I'm a horizontal person, and therefore I'm a horizontal planner.
You see, whether we like it or not we're born into a social position and throughout our life that social position changes and evolves as we do. If things don't go to plan sometimes we move to the left, and if things go well we move to the right. We may stay in the same place, but you can bet the things around us are evolving all the time.
And, if you look to the extremes, you'll see that if you work in an agency you're more likely to be further to the right. So let's look to those extremes.
(This is me drinking craft beers in Seattle. Nice.)
I regularly drink craft beers in Shoreditch. Over the past few weeks I've visited several places around East London and in other parts of London where there is a great selection of craft beers and real ales. Some have their own barbecue oven and some make their own scotch eggs. When I visit these bars there are lots of people there. Most of them dress like me, speak like me and no doubt have a very similar job to me. They're all very brand conscious and genre-conscious - some seemingly having visited a shop in Hackney, pointed at a picture of a Williamsburg hipster on the wall and grunted "One of those"...
(This is Jeremy Kyle... probably just about to be really honest with someone).
On the other extreme, I watch Jeremy Kyle. And read the reader comments in the Daily Mail online regularly. And although it galls me to sometimes, I am interested in both. On Jeremy Kyle you don't see the people I rub shoulders with in my favourite bars. You don't see people like me. You see a different social class interested in different ways of life. They speak different, act different and although they are as brand conscious as those above, the brands they see as aspirational are slightly different. They too may have walked into a local clothes shop, spotted a picture of a celebrity falling out of a nightclub and pointed to the wall saying "One of those"...
(I've been provocatively stereotypical in the descriptions above, I know).
I don't live either life vertically (fully in one silo), as I prefer to touch on both (and everything in between) and live horizontally across lots of different social groups.
As planners we're the voice of the consumer, and whilst the consumer may be one of the stereotypes above there's a very simple statement I'm going to make: The people above are not representative of the population. They're not representative because they are the extremes. ('Extreme' is of course contextual and I could talk about people living in poverty as much as I could talk about billionaires).
So where am I going with this? Well, if you're a planner and you live any of these lifestyles vertically, you're missing out on a whole spectrum of learning.
(Thanks to @eaonp for tweeting this earlier)
As human beings, we like to surround ourselves with people we have an affinity to. If we have friends from different socio-economic backgrounds it can sometimes be really interesting and rewarding and it can sometimes cause tensions. (Another program I like watching is Come Dine With Me for that exact reason as you get to observe how human beings from different backgrounds cope with engaging with people outside their comfort zone).
So what I try to do every day of my life is to live across several silos, and learn from them all.
I go to craft beer bars and spend £4.95 for half an 11% Nigerian stout. I go to the social club with my dad in Hartlepool and speak to people who have never lived outside their hometown. I watch my dad and all his friends drink Carling whilst I drink bitter. I walk along Ridley Road market and rub shoulders with hipsters, cockneys and people from all over the world. I visit Shoreditch House and rub shoulders with people who live a completely different life to me. I stay in 5* hotels and I stay in budget hotels. I shop at independent butchers and I shop at Iceland. I visit Tokyo, the USA and India as well as Milton Keynes, Hartlepool and Brighton. I actively eat vegetarian meals regularly and also eat ribs too. I sometimes fly business class and I sometimes fly Ryanair. And in every single one of those experiences I observe what's going on around me.
If I only experienced one of the above disproportionately to the others (or any other kind of experience) then I'm not the kind of planner I'd like to be. This is because a key part of learning about people and society is to be that person.
There's only so much you can garner from focus groups and from TGI (and we can discuss their merits at all but that's a different question for a different time). In my opinion it's imperative you actually live as the people you are interested in. And a good start to doing that is to live horizontally a little across many different lifestyles. You shouldn't surround yourself with people like you any more than you should surround yourself with people not like you. Mix it up. Experience them all.
If you spend all day in an office surrounded by marketing types and then spend most of your free time in Shoreditch House you're deluding yourself if you think you are good at understanding people.
By living horizontally you'll be learning throughout every moment of your life, not simply when you're at work 'doing research' because every moment in life is research.