February 13, 2018
Apply Here: Court Jesters, Empaths, Wordsmiths and Wild Things
SoDA is thrilled to welcome Mark Pollard and Nathan Adkisson as faculty leaders for the Strategy Track at the 2018 SoDA Academy. Nathan is the Director of Strategy at Local Projects, a renowned experiential design studio based in New York. Mark is the Founder of Mighty Jungle where he trains strategists and company leaders to get out of their heads and into the wild.
I recently spoke with Mark and Nathan about the state of digital strategy, guerilla Instagram anthropology, the importance of universal empathy, getting back to basics and why “court jester” perfectly captures the idea of a strategist.
Almost every agency in the world claims to be “strategic” but far fewer produce actual strategy. Apart from tangible deliverables, what is it that separates a great strategy practice from a group of people who are simply strategic?
First of all, I haven’t heard of the agency Tangible Deliverables. Cool name. Brooklyn?
Your question runs deep. A strategy practice is a group of people who are strategic, however, there are more invisibles at play:
- A strategy practice is official, recognized, valued within the agency and by clients.
- A strategy practice has spiritual weight - it matters, it's a force.
- A strategy practice has focused intention - to do whatever it is set up to do, to do it well, to improve, to network, to... practice.
Having said that, the act of strategy or account planning is more important than whether it's a nominated person or group of people. In other words, Strategy > Strategist and there need not be a velvet rope.
Unfortunately, and this is what your question hints at, many people use the words "strategy" and "strategist" as an act of grandstanding - to match the other roles in the room, to make themselves and what they say feel more important. This hurts the discipline.
Incidentally, a group of people who are "simply strategic" is a perfectly good thing to be.
Strategy is a creative, generative discipline. Stating the obvious is not good strategy. Neither is a dashboard of numbers with no analysis, insight or idea. Strategists are measured by their ability to come up with ideas that are so crazy they might just work. Mark and I both subscribe to the metaphor of strategist as jester—cut through jargon and say the uncomfortable truth. That takes guts. It's easy to fall back on best practices or recycle the conventions of your category. The best strategy is specific. It's not a vague trend forecast. It should imply a creative idea. Mark and I have both led creative initiatives all the way to launch. Knowing how something actually gets made helps strategy be sharper.