Saturday, May 16, 2015

What Good Is Casual Friday?

As often happens, Shakespeare said it first and best.

In Hamlet, Polonius advised his son Laertes:

…the apparel oft proclaims the man

To which Mark Twain famously rejoined:

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

New York Magazine explains that these great creative talents were on to something:

And modern research has borne this idea out, suggesting that clothes indeed influence self-perception. People who feel dressed-up are more likely to think of themselves as competent and rational; in contrast, those who are dressed casually tend to describe their personality accordingly, as friendly and laid-back.

Obviously, this implies that if you want to improve your confidence on the job, forget about all the mental exercises and enhanced self-awareness. Dress the part!

The research might force us to reconsider the value of casual Fridays.

I am sure I don’t need to tell you, but there must be a mountain of studies showing definitively that when people dress down on Fridays they are more creative, more efficient and more engaged in their work.

Suits and ties are for chumps, don’t you know.

Thus, one is somewhat surprised to read the results of a new study that suggests the opposite.

From New York Magazine:

A recent paper in Social Psychological and Personality Science argues in favor of dressing up, finding that when people felt more formally dressed as compared to their surrounding peers, they tended to think more creatively. 

One needs to question what the researchers mean when they say that people who dress up think more creatively.

In principle, they mean that dressing better signifies a higher level on the corporate hierarchy. It derives from the fact that men’s clothing derives from military uniforms. In the military rank and responsibility correspond directly to attire.

You may or may not want to see it as creative or abstract, but those who are higher on a corporate or military hierarchy are more likely to think in big-picture terms—in terms of strategy more than details:

Specifically, they found that people who felt more formally dressed than the people around them were more likely to think abstractly. “And by that we mean, basically, holistic or big-picture thinking — so not focusing on the details but seeing bigger ideas, seeing how things connect from a more high-level perspective,” said Michael Slepian, first author on the new paper, which was recently published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. 

And also:

Slepian said. “Someone who is a leader has a big picture of where they want their team to go, what they want their team to be working on,” he explained. They have the big picture, and they have to figure out how to implement it. That’s why power leads to abstract thinking — when you’re in a position of power, you don’t have to focus on the details.”

Of course, the authors of the study seem to conflate creativity with abstract and holistic thinking. I consider that to be a sign of sloppy thinking. Apparently, they wrote their study while lounging around in their pajamas.

Now we need only explain how it happens that for Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the titans of high tech, every day is casual Friday. 


David Foster said...

"Slepian said. “Someone who is a leader has a big picture of where they want their team to go, what they want their team to be working on,” he explained. They have the big picture, and they have to figure out how to implement it. That’s why power leads to abstract thinking — when you’re in a position of power, you don’t have to focus on the details.”

This is not a very accurate description of how successful leaders actually work. Listening, awareness of what's actually going on, consciousness of events that are tangible rather than abstract, and *modifying* the "big picture' according to such inputs..these are critical to the true leader. It is not just about living in a universe of abstractions; it is about binding the tangible and the abstract together, and this must be a two-way process.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

I agree with you Stuart, sounds like sloppy thinking.

But if we are to explain this you can imagine a person who has to STRUGGLE for attention isn't going to be very relaxed and capable of "visionary" thinking.

So it makes sense leaders should always dress UP when they want to attract attention, and once they have it, then perhaps they gain some magic synergy by all the adoring eyes at their immient brilliance, and he or she can rise to highest heights of grandiose vision and that hopey-changey stuff that gets other people inspired to work above their paid grade.

For David Foster's complaint, I'm assuming that two-way communication is mixed in. Like start with a "big picture" REMINDER to KNOWN goals of where you're headed, and then listening for a leader is important to see what immediate obstacles are in the way, and finally the leader can attempt to summarize a collective vision of what happens next, and pull everyone into that view by force of his will, even against some opposition that needs to acquiese to the whole.

I think of the Battlestar Galactica reboot chant (rather fascist, but fun), "So say we all", military uniform and all, and ending in reflective silence.

Well, maybe that alpha male approach works best after 99.999% of the population has been killed by a nuclear war?

Anonymous said...

40+ years ago, I read a short story by Joseph Conrad. About English colonial administrators in far flung foreign posts.

After work, they dressed for dinner in tuxes, sipped pink gins, and read The Times daily issue from months before. They arrived in large batches.

Other of their peers didn't keep the same, ostensibly silly, regimen. They went native, sank into melancholy, became demoralized.

I never forgot the story, and its lesson. As for CEO suits - baloney. IBM had a strict dress code and came a cropper. Apple & Google didn't, and they rule the world. -- Rich Lara

Ares Olympus said...

Hey, speaking of casual Friday, I wonder if "Mittens" Romney's Friday boxing bout with Holyfield has raised or lowered his presidential stature compared to the other candidates on the GOP nonrunning list?

From the short clip, if nothing else, his bright red boxing shorts might suggest to the ladies that he's still got something below the belt that shouldn't be punched or kicked? (Maybe he just "forgot" his jock strap?)

At least he starts in a suit in his charity fight promo video:

But seriously, I don't care about the dang clothes! I'm just wondering how money money he raised for his charity, like when you get a phone call from a representative of the Police Union or something, and they say only 8% of funds raised go to the program. So can he beat that?
Corporate sponsorships for the event ranged from $25,000 to $250,000. Organizers say they raised at least $1 million.

I hope I don't have any stock in those corporate sponsors.

And who does he now owe favors to, if he gets back into the ring of politics?

David Foster said...

Here's a rather different view of leadership...this is from Herman Wouk's novel The Caine Mutiny: this part of the book occurs after the film made from it ends, and protagonist Willie Keith has become captain of the old ship:

"Even at anchor, on an idle, forgotten old ship, Willie experienced the strange sensations of the first days of a new captain: a shrinking of his personal identity, and a stretching out of his nerve ends to all the spaces and machinery of his ship. He developed the apprehensive listening ears of a young mother; the ears listened in on his sleep; he never quite slept, not the way he had before. He had the sense of having been reduced from an individual to a sort of brain of a composite animal, the crew and ship combined."