“Have you noticed how the best planners are often biologists?” Rory Sutherland

This throwaway comment, from the Grand Rory, gave me pause to think.


Biologists, really?  Rory believes they best understand how the brain works.  A biology graduate would have great expertise in the reptilian brain for instance, which helps to explain system 1 vs system 2 thinking that many consider crucial to predicting behaviour.


The very notion that the best planners are graduates of higher education is worth challenging as it is.  I’ve worked with brilliant planners whose education was finished in the school of life.


If there is a debate about which university subject is best fit for a planner then we must consider maths.  Sir Martin Sorrell’s remark that the advertising industry is populated by “math men not mad men” has been quoted frequently.  Without a doubt a grasp of maths is essential.  Even an understanding of the algorithm: this year’s explanation for nearly everything clever.  Recently I’ve been surprised when I fired the once notorious entry level interview question that I was asked at a couple of very senior executives. They could only give me an approximation of the correct answer.  (What is 70 percent of 7?).


Let’s not bring a degree in advertising into this.  Rory’s point is around what non-vocational degree best suits.


Psychology trains you in what really motivates.  English, Drama, Film studies help with crucial skills in storytelling.  In our global economy a Geography degree will at least mean that you know what continent you’re being sent to in order to put out fires or to grasp a palm.


IMHO History gives you the best preparation for life as a planner.  A student of history grasps how to interpret research and how to balance information from wildly different and subjective sources.  They’ll understand the impact of new technology on civilisation (eg the printing press, often remarked on as the first time that tech allowed radical thoughts to be democratised to the masses).  The role of celebrities in culture from Cleopatra to Mrs Simpson*.  Politics, economics, king makers, revolutions, the power of the meme and how communication spreads.  Good historians are curious about everything. Above all history gives you perspective and of course understanding of how important it is to learn from the past, the good, the bad, the successes and the mistakes.


*(Are you thinking: a) Marge; b) Edward VIII’s missus c) Fightstar’s lead vocalist’s mum ?)




Comments are closed.