Culture eats strategy for breakfast

"I think it would be great if we actually did it. But we don’t!"

Josh Akapo | Co-founder | archtype

How would you explain what “culture eats strategy for breakfast” means?


Culture eats strategy for breakfast is referring to how your organisational culture is what really will power you through towards success and what will drive your sustainable growth and development of the team and company.

You want to do things in a certain way or you have a strategy that's planned out and robust. That makes sense in theory. But at the end of the day it's all about the people in your organisation who you are hiring. People say this and don't actually do it though. In a sense you're hiring someone's worth and not just hiring the value markers that they might have on their CV. It's the worth that comes through in the work and not just the value markers.

The strategy might dictate that it needs to include people with a certain skill set, a certain level of seniority, a certain methodology and a certain process. That’s all well and good (I'm a strategist and researcher - so I love that part and know the importance of it), but when you are hiring minds / people into a high level / high worth service industry culture you need those minds to work well together in the team that your organisation is built around. Therefore the culture that facilitates that high level thinking, high level work and impactful output is essential in driving change.

It’s key in driving profit for the company that's delivering profit for their client. But more importantly to me, because I'm not really “a profit driven person”, the impact of the work that's being driven by the culture that the organisation embodies.

What do you think about this ‘advice’?


I think it would be great if we actually did it. But we don’t!

It’s often hypocritical. I come from a marketing background as a strategist and researcher and have been running my own agency for six years - so really get it. First of all, I'll say it's definitely not an easy thing to shape an organisation's culture, but it's also not an easy thing to shape an organisation's strategy.

And I don't think that these things need to be mutually exclusive. They're actually quite intertwined. What do I mean by that?

When you're starting a business and you are below 10 employees - but you've made your first hire - those first few people that you get into an organisation are going to be fundamental in dictating the culture.

However, those first few hires are going to dictate the strategy of the organisation, because they'll be doing things based on their own background, experiences, values and worth. They're going to do things in a specific way that is going to steer your company. And that's why you hired them.

So those people are going to need a culture that's going to encourage that. But more importantly, those people are going to define that culture because you can't do it yourself. It requires multiple people to set those behaviours that people then repeat and follow.

Now to the reason why I DON’T think “we” really do this and why I think it’s often hypocritical advice. Because the cultures that we pull from are often quite exclusive and discriminatory. They are often small-c conservative in a sense that they are trying to preserve something and keep tradition going. People want to hire the best, the best minds and the brightest minds, people from a different school of thought and those who took non-traditional career paths. Especially startups and young agencies, challenger brands and the disruptors who are all looking for that difference.

But they end up producing a very concentrated toxic version of the same old, same old, because they're not working on refining those cultures for what they actually want to do.

And this goes back to the questions:
What are your goals as an organisation?
What are you trying to achieve here?
What are you trying to deliver?
What strategy do you actually need to implement?
What culture do you need to encourage it?

Would you give this advice to other people?


It depends on the organisation.

I haven't even really gone into depth about what I mean by exclusive, traditional, small-c conservative elitist workplace cultures.

I'm not gonna give this advice to people who aren't students of culture, human behaviour or interested in the human experience or always trying to refine for better. Because they're just going to reproduce cultures that are not going to serve everyone in their organisation.

And that's a big problem with the aphorism “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Strategy, methodology, processes, procedures and policy is also there to safeguard against stupid practices when they are just made up on the fly.

If your organisation is driven purely by a fleeting culture, based on whatever the founding team makes up in the moment, without any meaningful thought, then that culture is inevitably going to have problems. And in those cases I wouldn’t want to give an organisation like that advice.

If not, what alternative advice would you give to agency leaders?


If we're talking about agency leaders, specifically:
Who are your clients?
What work do they need you to deliver?
And what culture do you need to foster to get there?

A lot of agencies start with this backwards approach where they'll say:
“We're driven by this!”
“We are passionate about this thing!”
“We are social purpose led!”
“We are social first!”
“We put the person in the centre of branded campaigns!”
“We believe in people before profit!”
“We believe in saving the environment!”

To me that’s just talk to try to make it look like you have this culture of nurture and care and like you’re doing all of these good points that we love to shout about in our marketing without actually doing the work to foster that culture first.

So then when you get new hires and new clients who perhaps have chosen your agency on the basis of that, they're expecting one thing: A good, equitable and transformative culture that actually helps clients deliver on whatever the brief is. A culture that helps run a sustainable business model, but also helps the people - the audience, the target market, the consumer, whatever you wanna call them - with their needs.

If you don't have a culture, that's going to do that - that’s a big problem.

And this is where we get into diversity, equity and inclusion. Because most of the time the cultures are built on systems that are quite depressive.

For example:
If part of your culture is that “the office” is a necessary thing.
Then are you thinking about all your potential team members?
Those who might have disabilities, who might be neurodiverse, who might have other commitments that mean they can't conform to that kind of culture?

I'm giving a really simple example here because it is that simple. Ensuring that a culture is equitable means thinking about the people who are beneficiaries or potential victims of that culture.

If you can't do that, yet you like to believe that your culture eats strategy for breakfast, then I don't know if you are going to really be able to develop an equitable culture. You also won’t be able to use that culture to define a strategy that will go on to inform future cultures for future team members that will be working in that same agency.

At archtype, the agency I run, we talk about culture in this way:
We say that people make up communities.
Then communities shape culture.
And culture shapes people in this sort of reciprocal cycle of cultural production.

And that's how we see it because our company is immersed in culture by all of us being in this young demographic that they call gen Z - which BTW I'm not the biggest fan of calling it gen Z, but hey, whatever, everyone loves the word.

We're all young people from diverse backgrounds. We hit like three or four continents in just a team of seven. We're queer folk. We're black folk. We're working class folk. We're neurodiverse folk, like all across the board. And because of that, we are just exposed to so many different cultures and thinking outside of our organisation.

It's the communities who are marginalised, who are oppressed, who require culture as a means for political activation and social awakening, are the ones who create the best cultures. Who create the cultures that are most favourable to reproduce and we are immersed in those.

I'll reiterate:
People make up communities, communities make and shape culture and culture shapes people. That's the cycle. If your culture is not able to shape people in a way that the community of your organisation can benefit properly and by the community of your organisation, I mean, everyone, from the lowest paid individual who might be only there for three weeks to your C-suite execs, then that's not a culture that's going to drive home any workable strategy or any transformative, impactful, meaningful and purposeful work.

What is the Josh Akapo definition of culture?


Culture is made up of shared behavioural practices amongst a group of people that have common interests. That's the foundation of culture.

Those behavioural practices have to be repeated over time and then passed onto future generations. But as we look into the workplace onto. Future employees and onto future members of the team.

How do you define what vision, mission and strategy is and the differences between them?


Well, that's an interesting question.

Your vision statement is:
How do you view what the impact of your organisation will be on the industry that your organisation sits in?
Where are you going with it?

Your mission statement is:
What you're here to do.
What value do you give?
What value do you bring?
What impact do you drive?
What can and what do your campaigns deliver?
What purpose does your work do?

Strategy is:
How you get there.
How are you going to do it?
It’s your plan.
Your thought processes that will get you to a certain place.
It's the research and insights that is embedded into that i.e. the proof points.

Culture can be a driving force in all of that, but again, are your people in your organisation - everybody - able to make up the community i.e. are you allowing them in?

Is it going to be closed off or is it going to be equitable? Are you going to subconsciously hire people who are the right cultural fit, but the right cultural fit means you have a similar background to me. Or does it mean, the right cultural fit, being able to positively impact an organisation's culture, which means you can come from anywhere, but your mind has to be right. Is everyone getting a say or is it just being spearheaded by the top and you're not listening to people who are below you? Does your culture actually shape people and work towards something that is more important than profit. It's going to have to be more important than profit.

Yes, we are in late stage capitalism.
Yes, there is a cost of living crisis.
Yes, inflation is going up.
Yes, we all have to really bolster our margins and ensure that we are able to create sustainable businesses.

However, profit is not what culture is here to do.
Culture is here to make an impact.
Culture is here to transform.
Culture is here to change.
Culture is here to inspire.
Culture ain’t here just to do ego service.
Culture ain’t here to be a reproduction of the safety nets, the small-c conservatism, traditions and elitism that we're trying to protect, because I'm not trying to protect that!

Josh Akapo's bio

Josh Akapo is an award-winning strategist and researcher, with a focus on people, culture and community. He's co-founder and head of strategy at archtype, a creative house moving differently through nuanced thinking, co-creating with communities and transformative campaigns. He uses data and stories to better understand people, challenging brands to recentre their work in their audience. His work focuses primarily on young people, marginalised groups, and radical social purpose.

So far in his 7+ years career, he's worked with eBay, Pinterest, NHS, Converse, University of the Arts London, the Mental Health Foundation, and many more. This work saw him listed in the BIMA 100 in 2019 as a Rising Star, in GUAP Magazine X Converse 'The Blacklist' 30 under 30 for 2020, and The Dots 100 Rising Stars Inspiring Change in 2020.

Humble promo of Josh Akapo and archtype

Josh is a strategist that really understands the concept of culture and community. He pulls together an incredible network of people with all kinds of different backgrounds that can really help companies reach new audiences in a "non-cringy" and "real" way.

Daniel (Polymensa founder)

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