What James Bond can teach us about business transformation

Adrian Stalham, chief change officer, Sullivan & Stanley, sees 007 as the inspiration you need
Adrian Stalham
James Bond mountain lair

James Bond has the type of skillset that most spies would kill for. Whether it's his gunslinging capabilities or penchant for saving the world - his résumé is second to none. But perhaps it’s his mastery of disguise that stands him in a league of his own.

The British secret agent, who made his debut in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in 1953, has been portrayed by seven actors in a storied silver screen career spanning 27 films. In one of the franchise’s quirkier twists of fate, it has recently camouflaged itself as a reality television show on Amazon Prime. 

007: Road to a Million features ordinary people taking on Bond-esque challenges for the chance to win cash prizes. And whilst I’m sure the new series, fuelled by Brian Cox’s gravitas, will provide solid entertainment value, it does raise questions about the character’s future. 

Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond came to an end in 2021, meaning we’ve yet to see him attempt to navigate today’s post-pandemic, digital-first world. Bending the rules and being a law unto himself has always been an inherent part of the character’s personality. But in an era punctuated by shifting cultural trends, James Bond 2.0 will need to embrace change if he’s going to continue charming audiences for decades to come. 

From Home with Love

It’s difficult to discuss James Bond without mentioning his four-wheeled sidekick. Aston Martin (in particular the sleek DB5) is synonymous with the franchise. But this gas-guzzling trend may have reached the end of the road.

Sustainability is one of the decade’s hottest buzzwords. 81% of consumers prefer to buy from sustainable sellers. It’s time to trade style for substance. Replacing ejector seats and missile launchers with an electric battery with plenty of range will help improve public perception. What’s more, the additional stops at charging points means less time spent in the bar (so looks like martinis are out and health shakes are in).

Alternatively, he could get rid of the car altogether and adopt a hybrid working model. He wouldn’t be alone in this, with 44% of employees wanting greater flexibility. 

Wouldn’t it be better for Bond to video conference his villains rather than traversing the four corners of the globe searching for their underground lair? Tuxedos could be shelved in favour of comfy pyjama bottoms, a move that would pave the way to hearing the oh-so-predictable “you’re on mute again Blofeld.”

Speaking of home working, it’s a good thing that Bond is familiar with innovative digital tools. Q, MI6’s ever-tolerant quartermaster, has a habit of providing unique gadgets (my personal favourite being Live and Let Die’s magnetic watch featuring miniature buzzsaw). 

Seeing the suave secret agent draped in digital wearables, or using a neural link to remotely deactivate nuclear bombs, feels like a natural step in the right direction. Of course, this shift would come with the usual wi-fi problems and charging limitations that continue to plague our digital adoption journey - something he might want to raise with HR. 

DE&I Another Day

It’s not just Bond’s material surroundings that require a makeover. The man is a cinematic icon - but there’s still skeletons in his closet. 

Look at the franchise’s roster of villains. Jaws, Oddjob and Gobinda, for all their scene-stealing prowess, are one-dimensional caricatures that played to the prevalent stereotypes of the time. With diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) top of the agenda - 59% of consumers believe it's important that the companies they buy from actively promote diversity - some much-needed awareness training will ensure Bond lives and breathes inclusivity. 

In this vein, it’s important he invests time into building bridges with Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Millennials and Gen X grew up with him, meaning he’s had years to cultivate affinity. This is where generational difference training and dropping the ‘Commander Bond’ title (empathy and humility trump command and control) wouldn’t go amiss - much more 2023-friendly. 

This is where the biggest opportunity for Bond is moving forward; making him an agent of change, not just an agent of chaos. Bumping off villains when they threaten world peace is old-school. Embracing innovative managerial techniques can drive meaningful change for these megalomaniacs and foster a new collaborative ‘North Star’ that benefits the greater good. 

Yes, Bond’s daring deeds have achieved great success in the past. But as I said in my book, The Future Business Formula, you need to be in the business of constantly improving your business. Failure to acclimate to new expectations will see Bond become a blockade that stifles MI6’s speed of operations and overall progress. 

The Spy Who Led Me

The likes of Daniel Craig and Sean Connery have cemented James Bond’s status as a cinematic icon. However, a lot can change over 70 years - and just as the franchise has adapted to stay relevant with audiences, so too must business leaders reinvent themselves to prevent becoming stale. 

Change isn’t a double-edged sword that leaders should shy away from. This can be your secret weapon that wins the hearts and minds of consumers and colleagues alike (without needing to break out the Walther PPK). 

Written by
Adrian Stalham
Written by
November 27, 2023