007 business lessons from Bond

Cover of "Casino Royale"
Cover of Casino Royale

I grew up in a house surrounded by books. To remove any ambiguity in that sentence, the books were inside the house – I didn’t grow up in a house surrounded by a big wall of books around to keep us in.

Freakonomics references a great piece of research about parenting and the importance of books. It suggests that having books in the home isn’t important, but a large number of books in the home does indicate a number of other things about the parents that will influence the success/testing scores of the child. My parents were intelligent, middle class and my mother was a School Governor – the big data got a slam dunk with my family. They valued education – I value learning. If I liked an author I would just read everything they wrote, in a row. I can read an average length book in a day and that allows me to keep swallowing more info. Now I have 5-6 business books on the go at any time that I flick between to keep my brain active together with judicious use of Flipboard and… well, Twitter. I like reading.

My mother is passing a lot of things she has lovingly kept for years in the loft onto my brother and me. Photo albums, family records etc. It turns out that she kept all of my reading logs from when I was younger, showing exactly what I read and when.

During the summer holidays, after I had just turned 10 years old. I worked through

  • 10 James Bond books
  • The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit
  • a number of books of myths and legends
  • several books on Welsh rugby
  • Jaws

Reading Jaws had such an impact on me that I still won’t go swimming in the ocean. Perhaps I should have read this less threatening version in the style of Peanuts.

The first Bond book I read was Casino Royale. On reflection I’m not sure I should have been reading a book, at 10 years old, containing a summary of a torture routine that involves testicles being pummelled with a carpet beater. I’m still scared of carpet beaters now. I’m a little bit scared of carpets.

Here are some thoughts on what James Bond can teach us about people and business

gadgets give you an edgefar less prevalent in the books, but a mainstay in the films, is the theme that technology can give you an unexpected advantage. It can disrupt, it can blindside, it can disorientate. Those who know about it and embrace its use have the upper hand. The next few years will see the influence of this extend even more.

times change – attitudes to race, smoking, women and nationality have all evolved since the first Bond books and movies. A story is always of that time – they are rarely timeless. Things change, times change, we change.

people fail – there is a feeling that James Bond always wins – but best friend murdered (License to Kill), betrayed by colleague (Goldeneye), wife murdered (OHMSS), boss murdered (Skyfall, sorry) and (in the latest update of the film series) love of his life murdered (Casino Royale) – would suggest that some important losses are being glossed over. Winning is rarely smooth and whether a sacrifice was worth it really depends on your point of view. Our hero keeps going – but he isn’t exactly a chap you would want to be near. He fails too big and too often with significant consequences for those close to him. Ask yourself if your big career wins would be described in the same way by colleagues.

more isn’t always more – as the films became more elaborate and larger scale they lost an important sense of identity. Surfing tidal waves and driving invisible cars made Bond harder to relate to. It helps to let the people around you see that you are a real person. I once had a team member tell me that ‘it’s alright for you boss, you don’t make mistakes’. Which showed that I’d made a very big mistake of not letting them know all the times I’d had to fail to eventually end up as competent. I was coming across as dictating solutions, I needed to share the fact that I was sharing my experience of multiple and regular failure.

purpose and capability beats supervision – you’ll notice, if you follow the films or books, that Bond doesn’t constantly have to send status updates to M whilst in the field. He also doesn’t stop midfight to get sign off for his next punch. He is trusted to do a job. If you believe your people will do the right thing then given them the support they need and the space to do it.

sometimes you need to be clinicalthe film Casino Royale started with Bond’s first kill. Messy, brutal, punishing and face to face. You need to be able to do that if you want the lifestyle that comes with the job. Please note: I’m talking about the spirit of being clinical, I’m not urging HR professionals to start garrotting people in toilets. We have Performance Reviews that can cause just as much damage.

best is subjective – I’m a Connery and Dalton fan. You might not be. Different people have different choices. our choices reflect us and what we care about. People choose to do things in different ways. Emotivism is where you say ‘Connery is my favourite’. Prescriptivism is where you say ‘if you don’t think Connery is the best then I you just don’t get it’.

Try and prescribe less and judge less. Sometimes you need to – but remember you can’t value diversity and believe everyone should think in the same way as you.

but the answer can never be Lazenby

7 thoughts on “007 business lessons from Bond

  1. Great parallels! Although not so sure about the clinical one….do you mean about needing to make tough decisions even if it’s personally challenging? My favourite bit – the image of you living in a house literally surrounded by books! Lol moment :-0


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