How friction in planning creates extraordinary work

Bringing radically different people together to generate friction is an essential part of creating extraordinary work for clients, argues the regional planning director at Iris Singapore.

Mark Hadfield: regional planning director at Iris Singapore
Mark Hadfield: regional planning director at Iris Singapore

A few years ago as an associate lecturer at St Martins College, part of the University of the Arts in London, I worked on a Master’s course in applied imagination.

It fused together many different strands of creative, strategic and business philosophy and practice. A course for entrepreneurial minds, it attracted a wide range of backgrounds, from actresses to multimedia designers, fine artists to chefs, architects to professional dancers.

The friction would surface during group chats. If you’ve ever listened to a chef talking to a service designer and finding parallels in how they organised their mise en place, or an actress debating with a chief executive about how body language can be used as a persuasive tool, then you’ll know what I mean.

I have a love for creative and strategic friction. Friction not only between creatives and planners, but between planners. I’m passionate about collaboration with candour, pushing each other from our own viewpoints to create extraordinary work.

For this to thrive, having planners with a hunger, desire and determination who are from different backgrounds is essential.

To create the truly inspiring friction, I believe you need two kinds of planners – taught planners and learned planners. An extraordinary planning team should be a blend of both, because there’s an inherent friction in their outlooks and approaches.

Who are they?

Taught planners are traditionally spotted at university studying a human sciences course and join a large network agency to be taught their particular interpretation of planning.

Their processes, tools and philosophy become a bible, which is rarely questioned (and indeed taken with them when they move on).

Learned planners have spent part of their life working in another discipline and then make a switch to planning.

Their previous discipline may be unrelated to their new industry altogether, but they bring with them unbridled enthusiasm and hunger, an essential naïvety of the constraints of the industry and a new perspective on answering problems.

Like a footballer being taught ballet to increase balance (a tactic Jose Mourinho used with Chelsea) there are many positives to be learned from the latter approach. But extraordinary generally happens when the learned planners are teamed with a more classically trained planner – the yang to their yin.

Being an ex-creative and architecture graduate, I understand the importance of this blend.My agency believes in the need to collide to thrive by bringing highly talented people together to create a friction that leads to extraordinary work. It pays to seek out different people within the business to collide on relevant briefs; it pays to seek out different points of view and approaches to a problem.

As a group of creatively minded people, we’ve made a pact to push each other to create extraordinary work. Creative/planner relationships have always thrived this way, but we’re on a joint mission to rid the world of average, and sometimes this means we push each other to venture into spaces we’ve never been before.

How does your company create extraordinary work? Have a think about who you partner with. Is there enough friction? Are you colliding enough? Or are you trying and testing in the same tried and tested way?

Mark Hadfield is regional planning director at Iris Singapore