By Jim McCarthy Jun 5, 2012 0 comments

Subject to Revision

As in, your views of things should always be “subject to revision.”

I’ll tell you a short and slightly embarrassing story to explain.

About 3 years ago, I was a speaker at a conference, and it was a conference in an industry that’s more formal than the Internet, where you could probably get away with stepping into a big garbage bag and poking holes through the bottom for your head and arms.  I hear all the Facebook people do that.

Anyway, I was a speaker at this conference and I didn’t really know many people who were likely to be there, so I decided that I would wear a suit.  And not just any suit.  A really, really nice tailored suit.  The one I used to call my “running for President” suit.  It’s a suite whose outstanding qualities would (or at least should) be obvious at a glance.

So I wore it, thinking it was that kind of occasion, and while my presentation went well, something happened afterwards that permanently revised my thoughts about how to dress in a business setting.  As I stood in the exhibit hall of this conference, wearing my President suit, a conference attendee (who obviously hadn’t seen my presentation) approached me to ask a question, which had been happening somewhat regularly since my talk, so I smiled and expected him to stick out his hand to shake mine.

But instead, he said “When will lunch be served?”

It took me a second to realize that he thought I was the caterer or the hotel manager.  And I realized that this was because I was wearing a suit.  In fact, the hotel staff were all wearing suits, and only a smattering of conference attendees were.

Somehow in the last decade, wearing a suit went from being a high status marker to a marker of being in a position of service.  By the way, I want to stop and say that I don’t for a second de-value the work that people in these roles do.  My point is that they are explicitly service roles, which I believe has come to mean that someone in that role has to “dress up” while those being served are free to dress down.

Anyway, that was the day that I revised my view of proper business attire, not just because of that one comment, but because the more I dug into it, the more it was clear that society itself had changed on this issue.  Even Branson agrees with me.

Over the time that followed, I literally and metaphorically tossed out my old views of what to do in this area and installed new ones.  The assumptions about clothing for business that held in the first 10 or 15 years of my career no longer hold, so they had to be revised.

But you know what?  They might need to be revised again.  In 10 years, we might all be wearing suits again, everyday, even in the Internet.  (Probably not.  Gosh, I hope not, but you never know.  I’m going to struggle with that one if it happens.)

This is just one tiny area of life and business, but it’s true everywhere: your assumptions are the window through which you see the world.  If your window is the wrong one or it’s clouded by inaccuracy, your view of the world will be wrong, and consequently, your actions will too.

I say stay subject to revision, but Thomas Jefferson said it better: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

And that’s why he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and I might have to serve lunch.

Share and Enjoy

    Comments are closed.