I’ve always thought Will Hunting would make a brilliant creative planner.

Forget the photographic memory and retention (who wouldn’t want that??). Or the deep ethnographic insight from living and working in some of Boston’s toughest areas. It isn’t even the off-the-charts IQ, which is always helpful.

It’s his attitude to reading.

In his first meeting with Robin Williams, he throws out this classic line;

“You people baffle me. You spend all your money surrounding yourself with these fancy books…and they’re the wrong fucking books

Going out on a limb here but if you’re reading this you’ve likely got Malcolm Gladwell, Jon Steele, David Aaker, Simon Sinek and Daniel Pink on your bookshelf. Nothing wrong with any of those. They’re great authors and certainly have made a mint with books, consulting and TED speeches.

But are they the right fuckin’ books?

I’m guilty of this myself.

It is hard when all your peers are clambering over a new book, a new post, a new author to not dash out and jump on the bandwagon. And there are certainly some must read books in any profession.

Perhaps the issue isn’t the books but it’s the topics we read, get insight from, draw our opinions and postulations from. If we’re all drawing from the same well of Strategy, Trends and Social Media books are we stimulating synapses in other areas? Are we internalizing opinions from folks that our competitors aren’t and finding new nuggets they might’ve missed?

Here are 6 topics I draw inspiration from. And 6 books that I’ve found immensely useful. Three are obvious and fall into the areas I know we all read. Three are a little off the beaten track and that I’ve found useful.

Strategy

No brainer. We all gorge on these books. Many of us have this word in our title or job description. My go-to in this area is Good Strategy Bad Strategy. Richardgood-strategy-bad-strategy-richard-rumelt Rumelt is ruthless in his definition of both. My favourite takeaway is that hope or wishlists aren’t a strategy. How often do you come across a strategy that feels just like that?

Technology

No avoiding this. No sector, market or consumer is beyond the reach and impact of this topic. An interesting intersection book here is Sherry Tuckle’s “Alone Together” which does more to examine how technology profoundly impacts us on a personal level that anything I’ve read recently. As a shameless plug, I’d urge you to follow my mate Greg Satell who often takes a very provocative view on technology – no wonder I like him.

Psychology

Duh. We trade in insight and empathy. Psychology is key to understanding how folks think and why. Two favourites here are “Clash, Eight Cultural Conflicts that Make Us who we Are” and “Nudge”. The former looks at how different cultural orientations and attitudes – to race, gender, collaboration etc – are bumping into each other as we become more connected globally.  Fantastic. The latter is a great synopsis on the burgeoning field of behavioural economics. Where Dan Ariely has become the posterchild for this, Richard Thaler deserves equal credit.

And three topics that I find useful for nudging my thinking.

History

thenext100yearsThere is no truer statement than “those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it” By the same token without an appreciation of history – distant or recent – how can we, as planners, really understand how people think or what their motivations are. Close to home, consider how the recent history of the United States has a profound impact on how Americans view trade, immigration, capitalism, entrepreneurship and personal safety. All of those impact their affinity with brands and business. As a global POV, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better source than George Friedman and the folks at Stratfor. His novel “The Next 100 Years” is a great succinct longtitudinal view on history and where certain geopolitical trends will take us.  My favourite read about the US has to be Thomas Friedman’s “That Used to be Us”. Its brutally unapologetic but has some deeply profound insights about the decline of the US.

Philosophy

This is a recent area of interest.

senecaAs someone eloquently said “Philosophy is mankind’s search for meaning and resonance” Doesn’t that sound like a topic that marketers and planners should be paying attention to? As we agonize over purpose, brand essence and emotional benefits doesn’t Philosophy sound like a helpful input. A starter here is the collected works of Roman philosopher Seneca “Letters from a Stoic”. I’m just working through this and finding it brilliant…and meaty. Warning – don’t pick this up if you’re not willing for some deep introspection.

 

Scenario Planning

Damnit, I was hoping for 6 tidy words ending in “y”. Scenario Planning is something I’ve discussed previously. Essentially the practice of looking at alternateSchwartz-Art-of-The-Long-View views of the future and charting courses appropriately. Sounds like something Planners should do. Detractors question whether companies have the time or resources to dedicate to this pursuit – it certainly aint for the faint of heart. My response is, in a world where change is perpetual and relentless, can you afford to NOT have a Plan B or Plan C? Start here with Peter Schwartz’s “The Art of the Long View” which is a brilliant synopsis. Want something more immediately actionable? Grab Woody Wade’s “Scenario Planning : A Field Guide to the Future” which is a cracker too.

I appreciate the irony of throwing out these topics. You may tell me that these six are the wrong fuckin’ books too.

I welcome that.

Call me out. Tell me the one’s that are better. Tell me the topics YOU cover or get inspired from.

Lastly, if you still need further proof that Will Hunting was a deeply insightful Planner, watch this clip. Isn’t this a perfect interpretation of a business problem delivered with insight, acuity and empathy??

How do you like them apples???