I am sitting in a restaurant in New York City. And who should come in but Tyra Banks? She is more tall and less imposing than you’d expect. Many people don’t seem to know it’s her. This ended abruptly when I stood up and shouted, “Tyra, I love you.”
Ok, not really. Some of you will have seen the 60 Minutes piece that identifies Tyra Banks as a Harvard Business School student. The interviewer worked very hard to get Ms. Banks to say how lucky she was to be at HBS. But the model would not be baited. She was happy to be at HBS but it was clearly just another part of her apotheosis.
I got to think about how many paths there are to celebrity, how many ladders they’re are. For awhile there most of our actors seemed to have started in stand up: Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Ray Romano, Roseanne. Wanda Sykes, and all the people who have come pouring out of SNL. Other celebrities have been birthed by sit coms, reality TV and soup operas. J. Lo came up as a dancer. Oprah got her start as a newscaster. Some people event started as martial arts instructors and hairdressers.
Clearly, the trick is to take whatever the world gives you and go from there. And how nimble you have to be. I was just at the ARF conference. I was acting as the chair of my session. And because I was in Brazil until 48 hours ago (and before that scrambling to get ready for Brazil) I had not reached out to panel members to prep them for the forum. I felt badly about this for about 15 seconds and then I thought this people, all women, all CMOs for large and mighty corporations, can handle anything on the fly. That’s how all of us live these days. The world hurls vexing problem at us and we dispatch them in real time. None of my panel members had a hair out of place.
Mind you, a gift for intellectual improv is not the first requirement of modeling, I shouldn’t think. In fact, this profession may well select for the opposite of intellectual improv. No, I don’t know this. And of course it is exactly what a stuck-up outsider would, glibly and stupidly, suppose. On the other hand, that Ms. Banks might it out when so few have done so, is perhaps so measure of her gifts.
The name of the ascendancy game is to listen very careful for the way of this new world. Talk show host. Business school. Enterprise. And then quietly and with no fanfare, to separate the signal from the noise, and with real aplomb to engage. It’s a miracle of in-fill. Other people at the table have been nodding a little stupidly and while they’ve been thinking, “I like that tie,” or “I wonder what’s for dinner,” you the former model has filleted the conversation, found the assumptions that really matter, assessed where the opportunity and danger lies for you, and formulated a response. Some people can make 3.5 seconds go a long way. Others are pretty much just sitting there.
I gather all the celebrities we care about have been tested in this way. These are the few who are chosen. It is because they can sus out what is happening in every conversation, and participate as if to the manor/manner born that it is they and not some other aspirant who gets to rise to greatness.
And this is a way of saying that the people we lioness are miracles of adaption. The odd thing is we don’t lionize them for the adaptation. This is the secret they keep from us. And really it is the most important thing they can pass along. And this is perhaps one of the features of her celebrity, that Tyra Banks is manifestly a work in progress, inspiration for the rest of us who are also, somewhat less grandly, works in progress, too.