Why do we need to care before we strategise?

In the first of our series on ‘the power of co-creation’, Adam Buss CEO of Derby Quad writes about his own journey :

Over the years I have written many strategy documents, some long term, some short term, some project focused and some organisational focused. Some have succeeded and even exceeded expectations whilst others have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by another strategy document in turn. Strategy is something that has always fascinated me, having studied Politics And History and having read countless documents (from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to Mike Brearly’s The Art of Captaincy) I feel well versed in the nuances and approaches used to build a successful strategy.

The Art of Captaincy, front cover
The Art of Captaincy, by Mike Brearly

There is something missing or at least not made clear from every tome, snippet and tweet I have read on the subject – the need to care about what you are creating a strategy for. Having worked in the private highly commercial world of global brand marketing I have written a number of strategic documents which although successful left me empty and without knowing why I had written them, except for pure commercial gain. It was only when I moved to work in the Arts that I realised that it is not only OK but ESSENTIAL that for a strategy to be successful you have to care first. Care about the audience you are trying to reach, care that you are making a difference, care for the organisation you work for and care for the place that you live in.

Hastings town centre, described as hell-on-sea in the 1990s
Hasting town centre: described as ‘Hell-on-Sea in the nineties.

I grew up in a town that didn’t care at the time, that had been ravaged by a lack of strategic approach to development that meant when its only major industry (tourism) started to fail it had nowhere to go. This led to high levels of deprivation and many societal problems (described by national media in the 90’s as Hell on Sea) that seemed to create a vortex that sucked the life out of young people and forced many away. Much of the criticism was unfair and many brilliant people did, do and always will come from Hastings but growing up there has left a mark on me that has always made me question why I care, what I care about and how can I make a difference. I was fortunate that this framework was reinforced by my immediate family who worked incredibly hard to ensure myself and my siblings were the first people in our family ever to go on to higher education. They strategised all the time – financial strategies to ensure we could pay our bills, education strategies to help us thrive, emotional strategies to help us develop – and my first and most important lesson on developing strategies came from them, you have to care before you strategise.

Caring brings it own challenges, I disagree with many of my peers on individual elements of the way we work and it is because we care that we feel it deeply and personally, even when our super objectives remain the same. Because we have invested so much of ourselves in our work it is impossible not to take some of the knocks and challenges personally, no matter how much of a veneer of confidence we build up to protect ourselves. The moment I stop getting hurt by injustice or disgruntled by disagreements on points of strategy is the moment I will know it is time to move on and look for something else to do.

Whenever I speak to anyone looking to work in the arts and creative industries I am clear about how rewarding their career could be but am also very clear that each path contains its own hurdles to overcome and at times peaks that seem insurmountable. Management speak and climbing metaphors aside I am always clear with everyone I speak to that the what we do is not only important but essential but with this will come pain and disappointment and nearly as many lows as highs, but ultimately if you care and you feel this is the right industry for you then you should embrace this and never be afraid to be afraid. This is why movements like Arts Emergency and What Next are so crucial to our development as an industry as it brings us together to discuss, evaluate, challenge and develop new talent in collaborative ways that helps us strategise and care at the same time.

A centre for the arts and culture; Derby QUAD
Derby QUAD

I feel incredibly fortunate that I am working in an organisation (QUAD) and a city (Derby) that mean so much to me, I love them both. It is this feeling that creates the desire for me to write strategically, think strategically and lead strategically not only for myself and the immediate circumstances of my organisation but for the City and many and various audiences and potential audiences we engage with every year. This is also aided by the fact that Derby is a naturally collaborative city – small enough to know each other and big enough to make an impact – and that within the creative community in Derby there is a desire to always stretch ourselves, question our practice and do the  best job we can. We won’t always get it right but we should always care, without that we have already failed.

Adam Buss CEO of Derby Quad  Adam Buss | @adamlloydbuss

Adam is currently the Chief Executive of QUAD, Derby’s centre for creative media and film. Adam is passionate about communications, the arts and equality of opportunity for all. He has worked in multiple sectors including experience of working for brands such as Sony, Air France, Orange and Motorola. In the cultural and creative sector Adam has successfully built brands and audiences for QUAD, FORMAT (now the UK’s largest contemporary photography festival), Derby Festé and Derby Film Festival. During his career Adam has developed communications campaigns that have reached millions of people worldwide and inspired audiences to engage with diverse and exciting cultural activities. He has specialist knowledge of experiential marketing and communications that engage diverse demographic groups. In 2010 he was named one of the most influential business people under 42 in the midlands, was an award winning stand-up comedian in the early 2000’s and he is committed to life-long learning having recently completed a distance learning course on Gamification at the University of Pennsylvania. Adam is a proud graduate of the University of Derby. Adam is a board member of Safe and Sound, the UK’s leading charity seeking to end Child Sexual Exploitation. A trustee of the University of Derby Students’ Union and board member of the Cinema Arts Network a leading digital agency connecting independent cinemas throughout the UK.

Our speakers for the next event definitely do care passionately about Derby and about what they are trying to do.  Why not come along to Lunar21 and test for yourself whether caring really is the essential (rather than just desirable) ingredient?

Perhaps we can even tease out what might be the implications for our city of such a profound attitude?