no matter what others might think.
What you put is directly related to what you put out. If you're reading the same stuff as everyone else, you'll do the same stuff as everyone else.
Cultivate interesting aquaintances. The more you hang out with people who do different stuff to you, the better. There's nothing more dull than talking about brand models with a bunch of planners. And in general, if you want to be great, be around great people, some of their magic will rub off on you.
Avoid routine at all costs. Sorry Big Networks Who Like To Sell a Process and Keep Everything the Same, but if you work in the same way, you'll always do the same work. That goes for your daily routine, do different things in different orders. Sameness breeds sameness.
Always operate at the edge of your comfort zone. A really great way of working, or presentation structure or whatever always suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Mix it up, try aspects of the job you're not good at. When I was a swimmer, I would always train with people just a little faster than me, in time I caught up, then it was time to move on.
Booze doesn't make you interesting. It can release a few inhibitions, sometimes it can magnify what's inside, but that's it.
Great coffee and tea however, work a treat. They increase endurance, sharpen the brain. Don't waste time on the crap stuff though. Filter coffee as a minimum, tea made in a warmed pot (Yorskshire Tea if you can). Surround yourself with quality and it seeps into your work.
Be proud of your quirks. Agencies try and iron out the differences between people and get them working the same. This is dumb. Their needs to shared standards, but I'm never going to measured and emotionless, as some planners are, I can't help but be enthusiastic and get excited about things. Some planners are incredibly cheerful and clever. I'm neither, I just manage to say a few things simply. This is not for everyone, certainly not every client, but the ones who like me, tend to like me a lot. An old boss of mine was a force of nature, never suffered fools, bludgeoned some clients through force of personality. Some loved her, some detested her. Some planners naturally distill and less is very much more for them. I tend to stick around people I trust and throw all sorts of stuff around, they tell me the 10% that isn't dumb. You can't pleas everyone, unless you're dull, but you can please a few people a hell of a lot by being yourself and working out how to make that fly.
Be good at asking questions. Many planners are shy and fear small talk (I am for sure). Most people like talking about themselves, so get good at asking questions and listening. People will love your company. Be a bit more courageous in meetings and ask the difficult questions, the ones that make people reconsider or re-think. Like, "What is the actual objective?". You'd me amazed how many times I've needed to ask this question.
Have a thing. It's dead useful if people remember you for something other than work. Something makes people see you differently. For me it's the obsession with proper tea. For someone else in my office, he's a semi-professional rugby player with a heart condition.
Go on a journey. Something that annoys you, something that you really want to sort out, something you've always wanted t happen. Set out to make it a reality, do it with zeal. Enthusiasm and drive are contagious, it will influence the actual job and people will be drawn to your energy. I'm a quest to stamp out crap caffiene in every interaction in my personal and professional life for example. I'm training to do a 70 mile bike race in three and a half hours. It's not much, but it's a daily drive people seem to respond to. A friend of mine is hellbent on building a charity that gives free bikes to kids recovering from cancer.
Ignore this list, people who follow guides rather than finding their own way become dull (see point 3!!!)