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Chicago

Four Takeaways From the 4A’s Strategy Festival

Since the end of the 4A’s Strategy Festival, I’ve had time to think about the different topics covered and put a few actionable ideas from the workshops into practice. So after processing everything I experienced last week and jumping back into work with my teams, here are four takeaways from the conference that I hope you can use in your day-to-day work as well.

Seek usefulness over cleverness.
It’s easy for strategists to feel like we need to be the smartest people in the room. I’ve fallen into this trap. At the same time, as a young planner there have been moments when I’ve felt inadequate around strategists who are showing their deep intellect.

But using big words in briefs isn’t what gets the job done; instead, be useful in every part of the work. The award-winning work at the festival showed how integral a strategist is to the final product. It’s encouraging to know my job is to be useful, rather than just clever. We should be welcomed into projects because the people around us know we can make their jobs easier and, ultimately, make the work better.

Demand simplicity.
From the work that won awards to the most impactful keynote speeches, the theme was simplicity. The work showed how strategy and insights were boiled down to specific, simple ideas. And the presenters demonstrated this by seeking the most concise way to influence their audience.

The art of simplicity in communications is nothing new. But it served as a welcomed refresher. Though we strive for simplicity every day, over time we can lose focus of that. Seeing how people broke down their ideas and strategies into the simplest forms was a great way to ask myself if my own work is being boiled down into simple, digestible ideas.

Take a step back. Often.
There’s a fine line between being so immersed in our work that we become experts on the subject and taking a step back to give ourselves the ability to breathe. When we’re caught in the grind, handling multiple projects, the last thing we think about is taking a step back. Yet, when we don’t take the time to work out fresh ideas, our work becomes stale.

Events like Strategy Fest force us to take that step back. The moment I paused, took in what others were doing and saw how they solved problems was when I felt like I could go back to my work with fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Be surrounded by inspiring people.
Naturally, the 4A’s Strategy Festival brings together some of the best thinkers and doers in our industry. And for two full days, I had the opportunity to hear their case studies, pick their brains and soak up all there was to offer. It’s a great reminder to surround ourselves with smart people who are consistently doing great work.

But it wasn’t only the people at Strategy Fest that made me realize this. It’s also the people around me on a daily basis. While being surrounded with smart thinkers was an incredible experience, being with people who support and encourage me on a daily basis to be better, that makes for a special opportunity—one that I’m extremely thankful to be a part of at Leo Burnett.

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Chase Donahue is a strategist at Leo Burnett Chicago.