Intimate Conversation with Nichol Bradford
Nichol Bradford, a proud Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority sister, is fascinated by human potential, and has always been interested in how technology can help individuals expand beyond their perceived limits to develop and transform themselves to the highest level.
She spent the last decade exploring these ideas in the online game industry, serving as a senior executive with responsibility for strategy, operations and marketing for major brands that include: Activision Blizzard, Disney, and Vivendi. Most recently she managed the operations of Blizzard properties, including World of Warcraft, in China.
Now, as the CEO of the Willow Group, Nichol is applying those same skills to the realm of elevating psychological well-being. Willow is a transformative technology company focused on employing rigorous scientific research to develop training protocols, hardware and software that can produce a reliable and positive change in the human experience. She is also a member of the African-American MBA Association
Nichol has an MBA from Wharton School of Business in Strategy, and a BBA in Marketing from the University of Houston. She is a fellow of the British American Project, currently serves on the board of the Brandon Marshall Foundation for Mental Health, and is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
BPM: How did you get to be where you are in your life today? Who or what motivated you?
Thank you Glenn for having me. I wrote the book I wanted to read about strong yet vulnerable and intelligent black women committed to a great and grand goal — mental freedom and empowerment for all. I was tired of not seeing heroes that looked like me. I wanted to see someone like me save the world, not as a side-kick or agency head, but as the actual, certifiable central hero. I wanted to read about Olivia Pope back then, but since she didn’t exist yet, I wrote my own. I also wanted really well-developed characters who had something on their minds other than men. So some of the characters are happily married, and some are single, but most of all their focus is not just on their men (or lack thereof) but on their friendship and common goals. I also love technology and so wanted the women to be deeply immersed in that world.
I am deeply motivated by the memory of my mother, Vivian Jones Bradford. My mother is the model for the visionary leader of the Sisterhood, Vivian Delacroix. My mother was an entrepreneur. She was completely committed to helping women and supporting the efforts of black women in particular. She believed most in defending the defenseless and used her legal education to do so. I started volunteering by her side when I was a child and she made sure that my values included service to the betterment of society.
Like the CEO on the book, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly (months after I graduated from college). She was a young fifty, healthy, and we were very much alike. My last conversation with her was the morning of her death, and I’m so grateful for that. I was devastated. It took at least a year for me to reorient myself. The shock of losing her shaped the way I approach life. It instilled a sense that there’s plenty of time, but no time to waste. I believe in being passionate about the work that you do and who you do it with, because none of us knows how much time we have. I believe in being mission driven. I have the loss of my mother to thank for what I feel is a highly effective approach to a full life.
I’m deeply motivated by the idea of empowering people to free their minds in order to create choice and options in their lives. That thread runs through most of what I’ve done — from writing the Sisterhood, to working at a senior level in the video game industry, to launching an online meditation course, to pioneering the transformative technology sector.
Transformative Technology is about making the technology in our lives support our well-being and not just our productivity. The last decade found me exploring the idea of transformative technology in the video game industry, where I served as a senior executive with responsibility for strategy, operations, and marketing for games internationally for major brands that include: Activision/Blizzard, Disney, and Vivendi.
Most recently I managed the operations of Blizzard properties, including World of Warcraft, in China. During this time, I also began to meditate and saw interesting parallels between it and gaming. Both enable delight, flow, and access to dynamic states of consciousness. Meditation, though, goes even further and can profoundly and positively impact well-being. It seemed logical to me that technologies that directly impact human experience could do so as well, but no one seemed to be seriously working on it. So, I left Blizzard to pioneer Transformative Technology.
BPM: Who does your body of literary work speak to? Do you consider authors as role models?
My books are for women who want to make a difference with their lives — women who care about their communities, families, and lives and want to make positive change. Black women have a beautiful heroic nature, and I wanted to show that you don’t have to be wearing head-to-toe spanx to be heroic. The “Superwoman” meme sells us short. It makes us think that there’s something wrong with our heroism. We believe that our heroic nature will ensure that we are single and have nine cats so we reject our nature in order to not be alone.
Or we believe that we can’t be heroes and also be vulnerable so we build walls around our hearts while we work ourselves to death. Real heroism is the flexibility to be strong AND vulnerable AND all of those things – while keeping focused on our wider mission. As far as role models go, I think that anyone who is positive and lives with integrity can be a role model — so if an author is doing that, then yes — she or he is a role model.
BPM: What inspired you to sit down and actually start writing this book? Why now?
The Sisterhood started on a late night drive home from a success workshop I gave during college. That night, I had this group of beautiful young black women stand in a circle and tell each other, one at a time and by name, that they were smart, beautiful, and could have anything that they wanted and worked for. It was a hard session, each and every young women cried when the group told her that she could actually have what she wanted. And I realized that we don’t know this…not really (even I didn’t always believe this and still have my moments where I don’t).
As I drove home, I felt really inadequate. I know that workshops can help, but they don’t last long enough to really shift someone…or help someone shift themselves. I started thinking about how I could show what it would look like, to be women who believed they could have what they wanted and worked individually and together to make that a reality. So I decided to write the Sisterhood. I conceived of an organization of women, who faced a series of challenges. Addressing those challenges would allow me to show versus tell how an individual can be successful. I went home and jotted the basic plot down which today is more or less the same.
However, it was another eight years before I actually started writing. The events that prompted me to write the book in the Fall of 2000, to actually sit down and type the first word was a break-up that triggered a recommitment to myself. I was in business school and had been dating a sweet man, who though wonderful in many way, was not the right person for me. I also had been interviewing for jobs that truthfully, I was only interested in for the security and the salary. Essentially, I was headed towards a life that was not aligned with my inner North Star. Luckily, the man did something break-up worthy (and so we did) and none of the jobs came through (thank goodness).
I’m a Virgo baby, so every September I do an assessment on my life — where am I mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and professionally. During this period, I also try to clean things up — I ask forgiveness, forgive, clean out my closets, and think about what my goals are for the following year. As a part of this, I had been thinking about my goals, and realized that I had put “write the Sisterhood” on my list for eight years — and I just refused to start another year without having taken an action. Taking that action, after all the difficult things that had happened that year, was a proxy for a commitment to myself, to my intuition, to the life that I truly wanted to lead. It took another eight years to write the entire book, and then two more to publish it.
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters. What makes each one so special?
All of the Sisterhood characters are smart and strong…yet flawed like all real human beings. They aren’t perfect — but by working together they complement one another and accomplish great things. Tonia Rawlings is the main character that you follow and I just love and admire her. She’s the head of security for the Sisterhood and carries the weight of her best friend’s death on her shoulders because Vivian, the CEO of the Sisterhood, is assassinated on the first page.
Vivian’s death triggers a chain of events where Tonia is tested more than ever — which is saying allot given a life story that includes an abusive husband, a drug conviction, and the death of a child. In order to navigate the danger, she has to change herself. Watching her wrench a new version of herself from the old is a powerful illustration of how to do the same thing.
The nine leaders in the book are based on ALL the women I know – from the amazing women I grew up around, to those I pledged AKA with in 1990, to the women I met at in the African-American MBA Association at business school, to all the women I’ve met along the way . One of the things I love about this book is that it represents the full diaspora – every size, shape, and hue of black women. The women come from all backgrounds, educations, and geographies but they share a common bond through their desire to positively impact their world. They are all women who have integrity with themselves and with their Sisterhood, showing what that looks like and the real possibilities it can create in our lives.