“Are you a corporate spy, or something?”
This was the first question from the audience as I began an innovation workshop at a Boston firm. “No,” I said, “I’m not a corporate spy.” After all, I was there to help them.
“Well, then,” she asked… “Why the “Jane Bond” reference in your Bio?”
Ah, yes, the Bond reference. It’s a product of history…
You see, I’ve had a diverse career. At 19, the governor of California (!) appointed me to a statewide role doing educational reform. At 25, I had won accolades for leading a division of Apple Computer to monumental growth. By 26, I had run six political campaigns, including a winning state senatorial campaign. By 27, I was at Time Inc and CNN to create their web presence. And by 29, I was responsible for a $300M P&L at a Fortune 500 division. I’ve challenged Goliaths like Microsoft and won. I’ve launched over 100 products in different markets, generating over $18B in revenues.
That’s quite a dossier (and forgive me if this all sounds too “braggy” in my aim to make a point), but think about this…who is that person? How would you describe that? I could be an education expert, a political wonk, a web start-up founder, an operational leader, or many other things. My career has been to say the least — nonlinear and cross-domain. More “jungle gym than ladder.”
CEO’s refer me to other CEOs. “And he called you the ‘secret sauce for growth’ as he gave me your card”. Teams called me “MacGyver” in trying to name the resourcefulness in getting people to work together and deliver, but also Houdini for creating something out of seemingly nothing. And “Jack Bauer” for the pace at which I move. Mostly, I see these as compliments, but there’s something else going on, too… People use analogies when traditional buckets fail. And that’s what going on here.
A while ago, I was lamenting my lack of an easy handle to Julien Smith, and he asked me, simply: “can’t you decide who you are?”
Monikers are about identity, which in the Social Era is complex. (I’m not alone in facing this challenge.) When work is freed from jobs, how we identify gets challenging. Back when I was CEO, it was easier to be introduced. But as I exited that role, I simply sucked at answering the question, “And, who are you?”. Today, I’m doing a wide variety of things: teaching a management course at Santa Clara University, guest lecturing at Stanford University, some corporate board work, writing here on this blog to help others navigate the social era, but also around the web at Oprah.com, Wired, HBR etc. Then there’s the speaking life, with keynotes. And, of course, workshops (such as the one at the start of this essay) to help companies reinvent themselves and their own culture of innovation. I dread any conference registration process, especially because I have to enter something into the field of “Title”. As more of us create what I now call “portfolio” careers, we get to decide how to describe that. Colleague Cindy Gallop calls herself the “Michael Bay of business” because she wants to infer that she’s willing and able to blow things up to create anew.
During this Julien-chat, the notion of Bond popped up.
Bond represents for me the combination of “global” + “gets the tough job done” + “does it in style.” In the movies, Bond appears unstoppable, indomitable. Sometimes people see me that way. From the more nuanced books, we know that the character we see as strong is actually battle-scarred, forging unshakable values. Which is a clearer depiction of where any strength comes from.
I’ve shared this with others facing similar challenges. And, as we’ve talked (and laughed) about it, the idea of owning the feminine was integrated — so “Jane Bond of Innovation”; it stuck. Whimsical, and yet distinctly one’s own designation. Fersure, it starts the conversation, to signal the work itself. And I only hope it creates the opportunity to do more, and more interesting work, where they ask me, “Are you a corporate spy?”
And then we get to do the seemingly impossible, together.