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Great Planners, Great Thinkers, Great Minds… Great Eyes? August 4, 2009

Posted by jorgevega in Uncategorized.
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I am researching the planning / strategic models used in the best ad agencies out there, how effective they are in driving culturally-relevant work, and how applicable they are to the public diplomacy practice. Part of this research deals with studying the actual conceptualization of insight as guided by the agency’s philosophy, or to make it sound smarty-fancy, the epistemology of planners: before asking ourselves which kind of insight and how and where to acquire it, maybe we can also try establish what it should be? In our conversation, Dr. Erica David, Sr. Anthropologist at CP+B, told me how she and her colleagues try to approach insight visually. I don’t think that any planner / strategist can really work a concept without considerable use of visualization, but a visual approach for Dr. David seemed to go beyond trying to use pictures to represent ideas, even using them as complements: it dealt with finding the big idea, in this case the cultural tension of a brand or product, as a visual. From the point of view of modern media and consumer society, heavily reliant on imagery, it only seems natural that a certain visual element could be the principal point of interaction and experience between a brand and a consumer. But maybe the approach itself is important for planners to grasp the big picture?

In his lecture to TED, Tom Wujec explains the many ways in which our brain makes sense of what we see. He covered three major features of this process. First, an area called the ventral stream helps recognize “who” or “what” an object might be: that round thing over there is recognized as a basketball and that other round thing as my little cousin. A second important area is the dorsal stream, which helps you locate objects spatially, allowing you to, for example, navigate your room after turning off the lights without hitting most of the stuff on the way to the bed. Finally, visuals are given meaning within the limbic system, where important functions like emotion, behavior, and long term memory are also handled:  that is why an object may trigger a bad memory which in turn triggers a negative sensation.  Mr. Wujec argues that certain visually-based approaches to working may help us reach more complete insight simply because of the mental meaning intertwined with how we process visuals. ”We make meaning by seeing, by an act of visual interrogation,” affirms Mr. Wujec. A great lecture to watch and get us thinking, literally.

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