On Titles 2.0 and what they mean

Katherine Coombs, who works with me in our innovation team at the bank, blogs on the subject of titles for innovators.

This internal micro-meme all started recently when the team went to visit IBM’s labs, where they met a whole group of people with titles such as “Innovation Ninja” and “Virtual World Evangelist”. Katherine opines that if she took the title “Ideas Monkey” – a slightly humorous though not very accurate summary of what she does for us –  she’d be in a position of reduced credibility every time she handed out her business card. She prefers to retain her very corporate title “Senior Innovation Manager”.

On the other hand, Annalie Killian , of AMP in Australia calls herself “Catalyst for Magic”, and says:

Catalyst for Magic has been my business title since I joined AMP on 2 April 2000.  I chose it because my real title is this long, boring, corporate-sounding sentence that puts people, myself included, to sleep.

Catalyst for Magic is much more fun, a fabulous conversation starter and the perfect summary of what I do…which is to help unleash the magic we find from employing human beings, as opposed to machines, to transform tour organisation and our business.

Initially, when everyone came back from the visit to IBM, I was skeptical in the extreme about the value of – as one of the team put it – “2.0 friendly” titles. It took a conversation with a colleague to open my eyes to something that Annalie knew from the start: the title can be a great door opener. Is it possible you can create buzz with an email signature, and if so, what might the value of that buzz be in the innovation process?

Actually, I’ve lost count of the times people have said to me “Head of Innovation? What a great job!”. Even this corporate-sounding version gets people excited.

How would you spend your time: one hour with a Senior Manager (a title denoting a hierarchical position only) or that same hour with a “Innovation Insider”? if you’ve never met the individual before, I’d be willing you’d bet on the latter, if only out of curiosity. At the very least, the title connotes that the individual might know something you want to know rather than being someone that demands time from you because of their position.

As an experiment, I sent out a serious business type email today with the title of “Diviner of Newness” instead of “Head of Innovation”. Not only was the response pretty immediate, I got a phone from someone who never picks up the phone ever. Clearly, the right title can create buzz.

So, I am now not as skeptical as I previously was on this subject. I may explore a nice Title 2.0 for myself, and certainly have given free rein to the team to use any title – within reason – themselves. It will be interesting to see if they actually do something about it.

PS: I am preserving my old “Head of” business cards. I’ll still need them, since a lot of business today is about hierarchy and one’s place in it. But when I finally come up with the right Title 2.0, I’ll definitely use it when the situation seems to make sense that I do so.

14 Responses to“On Titles 2.0 and what they mean”

  1. May 19, 2008 at 9:36 pm #

    From an recent email by a 20-something developer friend of mine:
    Me: People like their titles ? [For business cards]
    Him: provided it’s not made up, hip and affectedly “cool” i’m fine.
    I think Titles 2.0 is a big company, older people thing 😀

  2. May 20, 2008 at 1:18 am #

    I agree that a Title 2.0 may create buzz and interest, but it all has to do with company culture and acceptance from the people we are trying to meet and influence.
    Given my job is effectively to sell to the internal *business*, I’d be surprised to see me embrace anything truly outlandish or quirky. Innovation Insider is a good option, as it’s non-hierarchical, yet professional, and it would probably create interest. But it’s not really on par with the other examples (creator of magic, ninja etc) that you cited.
    Enchantress of Newfangledness – although appealing on one level – really wouldn’t do me any favours. Perhaps I’m too young and new to be taken seriously? Not sure, but it just doesn’t feel appropriate and actually feels a bit comical. Senior Innovation Manager is very “old school” but I can say it with a straight face! But I concur that it is ho-hum, and does make me feel as though people on the receiving end of emails and business cards and going to make a judgement call about my rank – and their willingness to see me – based on it.
    Innovation Insider is good as it really does represent what we do, in a creative and open way. But trying to come up with an outlandish job title for shock value really does feel like misdirected energy. And that’s what some of the examples that I listed on my blog (such as Chief Swashbuckler and Idea Merchant) feel like to me, as a casual observer with no knowledge of the person, role or company in question.
    But this is just my 2c. Which is worth about 1p these days 😉

  3. May 20, 2008 at 5:19 am #

    Idea Meister
    Head Baker of Innovation
    Maitre D’Innovation

  4. May 20, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    Hi James
    I’m all for shortening titles and where they are not contextually needed removing ‘rank’ from a title too (although I agree in some business contexts it can be needed and useful!), but I can’t help thinking that “2.0 Titles” are just plain old straplines 1.0? A strapline being a very quick line that lets someone know what you actually DO, rather than what title you hold.
    I’ve seen quite a few people with business cards that their company insists must have their formal title on, but they’ve been allowed to add 1 line of free text and have used this for their strapline. It’s very effective.
    P.S. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us via this blog. I find it to be great nutrition for the brain!

  5. Sam
    May 20, 2008 at 12:56 pm #

    You do make me smile 🙂

  6. David Hannam
    May 20, 2008 at 2:20 pm #

    Hello James
    In a former life at NatWest, I took a leaf out of the Disney playbook and used the title “Imagineer” when asked what my job was. It certainly helped to get conversations going with people.

  7. May 20, 2008 at 4:40 pm #

    Title 2.o for older people Thomas? I am older than most of the people that I work with and they are the ones who got spurred me to think about it in the first place.
    congrats, on Zopa, by the way.

  8. May 20, 2008 at 5:34 pm #

    One of the concerns when I took my present title, Platform Evangelist, was that the “evangelist” designation (a title that grew up in the software world) would be a bit too outlandish for the payments space.
    Interestingly, it has been an excellent conversation starter. Typically along the lines of “Evangelist, what?” Followed by the right question of “What do you mean by platform?”
    With that said, I probably wouldn’t call myself a Quality Czar (as I was when running a testing group). But, personally, I find that hierarchical role definition is much less important than a command of business opportunity and the ability to speak to the audience you are meeting with.
    Tyler Hannan
    Platform Evangelist

  9. May 20, 2008 at 9:34 pm #

    Hi James…laugh, thanks for surprising me thus….but let me wade in with another observation, which has nothing to do with the titles but much more about powerful introductions.
    I attended a workshop once run by Matt Church, a very talented Aussie marketeer and speech-making guru. His key message was….think of your own introduction as a 30 second elevator pitch….a story.
    In an era where people are time poor and there is intense competition for attention, how do you get people to remember YOU, and create a desire to know more?
    Innovators need every trick in the book because by and large, they swim upstream against the tide…the job of driving change, new thinking and idea adoption is incredibly hard and requires extreme resilience. If a title means you catch someone’s attention for long enough to make a heart-to-heart and personal connection, that is the first goal achieved.
    Another unusual side effect of my fun title has been that its been a one-woman brand-building exercise….nearly 100% of people find it intriguing that a brand that is considered conservative can have enough latitude for playfulness and fun, and they are usually pleasantly surprised and see the company in a different light once they learn what I do.

  10. May 20, 2008 at 10:21 pm #

    > congrats, on Zopa, by the way.
    errr… I don’t actually work there any more, but thanks anyway 🙂

  11. May 20, 2008 at 10:25 pm #

    Very interesting to read all of the different opinions…
    I can understand the benefits of having a *relaxed* job title with respect to removing hierarchy, sparking interest and creating an impression. But I still think that “Chief Swashbuckler” is going too far!
    I’m interested to know how senior management in AMP reacted to Annalie’s new title, given their culture. I just can’t see me carrying a quirky title, but that’s primarily because I don’t think that my customer would understand and accept it, and I would resultingly be/feel less credible and professional.
    I suspect that anything close to Enchantress for Newfangledness would result in the business assuming that I don’t understand them, they can’t relate to me, nor I to them. I need to connect with them. Yes, I need to make an impression, and the content of my conversation should be the focus area. But we both know that if I turned up in jeans and a t-shirt, the content of my conversation would go out the window and it would be all about my impression and the stark difference between me and them. Same thing here. Heck, maybe I’m not doing the company and my customers justice…
    So I can try a relaxed job title on for size (Innovation Insider, Innovation Evangelist etc), but I’ll park Enchantress alongside Ideas Monkey.

  12. May 20, 2008 at 10:52 pm #

    “The practice session for the ministerial broadcast turns out to be a learning experience for Jim Hacker. Godfrey, the television producer, gives him all sort of advise on how to sit, what clothes to wear, the way he should talk, etc. At the same time, Bernard is trying to change the text for the broadcast so it does not say anything about canceling Trident. Godfrey mentions that in that case Jim Hacker should wear a modern suit and the background should be yellow wallpaper, abstract paintings and Stravinsky as opening music. In fact, everything to disguise the fact that the speech contains nothing new. If on the other hand Hacker will talk about the Grand Design then he should wear a dark suit and the reassuring traditional background (oak paneling, leather volumes and 18th century portraits). The opening music would then be Bach.”
    – Yes, Prime Minister Episode Guide
    🙂

  13. May 20, 2008 at 11:42 pm #

    Oh dear…!

  14. Avi Pollock
    June 10, 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    Despite me having a somewhat corporate standard title similar to your “Head” title, I still think it conveys what I do and I think that’s important in dealing with the culture in the bank and ensuring receptiveness. That being said I did float “Innovation Rabbi” with my team once.

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