|The Man in the Grey Flannel Shorts
By: David Soyka
According to the Wall Street Journal, Sanjay Jha, head of Motorola Mobility, tried to change its corporate culture by wearing flip-flops to the office. (In case you were wondering, this is why CEOs get the big bucks.)
Okay, there are probably other reasons, but Google didn’t purchase Motorola Mobility because its employees don’t wear shoes. In fact, observers expect a cultural clash because while the two companies may share jeans and t-shirts as office wear, beneath the superficial there are distinct differences in attitude, with Mobile Mobility being much more conservative, bureaucratic, and risk-aversive.
This maybe explains why Motorola Mobility is the purchased rather than the purchaser in this relationship, and just goes to show that no matter how you dress it up, a pig is still a sow.
We’ve come a long way since the Mad Men–era of suits and secretaries. The advertising industry actually first broached the “office casual” look when New York ad executives were allowed to wear sport coats on Fridays instead of suits so they could make an easier transition in hopping the train for summer weekends at the Hamptons. (Now that people wear shorts and sneakers to work, I’ve heard some ad agencies have instituted “dress up” Fridays when people come in wearing ties and skirts, athough I don’t think men wear dresses or women ties, but, these days you never know.) But it was the geeks of the dot-com boom, tolerated because of their valued technical prowess, who broke the fashion barrier in which wrinkled shirts and lack of socks could so easily transition from dorm room to office cubicle.
Now, I do recall a time before office casual. I was the guy whose tie was unloosened and sleeves rolled up. I got away with it because I was just the writer, a freelancer at that, and nobody cared much how I dressed because I wasn’t involved the Darwinian struggle for ascension up the corporate ladder. So, maybe I’m getting old, but though I mostly work from home, where I’m primarily barefooted and torn t-shirted, when I do have to go into an office I try to look presentable. No tie, but I do wear socks. And I can’t shed the feeling that I’m going to kindergarten again with a bunch of kids whose mothers haven’t taught them yet how to dress. Even if, and maybe especially if, those “kids” are over 40.
Actually, the slob look is just an inversion of the man in the grey flannel suit. It’s got nothing to do with “empowering” employees, or respecting them as individuals. Because that’s not in the nature of what corporations do. Employees are encouraged to look geeky because the assumption is that this makes a company look cutting-edge, entrepreneurial, and youthful. Even if it is in fact staid, cautious, and old.
Companies are very much into superficial appearance, particularly if they can’t ultimately deliver on what they are trying to appear as. So we all go to work in cut-offs because that’s the expectation, and survival in the corporate world is all about meeting expectations that aren’t always just about the quality of your work. It’s how you fit in.
Unfortunately, “fitting in” doesn’t lend itself to creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, or the innovation corporate PR departments like to flack.
That's why wearing flip flops to a meeting may look different, but doesn’t essentially change anything. And why Mobile Mobility is getting swallowed by a company whose footwear is incidental to its thinking, not a mere symbol of what it would like to think.
David Soyka is freelance copywriter who has conceptualized and developed a range of strategic advertising, marketing, training, and technical communications for advertising agencies and Fortune 1000 companies in print, web, and broadcast formats. A former newspaper reporter and English teacher, he is a published author of ficiton and non-fiction, and a DJ at WTJU-FM. Find him online here.
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