Part one of our series of interviews about how organisations prioritise

Subsector: How would you describe your role and the company you work for?

Adam: I’m the Global Creative Director of FreeState. I’m also the founder of FreeState. We create experiences that activate places and activate brands. We began 16 years ago, we started off as a relatively small entity that does brand experiences and that’s what we became famous for. Now we look at that whole world not just in terms of temporary things for brands but long terms things like cities.

Subsector: Thinking about prioritisation. What would you say the benefits of prioritising are?

Adam: For me there are benefits at the 3 key stages that we’re involved in. When I think about it firstly in terms of the inputs for strategy, if I better understand the priorities of my clients and their challenges, and if they can also be aligned in terms of how they might agree on what those priorities are then we’re in better shape right from the very beginning. That is thing number one. If then I can take those priorities then play back our recommendations based on those priorities I know they’re going to better fit and we can have a more robust conversation about the cost-benefits of each one of those ideas. So that’s the second bit of it. Thirdly, beyond strategy, beyond design, when it comes to activation, then I’ve got the beginnings of those key KPIs, then I can then measure to ensure this experience can get better over time because I better understood what my customer wanted.

Subsector: Do you think organisations are reluctant to prioritise?

Adam: I think organisations are reluctant to prioritise because there is that question of cognitive dissonance, I suppose. Where on the one hand it’s easy for organisations to say “yes, it is for everybody, these are solutions that work across the board” and then on the other hand there’s that thing going “but of course there needs to be a target” (whether that’s target audience or target metric, yada yada). Often they struggle to square those two. So, yes, prioritisation is essential but to what extent the politics of a business can handle that, is another question.

Subsector: Do you think it’s more difficult for organisations to prioritise these days, compared to the past?

Adam: In terms of the month-by-month tactics of projects, I think in the world of “agile working” it’s becoming ever more important to prioritise what each one of those squads is doing. To what extent there is genuine prioritisation from a strategic point of view, I don’t know. I actually see in most of things we’re working on, it’s very very project-focused. It’s very much about the means and the ways of doing it, but in terms of the ends for the business, the business challenge above and beyond that, sometimes that gets missed in the energy of the project. I think often in what I do it becomes too easy to have those broad all-encompassing statements, like “the customer is at the centre of everything we do, therefore we’re doing these 8 projects”. Whereas I think there’s a middle point, in terms of, well let’s understand what we mean by “customer” i.e. prioritisation of customer, prioritisation of everything, then prioritisation of what we do. I often find that that bit is missing, that bridge.

Subsector: Thinking about you personally, how do you go about prioritising things?

Adam: I always have my little red notebooks with me. As part of that I’m constantly thinking about the priorities of what I’m doing and how that relates to my team and my business. I’m also interested in how those priorities work at the most macro level. So, starting with what that 5 year strategic plan is for me and the business. Where I want to be in 5 or 10 years time. Then looking at the key things I need to do to get there, in terms of the really big stones I need to deal with and then what that means in terms of my daily practice. I was very fortunate, I did a course with Dan Sullivan, who’s the guy who invented Strategic Coach, and a huge amount of what he’s about is the prioritisation of one’s unique abilities. How you start with a plan that looks 20-30 years ahead and then you work backwards. [In terms of method] for me it’s very analogue and it’s through my sketchbooks and I tune in my team to what I’m doing and vice versa. Also, in terms of the detail of that, I split up my time into 3 different things: I have my Focus Time, that’s about what I’m uniquely good at. There’s no filing going on there, there’s no focus on the things I’m not good at. Then I have my Free Time. I don’t do any of those Focus Time things, I’m with the family or doing my own thing. Then I have my Buffer Time where I do all the shit that gets in the way of Free or Focus. I split up my weeks like that.

Subsector: How does your organisation prioritise?

Adam: There is a strategic plan that looks at what we do by sector and by market. That better allows us to think about how we aim ourselves. There is a “Go, No Go” process where an opportunity, a project or a client relationship, might come through and we ask a number of questions to allow us to know whether we’re going to consider it. Then from there, there are a set of check and balances that come in, in terms of the oddities, the anomalies… We must do it, it might be strategically important but financially desperate, and then we work out how to do that. Essentially there is a master plan across the next 5 years and then that breaks down into Go, No Go, which is very much a prioritisation thing. The criteria are quite simple. For example, within the brief, do they speak about the importance of the experience. Are we trying to shoehorn it in or have they already called it out? Is there an individual within the organisation who’s commissioning this who understand the value of experience, or are they just talking about it in terms of a brand or a place? Because if not, I know they don’t really believe it.

FreeState is an experience design company, who create experiences that activate places and brands.