“Throughout our careers, we are taught to conform — to the status quo, to the opinions and behaviors of others, and to information that supports our views. The pressure only grows as we climb the organizational ladder. By the time we reach high-level positions, conformity has been so hammered into us that we perpetuate it in our enterprises.” – Francesca Gino
Hear me out…
When I finished my PhD and went into the workforce, there was one thing that bothered me the most – I couldn’t wear what I wanted. I had all these gorgeous clothes, but I had to go shopping for black pants and a white business shirt. Yuck – the last time I wore this ensemble, I was a Uni student serving wine at a cricket match. I walked passed the ripped denim, black pants in hand, cringing as I handed my bank card to the shop assistant. A little tug of war ensued within me – on one side of the rope was the Katie who wanted to be respected in her new role and follow the rules, the other side of the rope was a Katie, with rainbow hair shouting “F**k the rules, buy the denim!”
Many websites will tell you to dress for success, with numerous studies stating that those in corporate attire are considered more trustworthy. But of late, their are some incredible minds pushing back on the status quo. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck once walked out to give a presentation to a large audience with his t-shirt inside out on one of his vlogs. Even on the red carpet, Youtube A-lister Casey Neistat teams his tux with his signature beaten pair of sunglasses and wild curls.
Part of the reason I felt so resistant to wearing corporate attire, was because it isn’t me. It felt inauthentic. I had spent the last few years spoiled with academic freedom. I didn’t rock up to work at the University looking like a homeless person, but I didn’t wear a collared shirt either – the work still got done and great relationships were fostered through actions and follow-through, not suit jackets.
“Few leaders actively encourage deviant behavior in their employees; most go to great lengths to get rid of it. Yet nonconformity promotes innovation, improves performance, and can enhance a person’s standing more than conformity can. For example, research I conducted with Silvia Bellezza, of Columbia, and Anat Keinan, of Harvard, showed that observers judge a keynote speaker who wears red sneakers, a CEO who makes the rounds of Wall Street in a hoodie and jeans, and a presenter who creates her own PowerPoint template rather than using her company’s as having higher status than counterparts who conform to business norms.” – Francesca Gino
So you can imagine my happiness when reading Francesca’s article. It appears that within healthy and respectful boundaries, playing by our own rules can be good for business. As my Director walked by my desk today I called her over and explained the article to her. Her response? “Katie, I go to meetings with men in suits…and I have a mohawk…I’m all for this concept.”
“My research also shows that going against the crowd gives us confidence in our actions, which makes us feel unique and engaged and translates to higher performance and greater creativity. In one field study, I asked a group of employees to behave in nonconforming ways (speaking up if they disagreed with colleagues’ decisions, expressing what they felt rather than what they thought they were expected to feel, and so on). I asked another group to behave in conforming ways, and a third group to do whatever its members usually did. After three weeks, those in the first group reported feeling more confident and engaged in their work than those in the other groups. They displayed more creativity in a task that was part of the study. And their supervisors gave them higher ratings on performance and innovativeness.” – Francesca Gino
So it appears that the winner of the tug of war is Katie with the rainbow hair – she is ceremoniously burning the black pants and going shopping for denim.
Much love XX
Read Let Your Workers Rebel to find out the six ways Francesca believes constructive nonconformity can be implemented in the workplace.
Photo Credit: Fashion Files