Down & Dirty with: Group Think, the Co-Founders
Group Think is a community dedicated to developing the next generation of strategists. It consists of over 1,500 members spanning a wide range of strategic specialisms, from advertising planners to experience strategists, to media planners to strategic consultants and everything in-between.
We catch up with the Co-Founders, James & Arthur, in our latest episode of Down & Dirty.
Group Think on: The 'Big Bang' (so to speak)...
Marketing Island: This year is Group Think’s 4th birthday, but what was the inspiration behind founding the community - the trigger that got it all started?
James & Arthur: Learning how to think strategically/be a strategist can be pretty rough.
Like, imagine you're lucky enough to bag a role as a junior strategist. It’s going to take you probably a year before you even begin to start to think differently to how school/uni/life taught you to think (which you find out hasn’t prepared you for much). You feel pretty useless until that headchange starts to happen - you’re usually a glorified Googler for someone ‘til then. Or, alternatively you’re writing briefs and pitching to clients without knowing wtf you’re doing, typically with no direction and feeling like a fraud…
Like we said - rough.
Now imagine you’re going through this pretty much alone. After all, it’s not uncommon for a junior strategist to be the only strategist in the agency. Maybe you get to sit near a Director that is “willing to train you" but in reality has no capacity. Then imagine that you find out your agency provides no training budget. Or at least nowhere near the necessary amount to fund a proper training course.
So, what do you do?
You check out one of these big, established training organisations to see what’s possible. If you’re lucky enough to have the money, you enjoy some solid training. However, it’s often skewed towards “advertising” theory and hosted in intimidating environments (big name agencies or austere training rooms) which don’t foster conversations or relationships. If you don’t have money, you go to talks and less expensive conferences. You find that most of the content rarely applies to the reality of the job. So you’re left to figure out the difference between best practice and reality. All fantastic fuel for your impostor syndrome.
If this sounds familiar, all these factors were triggers. We didn’t feel what was there represented us. So, we got the few strategists we knew and respected and asked them if they were up for changing things. They were.
Together we slowly built a real community. One that’s free to join. One where people know each other’s names and make sure that new people feel welcome. We run events in informal spaces (pubs and coffee shops) to create the right vibe (“the medium is the msg” and all that). We make members feel like they can share the blood, sweat and tears of the job - the stuff you really learn from hearing and sharing. Not the perfect theory. The real shit. In a safe space.
Suddenly it’s 4yrs later and we’re catering to more than 1,500 members with physical hubs in London & Dublin. As a bit of a tradition we’ve started running a festival (that people can afford) to cover our hard costs. This year thanks to COVID-19 it has to be virtual. So we focus on getting a diverse lineup of brilliant strategists onboard from around the world to headline (Melbourne to San Fran).
Suddenly, we realise the Fest has turned global with +300 participants (and counting) from +30 countries coming along… And then we stuck a link to it here.
Errr… Hopefully that paints a picture.
Group Think on: Networking for introverts (and not running for the hills!)...
Marketing Island: By offering events such as ‘Planners Pints’ (drinking and socialising with fellow ad-bods) and Mind Surgery (knuckling down to sharpen your skills), Group Think is a great way of meeting other like-minded folk. However, not all networking is as relaxed as ‘Planners Pints’ and can often feel even harder for introverts.
As community builders and leaders, what are your top networking tips for introverts?
James & Arthur: Sure, got a ton!
Opening caveat is that we're both extroverts. Most of these tips come from speaking at length with introverted members. We’ve also designed our events to do right what most of classic networking events get wrong... But in terms of general tips, these are pretty useful:
1. Firstly, know that no one is excited by the prospect of a “networking” event. It’s a god awful concept that feels deeply alien to most people. You can probably already imagine the shaking Peroni bottle in your hand as you try to “network” in a room of people you don’t know… Try to remember: There’s a ton of other people in the room feeling exactly like you.
Before the event:
2. Can you convince someone else you know to go with you? (With the vow that you won’t just spend the whole time talking to each other!)
Can you find out who is going? Is there anyone going you know-ish?
3. At the event, try to find other introverts. Other folks that look a bit “left out in the cold”. Start chatting to them. Form a group.
4. If you form a group close to the entrance new people will gravitate towards you. They will have to introduce themselves to you, which is ideal as then they have to do the awkward bit. A welcoming smile is all that’s required from you.
5. If you do find yourself in a small group talking to people, always make sure there’s an open space for someone else to join the circle. People will fill it naturally.
6. It’s all about asking other people questions. Introverts have the superpower of being good at listening whilst most people love talking about themselves. What starts with an artificial-feeling question to prompt conversation may actually lead you to discover someone interesting.
And finally, a few dark arts here... Sorry not sorry.
7. If someone is boring AF/not your cup of tea and you have to get away, finish your drink and excuse yourself to go get another drink or go for a wee. On the way back “get lost” and strike up a conversation with some other people/join another group. Btw, everyone feels awkward joining groups… but most people are happy to welcome new faces. It renews the discussion.
8. If alcohol helps… Warm yourself up by racing off for a beer right at the start of the thing. Provided you’re not a lightweight this will give you a helpful bit of social lubricant. No shame in it. Obviously don’t get shitfaced or stoned and then show up…
Oh and last thing on this - we <3 introverts & extroverts. Our own team is made up of both. However, it’s often not as binary as this. It’s the situation and our relationship to people in it that indicates how comfortable we are. That’s why we run our events in the kinds of informal spaces where people naturally socialise with their friends. Our events also focus on facilitating more intimate groups (10-15ppl) so everyone can chat casually. No rows of chairs...
Group Think on: Nailing the side hustle...
Marketing Island: You co-founded Group Think as a side hustle, alongside full time work. Side-hustles take dedication and persistence and it often feels like there’s not enough hours in the day...
What advice would you give to those trying to grow their side-hustle and stay motivated alongside full time work?
James & Arthur: If it’s ambitious, don’t try and do it alone.
Try and do it with friends. People you love hanging out with and who you respect. They’ll make it feel real and make it fun. They'll add their own genius to it. They’ll support you/the project when other aspects of life inevitably come at you sideways.
But make sure these people you get onboard aren’t just friendly brains or mouths. They’ve got to be doers as well (otherwise you’re pretty much going to be doing it yourself but with a bunch of critics to distract you).
Group Think works because we are a bunch of friends who are also strategists. We love chatting and debating strategy, want to laugh, have strong work ethics and sometimes drink a hectolitre of beer...
Group Think on: The one and only (book)...
Marketing Island: Group Think runs ‘The Lazy Book Club’. If you had to give one book to a Planner, and it was the only book they could ever read, what would it be and why?
Arthur: For me it’s “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” by R. Rumelt. A book we didn’t cover in Lazy Book Club -- yet. It’s not a fun book but it outlines what good strategy is and how to do it. More importantly, it explores what bad strategy is and why most strategies out there are just plain crap.
James: Honestly don’t know. There’s not one truth to this job so you genuinely have to magpie shit from all over. However, one book I’d definitely recommend to anyone who loves the creativity of strategy is “On Writing: A memoir of the craft” by Stephen King (note: not the legendary planner, the legendary storyteller). It is a good starting place for understanding how to write, and using words to shape ideas is essential to strategy.
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