I’ll be going to my first SBS event on Monday – a finance careers bootcamp. I got the logistics email yesterday and for the dress code it says: “We strongly advise smart business wear. There will be Alumni present at this event and you should present yourself appropriately.”
For day-to-day lectures at school we can wear what we want, but I’m told that the general advice is that if any event involves jobs and networking, then you should wear a suit.
That got me thinking – why are we so obsessed with the old “tin flute” and what does it say about our innovation culture?
There are a couple of examples of this that I can think of that confuse me. Take the TV show Dragon’s Den: Peter Jones has said on more than one occasion that he expects participants on Dragon’s Den to be dressed in a suit and he looks badly on those that are not dressed smartly. Also, I was recently invited to pitch my start-up at a UK Y combinator-like seed fund. The instructions for the event specified that the dress code was again business smart.
The seed fund instructions really struck me as strange. These types of funds are meant to be competing with the likes of San Francisco-based Y Combinator itself – I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Graham himself didn’t even own a suit! They encourage people to turn up in as comfortable clothes as possible. I pitched at Y Combinator last year and I felt conspicuously over-dressed when I went to their offices wearing cream chinos and a tucked in shirt (yeah, cream chinos – I though it gave me a “West coast” look!).
I actually went to a lot of start-up/innovation/pitching events last year and it was interesting to see the differences in what people wore at these events. At Tech Media Invest it was all suits and at TechCrunch London it certainly wasn’t (yeah that’s me!).
There was an interesting story around the recent merger between Roche – an old guard Swiss pharmaceutical company – and Genentech – a relatively young California-based biotechnology company. When the Roche and Genentech executives held their first joint investor day conference the Roche executives went without their ties – which was somewhat of a first. One of the Genentech executives mentioned that he does not even own a tie and the Roche executives did not want to make the Genentech guys look out of place. To many industry observers it was seen as evidence of Roche’s desire to maintain the dynamic innovation culture at the younger biotech – quite a considerable challenge when merging two such contrasting companies.
When I was working in a lab I wore jeans and a t-shirt everyday. It was quite a shift for me when I started working in consulting and I was expected to wear smart clothes and a tie (but not a full suit) to work. I can’t imagine Google or Genentech would have got very far if they’d required people to wear a tie to work. So, if we aspire to Californian levels of innovation perhaps we might improve the UK innovation culture if we all just… loosened up a bit.
And what shall I wear on Monday? Well of course I will obey the instructions and wear my suit like a good little MBA student, but if I’m feeling brave I might indulge my rebellious streak by unbuttoning my collar…