What I Learnt at Planning-ness 2015
The first hour of Cathy Sobocan’s “How to Speak Like an Actor” is challenging. It’s a crash course in method acting and we have just spent the last hour with our eyes closed, walking around, bumping into each other, awkwardly touching our nearest neighbours and examining a paper cup in fascinating detail. She claims method actors learn simple truths about their roles through simple tasks, and that simple actions should be scrutinized by all five senses. I suspiciously ask myself, what sound does my paper cup make?
For the final half hour, Cathy requires us to follow her into the heart of the Distillery District mimicking her every move. My level of discomfort sky rockets as we exit the safety of the venue and I see an unsuspecting public about to witness us fondling walls, dancing bare foot and skipping gleefully. It’s then and there I learn my simple truth: the long-term, emotional scaring I will receive from this exercise will far outweigh any intended benefit. I feign an important conference call and sneak back to the meeting room. There I find another deserter cowering in a corner, “I’ve been in hell for the last hour!”, she sobs. We confess our shared discomfort and bond over the torture of being too concerned over what others (even strangers on the street) think of us. In the background we can hear the reassuring yells of “GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR” and “LET THE WOMAN GO!” from the clearly more hospitable and ironically more appropriate session next door: “How to negotiate a hostage crisis”. We’re jealous.
Moving right along. The words “data” and “inspiration” don’t often appear in the same sentence but Jeff Kirschner’s “How to Change the World with Data” session manages to successfully marry the two. He’s built a database around recycling and litter-reduction (litterati.org). Individuals find a piece of litter, photograph it, upload to Instagram, tag it and recyle/repurpose/trash the litter. Keyword tags on the photos help identify those brands and products that generate the most litter. Kirschner uses this to work with companies and organizations to find environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions. It’s a nonprofit but in the wrong hands I can’t help but see the potential for corporate extortion (“So Tim Hortons, we see you’re the greatest branded litter contributor in the GTA ……”). His efforts are laudable so we choose to ignore the twin elephants in the room of sample bias and statistical validity. He ends by telling us how data is everywhere and, like a forensic scientist using data to piece the last hours of a deceased’s life, with the right lens data can reveal powerful, marketable stories. Good to know (or be reminded of) and even better to know that our skills and resources can be used as a force for good.
Next. Adam Ferrier has balls! His talk is titled, “How to change behaviour: Learning from the Extremes” and he pulls from his experience as a psychologist in the Oz prison system and 15+ years in consumer psychology. He leaps from the Benjamin Franklin Effect (to get someone to like you, have them do something for you) to the fact that bestiality, of all deviant behaviours, is the most indicative of a serious mental disorder (not sure what to do with that). He briefly touches on the Ikea Effect (getting involved develops greater affinity – the hypothesis behind most digital strategies) so we can linger on “Penile plethysmography” (google it… Actually, don’t!). It was a cheeky rehash (at his own admission) of how powerful Behavioural Economics theory is; and how (at my own admission) implanting the word penile in a presentation adds street-credibility and frisson. (Not to mention the smarts-bestowing power of the mere mention of Behavioural Economics.)
Ari Nave starts his “How to Have Better Relationships” session with an exercise that demonstrates how powerful spite can be. I believe him when he says that we will screw ourselves over before we let someone else screw us. He continues by peppering his talk with brain teasers and little ahas. He postulates that all brand-consumer relationships can be classified as dominant, reciprocal or communal. We should be auditing our client’s behaviour to reveal areas where they can evolve their market driven behaviours into equity matching behaviours, like Allstate Insurance changing the language of their “first-accident-no-premium-increase” offer into the more friendly “Accident Forgiveness”. Ari makes the case that “Fairness always wins” (although, to be fair, my money’s still on spite).
There were other standouts and Planning-ness 2015 had a little bit of everything: the banal, the eyebrow raising, the informative, and the “I’m-so-stealing-that”. It bills itself as an “unconference” and the description fits. There’s no hierarchy, no cliques, no rigidity, just a smorgasbord of smart, enthusiastic thinkers eager to share their perspectives. And at the end of the two days, a good time was had by all (except my new self-conscious friend who I fear is still having nightmares).