Pay attention 007

The James Bond Effect

                                     An interesting phenomenon.

                                     According to urbandictionary.com:

The James Bond Effect (also called 007 Effect) is a theory in propaganda and political circles, whereby the first detailed opinion/summary that someone hears or reads on a particular topic, is the one they are most likely to adopt.

Called the James Bond Effect – in reference to the James Bond character – as there is highly anecdotal evidence that the first actor someone sees play the character of James Bond, is the one they prefer (i.e. someone who saw their first Bond film in the 1960’s will tell you Sean Connery played the best Bond, however those that saw their first Bond film in the 1990’s will tell you Pierce Brosnan is the best).

There is definitely something in urban dictionary’s view, but I think there is much more to the James Bond Effect than they realise. After all, that “first detailed opinion/summary” must have some degree of credibility if it is so wholeheartedly accepted.

What is it?

Have you ever come across someone who possesses huge amounts of confidence (not arrogance), they completely believe in their own abilities and have a deep seated knowledge that they will get the job done, regardless of what the job is? They are imbued with a sense of purpose, a deep desire to succeed and an unshakeable inner belief that they will do just that…succeed. What’s most interesting is that they know they’ll succeed on their terms. Those people often achieve all they set out do and sometimes more besides, yet they’re not surprised by their performance; they knew things would end up that way – their way.

These individuals also just happen to have an eye for the ‘right’ stuff. In Bond’s case it might be champagne, cars, restaurants or wristwatches. Whatever it is, no one ever questions his taste…a bit like his decisions.

Have you ever come across someone that you just felt drawn to, someone that others would listen to without interrupting, someone that you knew was in the room wether or not you had seen them? A bit like Bond. This is best referred to as charisma. It’s a very difficult thing to pin down. Great leaders have it, but you will seldom see it on a list of leadership qualities; employers would dearly love to ask for it in a job spec, but would then struggle to tie it down, to measure or quantify it. As a start the German sociologist Max Weber gives us this:

Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader

As definitions go, Weber captures the ethereal nature of charisma. Supernatural and superhuman may be a little overly emphatic for some tastes, but it certainly is a characteristic that defies logic; as Weber puts it the qualities of the charismatic individual are “not accessible to the ordinary person”.

Weber is a great start point. However, a more recent study into charisma found that it is much more quantifiable that previously thought. Whilst some aspects of it retain their ethereal nature, others don’t. In his book ‘It’, Joseph Roach, professor of English and Theatre at Yale, gives us this view:

“What people are responding to in charismatics, is the power of apparently effortless embodiment of contradictory qualities simultaneously: strength and vulnerability, innocence and experience, and singularity and typicality among them. Among the people who have best embodied these contradictory qualities at the same time are King Charles II of England, Johnny Depp, Michael Jackson, and Princess Diana.”

One way this embodiment of contradictions gives people charisma is when it makes them both grand and approachable:

“People need to resent their idols as well as to adore them; tearing them down even as they build them up. People seek out figures whose personalities broadcast contradiction because they make it easier for them instantly to gratify their own contradictory needs. One of those needs is for ‘public intimacy,’ the assurance that the person who’s not like anyone we’ve ever met is just like one of us after all.”

I would wholeheartedly agree with Roach. How often does a normal member of the public who has met a celebrity describe them as being ‘down to earth’? There is a reassurance in the fact that the celebrity is ‘just like us’. Why wouldn’t they be? Without their sporting talent or acting ability they would be in your shoes – ‘just like you’.

So maybe the James Bond Effect is all about charisma? Let’s face it, Bond’s existence is full of contradiction: all the glamour, casinos and pretty girls only lie at one end of the spectrum, the other end is occupied by the straightforward business of a government assassin. I think that goes part way to explain my view of it, but there is definitely more.

Bond makes lots of big decisions, life and death decisions and with (very) few exceptions he gets it right (I accept that gambling the night away (unsuccessfully) in Casino Royale wasn’t his finest hour – but on the whole he delivers). Those people who demonstrate the James Bond Effect also make big decisions and usually get it right. Their decision making is effortless, it’s all intuitive. Why? Some of it might be good fortune, but I suspect it’s something different. I suspect that there has been some hard work, thought, study, failure and disappointment along the way. Nobody makes consistently successful decisions without doing the ground work.

Can I have a bit of that James Bond stuff please?

So, at the heart of the James Bond Effect there are 2 forces at play…charisma and intuition.

I can hear you all groaning…”of all of the attributes it had to be those 2, the ones that are unquantifiable, unlearnable, the ‘nature’ not ‘nurture’ leadership characteristics”. Well here’s some good news, both of them can be be quantified in such a way that they can be developed.

Intuition can be developed by the relentless pursuit of excellence in a given field. Many top flight athletes and sports stars perform intuitively. Watch the world’s greatest snooker players in action. They know what will happen 5, 6 or 7 shots ahead. Both David Beckham and Johnny Wilkinson kicked their fair share of intuitive set pieces, but they weren’t born with it. In both cases, the young Beckham and Wilkinson spent hours and hours kicking those set pieces on their local playing fields, ready for the moment when the intuitive kick was needed. As Gary Player put it “the more I practice the luckier I get”. Relentless practice breeds intuition. Add in a deep desire to succeed and you are teeing yourself up (forgive the golfing pun) for greatness.

Now heres the next bit of good news: developing intuitive thinking and response is not just confined to the sports world it can be applied anywhere. The military thinker and World War 1 leader TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) used to refer to the ‘kingfisher moment’. In this he was likening intuitive decision making to the actions of a well trained/practiced kingfisher waiting for the perfect moment to catch its prey. He observed that the kingfisher just knew what to do, there appeared to be little thought in delivering success. Lawrence’s firmly held belief was that activity (decisions and actions) is 9 tenths learning and 1 tenth intuitive. However, to deliver the intuitive 10th, the 9 tenths of learning must be in place:

“Nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals”

TE Lawrence.

Therefore Gary Player’s adage holds true in the military world as well as the sporting. I would take it further still and contend that it holds true in the commercial world also; leaders in all sectors must seek to be masters of their trade regardless of where they find themselves.

So what do the ‘9 tenths’ look like? Lawrence and Player are both right, it’s practice, training and hard work, but there is something more. The 9 tenths includes mistakes, moments when it didn’t work, flawed decisions and inadequate analysis and planning. It’s these things, the misses and failures that deliver the real lessons, that’s the ‘9 tenths’ of learning. Great leaders have always learned from their mistakes. How many times did Charles Rolls and Frederick Royce or Jack Welch get it wrong before arriving at the point where getting it right appeared to be all that they could do? Clearly we will never know the answer to that question, but given Jack Welch’s views on personal development, I reckon he has experienced his fair share of knock-backs:

“I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success”

Jack Welch

I would advocate that intuitive thinking can and should be pursued in any walk of life, sector or industry. If thorough knowledge of one’s trade breeds intuitive thinking and more effective leaders, then all leaders (in fact all your employees) should feel duty bound to master their trade in the interest of the organisation and themselves.

I’ve deliberately left charisma until the end. It’s the most difficult to tie down, but the most useful if mastered. Here’s the last bit of good news: charisma, like intuition, can be developed. It is more difficult to do, but it can be done. Those that master it realise that one needs to blend empathy with vulnerability, aloofness, approachability and the ability to communicate. Above all of these things genuinely charismatic individuals have a real interest in people, all people. If you fake this last facet of charisma, you will never fully possess it; the people whom you are attempting to charm and influence will see straight through you. Of course there are also the physical manifestations of charisma – the genuine smile (eyes smiling alongside mouth), the firm positioning of the feet and upright posture. These are all physical actions that can be mastered. It takes time, but will pay dividends.

So What?

Whilst Urban Dictionary’s definition of the James Bond Effect works to a point, I think we should ask another question…why do those (detailed) opinions which are expressed first get accepted above all others? It’s really simple…the people expressing them have done their homework. Their detailed analysis has led them to genuinely credible solutions/opinions. Therefore they are more than happy to get their thoughts over immediately. They are confident in their work and what they are trying to achieve. In Lawrence’s view they have done the 9 tenths.

Now, what of the people who do not make their thoughts known at the earliest opportunity? I reckon that they haven’t done the work and do not possess sufficient confidence in their plan to air it early in proceedings, preferring to bide their time and see what others have produced. Well, given the James Bond Effect, they are less likely to succeed in having their view adopted.

The James Bond Effect is a real phenomenon. You can either take the time to master it, to become the 60’s film goer’s Connery or the 90’s kid’s Brosnan, or you could be on the sidelines falling for someone else’s Moore, Lazenby, Dalton or Craig.

“Everyone has a story to tell, it’s your responsibility to listen to it”
Anon

influencing, leadership, management

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