Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I don't wear a dress to work

Laura Lepisto is getting two new dresses.

Ordinarily the news of a woman getting two new dresses is (at least to us men) fairly inconsequential. The only thing less inconsequential would be the news that the woman is getting two new pairs of shoes.

However, Lepisto is a figure skater, and although she no longer competes, she still performs in public exhibitions. Therefore, she posted a picture on her official Facebook fan page of her visit to Biancaneve, the new shop of her dressmaker. (If you look at the picture, you may recognize one other famous Finnish figure skater, by the way.)

In some ways, figure skating is an atypical sport. It certainly requires significant athletic ability, skill, and strength. But at the same time, there is a great emphasis on presentation. What music shall I play? What dress shall I wear?

One of my first thoughts upon seeing the photo and dwelling on this was, "Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't have someone make special kits for him."

It only took me a few seconds to realize why.

Ronaldo, unlike Lepisto and Kiira Korpi, plays in a team sport. When Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid or for Portual, he has to wear the same kit as his teammates. When LeBron James plays for the Miami Heat, he has to wear the same uniform as his teammates. Figure skaters compete individually or in pairs, and have no such restrictions.

The same distinction exists in business. While there are some people who are sole proprietors, many people work for companies, or run companies. And if you're in a company, you have to work as a team. If a 1970s IBM mainframe salesman were to report to work in a tie-dye shirt, he would be frowned upon, to put it mildly.

Even if you are a sole proprietor, your range of self-expression is limited. Many sole proprietors consult for other companies as consultants or temporary workers, and are therefore expected to follow the norms of the company where they work - a lesson that Michael Hanscom learned all too well. For those who have forgotten the story:

“Okay, here’s the first question. Is this page,” and here he turned his monitor towards me, letting me see my “Even Microsoft wants G5s” post from last Thursday, “hosted on any Microsoft computer? Or is it on your own?”

“It’s on mine. Well, it’s on a hosted site that I pay for, but no, it’s not on anything of Microsoft’s.”

“Good. That means that as it’s your site on your own server, you have the right to say anything you want. Unfortunately, Microsoft has the right to decide that because of what you said, you’re no longer welcome on the Microsoft campus.”

And before you criticize Microsoft, see what Hanscom himself said immediately after his firing. And Hanscom, incidentally, is doing just fine.

But this and similar incidents only prove that unless you have the talent and capability to survive completely on your own, without depending upon others, you're going to have to live up to a "dress code" - not only in dress, but in actions.
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