162. Creators, Cultivators and Caregivers: Three different types of Event Manager
I’ve spent most of my adult life creating events. Sure, I’ve done other things as well, but at heart I am an event person. But while it’s tempting to look at event managers as one category, I’ve found three distinct types, with three different skillsets and outlooks.
As with any sort of analytical model, though, one thing is theory, the other is actual people. I’m going to propose three categories below, and I’m fully aware that an individual may fit one, two or all three. That’s ok. Being proficient at several ways of thinking doesn’t lessen one’s worth, and those rare event runners who master all three types – they are precious indeed.
That was the short intro. Here are the three types of event producer, with a few thoughts attached.
You’ve got this beautiful idea for a meetup of jazz musicians, and no one has done anything like it before. Don’t worry. Everything starts somewhere. Event Creators are skilled at turning loose ideas into actual projects. They’re the ones who will take a drunken conversation at 4 am in the morning and make it into an event that actually happens. They’re often jacks-of-many-trades, resourceful and confident, and have that burning drive that makes them power through challenges and end up with results. They tend to like new projects rather than old ones and think in terms of getting stuff done now rather than building systems for the future. Creators are usually very good at defining and deciding, with a tendency to go fast from “Is this possible?” to “How do we do this?” and from there on to “Let’s do this!”. They excel at pivoting, moving fast and breaking things and taking chances. Creators usually have strong vision, great communication skills and are often charismatic as well.
If you’re looking to start a new project, then you’ll be served well by having a Creator as part of your team.
So you’ve run your music festival three times, and it looks like it’s becoming a regular thing. But how do you proceed from here? Event Cultivators take the raw creation, make it sustainable and raise overall quality. They think in systems, repeatability and long-term strategy. A good Cultivator will make order out of messy structures, will replace hearsay and drip-by-drip mentoring with manuals and processes, and will make sure that there will be an event not just this time, but five or ten years from now. They’re usually meticulous, analytical problem solvers, who focus less on moving fast and breaking things, and instead move slower and fix things. They find chaos, enthusiasm and ideas, and leave behind processes, guidelines and manuals, so that the project will live on even if key team members leave.
If you have a project that’s high on energy, but low on structure and sustainability, then a Cultivator is an essential team member.
Your yearly family gatherings run like well-oiled machinery now. Gone are the kinks and rough edges. The initial glamour of the raw idea has long since been turned into a living, breathing beast that trundles along. The spring is over. Now it’s time for the marathon. Event Caretakers care deeply for what they do, but think in improvements rather than in disruption. They are detail-minded and dedicated, and have a gut-level understanding of why it pays off to be consistent. Good Caretakers are excited to run Event #108 because they’ll make it even better than Event #107, and would rather grow their own garden than dream of a different garden altogether. They find great pleasure in small things, enjoy deep relationships and are patient and unhurried. They know that the project existed before their time, and they will fight tooth and nail for it to exist after their time. They inspire and manage, while never losing sight of the small things that make up the big things.
If you have a project that is turning into an institution, then a Caretaker on the team is extremely valuable.
And why does it matter?
One of the reasons that I find this division intereting is because very few people are good at all three aspects. Even fewer find themselves comfortable in all three roles. The insatiable that pushes Creators to power through and produce rarely goes well with the patient and thorough nature of the Caretaker. For Cultivators, it’s often that they have a dash of either Creator or Caretaker in them, but feel most at home when improving and structuring, not when starting out or settling into the long grind.
If you are an event manager, I hope you find this analysis useful, but it’s also aimed at those who work with event managers. It’s vital to recognise who is good at what and make sure that these leaders end up in the wrong places. As with any team effort, success comes from figuring out what is best and then doing it – not from trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes. And while some giraffes have elephant trunks (at least in Düsseldorf Airport), these are rare beasts indeed. ;-)
So the next time you end up frustrated in a project – either with yourself or others, ask yourself: Which kind of C are we looking for here, and which kind do we have?
Thank you for reading.