Our Life in The Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol. 1, No. 9

September 10, 2021

Personal Strategic Planning

By Rich Holly

Stay with me here – in just a bit, I’ll share my strategic plan with you. And there is a tag line to this plan – which I’ll share later. Hang with me.

By my count, I’ve been part of a strategic planning team for large organizations five times throughout my career, two of those with outside consultants to lead us through the process. I’m about to enter my sixth such endeavor, again with outside consultants. The briefest of these processes took nine months. The longest took nearly two years.

Rich being all serious and stuff

Throughout all these processes – indeed, before and after the processes – I can’t shake the notion that we spend a great deal of time and energy creating plans that are supposed to guide our actions and create initiatives over a long period of time. And in some of these cases, we spent (IMHO) too much time trying to determine if something was a good idea AND if it fit into the strategic plan (and which would likely be shelved or tossed if it did not fit).

I know there are many, many examples of strategic plans that have been deemed successful – and for larger organizations with aspirations of attaining particular metrics I believe they are absolutely necessary. Additionally, I share my kudos to those organizations (some of which I have been part of). So, this is not a knock on strategic plans. It’s more a look at and encouragement for the nimbleness that needs to be imbedded in strategic plans, and, in particular, your personal strategic plan.

And by now you may be thinking “What does this have to do with the arts?” It has a LOT to do with the arts, and as I stated at the top, hang in there.

We cannot predict the future. Okay, Carl Sagan’s 1995 book does a pretty good job – but very few of us are the next Carl Sagan. How many personal or organizational plans have been turned on their head by the current pandemic? One of the strategic plans I helped develop was completed in 2008. Who recalls the economic crash that year? Thousands of strategic plans were upended due to that crash (and if you haven’t yet seen the film The Big Short or read Michael Lewis’s book upon which it’s based, I encourage you to do so).

But it doesn’t take only national and global catastrophes to stop strategy in its tracks. It can be as simple as parts of the strategy being based upon a single person’s strengths. Not that I’m Carl Sagan, but I once made a prediction that came true: A colleague of mine was given new work duties that spanned an incredible breadth of the operation. As much as I admired and trusted this colleague’s talent, organizational, and leadership skills, I was very vocal that no single person should be in charge of that many areas – what happens if or when that person becomes ill? Or leaves? Sure enough, that person left 3-4 years later and it took a few years and 3 new faculty members to fill the gaps – and a few years after that to get everything back on track.

So, I’ll stop the suspense and share with you my personal strategic plan and one which I believe should be the guiding principal for all of us: Do Great Work.

That’s it.

Nothing else. (Well, there is that tagline that I’ll discuss in a bit)

If you’re an actor, how will you achieve great work? Have you studied yet with a dialect coach? Do you work weekly or daily on facial expressions? Have you studied psychology?

If you’re a visual artist, how familiar are you with social justice? Politics? Which major visual art movements could be considered “holes” in your background?

As a musician or dancer, are you practicing on all the days you breathe? Are you using the mirror as often as you should? What styles can you learn and practice that take you out of your comfort zone?

I do want to be clear that I’m not suggesting we all strive to become famous or wealthy through our (great) work. If either or both of those happen to you, I wish you the best in dealing with fame and fortune. No – it’s way (way, way, way) more about your self-esteem and how your artistry impacts other people.

I know a great guitar player who, like so many other tremendous musicians, moved into another line of work in order to not be on the road most months of each year. Thankfully for his fans, he kept playing, albeit only on weekends instead of making it his fulltime job. He has had a love for cars since he was a young boy, and had worked on several as a hobby. He decided to open a body shop, and he told me one of the driving (no pun intended) factors was how his work would impact others. Imagine a distraught costumer coming in with a mangled auto, one which they are passionate about and rely upon, and they know it’s going to cost them money they weren’t planning to spend. They leave the car with him, and in a few days to a few weeks (depending on the level of damage) they return to pick up their ‘baby’ looking brand new, which brings incalculable joy to the customer. At the end of the repair process, and after turning the car back to the customer, my friend can look back, take pride in his great work, and honestly say, “I did that.” He used his artistic skills to bring the car back to its former beautiful self, made the customer incredibly happy, and contributed positively to his own self-esteem, causing him to want to get right back to it the next day.

Great work can be defined in any number of ways, and it’s up to you to decide what those are for you. I know you can do that successfully.

Take a few minutes to enjoy and ruminate on the lyrics of this song by Incubus:

I’ve mentioned a tagline twice before, and we’ve all seen and heard taglines in several situations. Coca Cola is famous for changing taglines fairly frequently (my favorite was It’s the Real Thing). Bounty paper towels is The Quicker Picker-Upper. Most American universities have a tagline (and there seems to be a law that it can’t be longer than four words).

So, here’s mine: Don’t Be a Jerk.

Imagine (yep, channeling John Lennon here) a world in which we all did great work and nobody was a jerk. Is Corporate America going to make that a priority? Perhaps in tiny doses. Will our politics get us there? You can answer that for yourself. It’s nearly impossible for me to think of any economic or jobs sector other than the arts that has the passion as well as the consistent and life-affirming power to get us there. What will your contributions be?

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Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.