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Finding your 'Plane': Exercising the Grey Matter

Opinion, 16 April 2013

Have you been watching the brilliant BBC Horizon programmes in the last few months? Two episodes in particular, 'The Creative Brain: How Insight Works' and 'The Age of Big Data' were fascinating, and surely compulsory viewing for any Marketer – check out BBC iPlayer or YouTube.

These episodes got me thinking about the absolute necessity to create the quality thinking time that many marketers that we work with complain about not having. There seems to be so much process, individual form filling and 'just doing' going on that there's less and less time to actually use your brain and think. Templates designed to capture great thinking and provide clarity of direction are getting delegated due to a lack of time or relevance and can turn into a shallow box filling exercise (or copying and pasting from last time) just to get the job off the 'To Do' list.

Finding your 'Plane': Exercising the Grey Matter

Increasingly, marketers are not creating time or environments to help open up pathways in the brain and join new dots – pathways that allow one to do things like tightly define the real issues, think more creatively about a range of divergent strategies and then make clear decisions. The scenario is not unique; you arrive at work, sit down at your desk and within seconds the demands of the day come alive in the manner of emergency meeting requests and urgent reminders of deadlines long past. So it's not surprising that when faced with a deep strategic challenge many marketer's first reaction isn't to block out a half the day, head to a local coffee shop and simply let the creativity flow.

We've learnt that great capability development is as much about creating time and the optimum environment as it is about learning the technical skills. We're working with a number of clients who are getting enormous value from spending time face to face in small groups, away from daily routines and the distractions of their screens, to exercise the grey matter and do some quality thinking. These pockets of precious time don't spontaneously appear at exactly the right time – they are pro-actively planned and need to be respected.

Despite the proliferation of new learning channels, it seems that sometimes just creating a bit of quality time to unleash the amazing power of our grey matter is often what's required to make a really big difference. Take BA's 'UnGrounded' initiative for instance. A partnership with the UN, the inaugural UnGrounded flight will fly later this year with 100 leaders from Google, Andreessen Horowitz, RocketSpace and elsewhere on board. BA's plan is to fill the 100 seats on a flight with founders, funders, engineers, academics and a couple of journalists, and give them 10 hours to work on a big problem. EVP of British Airways Simon Talling-Smith says "Great innovation happens when you bring people together face to face, not when you have people sitting alone in rooms."

Ask yourself what your 'plane' is – how are you as a Marketing leader creating the time and distance to exercise your brain? If you give yourself the permission to take a step back and synthesize all the latest world-class thinking you spot along the way of 'just doing', you'd be amazed at the places you can arrive at.

This post is by Mark Beales, Partner at Brand Learning.

About the author

Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.

Our purpose at Brand Learning is to lift the capabilities of people and organisations to drive growth by creating better value for their customers.

Founded in 2000, with hubs in London, Singapore and New York, we have worked with over 120 leading multinational organisations (including Unilever, Shell, PepsiCo and AstraZeneca) in more than 60 countries to create sustained performance change in their commercial teams.

We take a holistic approach to lifting capabilities: working across all drivers of capability from customer-centred operating model and organisation design, to customer-centred leadership development, process design and learning programmes. By equipping organisations to be customer-centred across teams and remits, as well as to achieve deep functional excellence in marketing and sales, we enable them to achieve their business goals.

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