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The Power of the Hoodie-Wearing C.E.O. 75

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the kilt-qualifies-me-to-lead-the-free-world dept.
New submitter silverjacket writes "New research (JSTOR sub required / paywalled) shows that we see nonconformity as a sign of both status and competence — under the right conditions. From the article: 'Next, the researchers asked students at American universities to imagine a professor who is clean-shaven and wears a tie, or one who is bearded and wears T-shirts. Students were slightly more inclined to judge the dapper professor as a better teacher and researcher. But some students were given another piece of information: that the professor works at a top-tier school, where the dress code is presumably more formal. For them, the slouchy scholar earned more points. Deviance can signal status, but only when there are clear norms from which to deviate.'"
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The Power of the Hoodie-Wearing C.E.O.

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @10:19AM (#45781699)

    I know why researchers at universities use students as test subjects -- like rats, they're all around and they're cheap. And for some studies, using students is perfectly fine.

    But can we stop the practice, at least in news stories, of assuming that the attitudes of American university students apply to anyone other than American university students? Most students are stupid as rocks. They think a "slouchy scholar" is cooler? So what?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @10:41AM (#45781795) Journal
      It's a recognized problem (though, for the reasons you note, people prefer to ignore it whenever possible because college students will do any dumb survey you throw at them for peanuts), enough so that it has its own spiteful acronym.

      They call such research subjects 'WEIRD': Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. (Now, given the student debt numbers and all that neat stuff they didn't tell you about in civics class concerning how governments work, some scare quotes may be in order; but the general "asserting universal truths about human psychology based on American college students is only a few steps ahead of just introspecting and assuming that everyone thinks as you do" point is important...)
    • More specifically, university students who are taking one of the psychology courses that requires then to enter in X number of studies to graduate.

      No other university student has time for entering into studies.

    • They think a "slouchy scholar" is cooler? So what?

      Well it makes sense that the non-conformist is better at their job. If they can still hold a job while violating the norms of the position then it probably means there is some other reason why s/he still has a job. Ironically though this is not necessarily true for university professors because we have tenure and, so long as we satisfy public decency laws, we can dress how we like and provided our teaching and research is up to standard there is not much that anyone can do about it.

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      yeah you want to ask a sample of VC's what they thought about a hoodie wearing CEO
  • Bunny-ears lawyer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @10:20AM (#45781707) Homepage Journal
    I haven't read all the featured articles because the kinds of institutions that have access to JSTOR are closed for weeks around Christmas. But what the article in The New Yorker calls the "red sneakers effect" is the same as what a popular literary analysis wiki calls the bunny-ears lawyer effect [tvtropes.org]. I guess the idea is that if someone can keep her job despite not conforming, she must be really good at it.
    • I've sometimes wondered how conformity might be measured. Personally - I'm a non-conformist in a number of ways. I'm rather proud of that fact. I do as I damned well please, I hold my own opinions, and just don't give a rat's arse what others think about it.

      I do realize though, that I do conform to society's expectations in a number of ways.

      Where do you go to get a conformity grade? On a bell curve, where would any of us be?

      • by lxs (131946) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:42AM (#45782015)

        Actively examining relative levels of conformity of yourself and others is probably a strong indicator. Going out of your way to be scruffy, wacky or rebellious is playing a part as much as wearing a suit and tie.
        Stop comparing yourself to others. Try to be kind, and if you can't be kind try to be polite.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Mod parent up. Explicit and overt non-conformity is a paradox.

          • by morari (1080535)

            You can't be a non-conformist if you don't drink coffee!

            • lol! good one! There is probably almost no other single activity that more loudly screams conformity, with the exception of probably eating donuts.

      • by plopez (54068)

        Stop copying me!

    • I guess the idea is that if someone can keep her job despite not conforming, she must be really good at it.

      Then there's the talking heads on the Sunday television shows, who can be wrong as often as they please and not suffer the slightest risk of losing their jobs.

      Or the investment advisors. IIRC someone tracked Cramer's buy/sell advice for a year and found that he had a 49% track record - you would have done slightly better by flipping a coin.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I don't think this has to do with the implied quality of work. I think this has to do with relationships and the assumption of the power of youth. When a professor dresses up, that tends to mean that have achieved a level, the level is often a well funded lab or many graduate students, but from the point of view of the student such a person has been successful and needs the costume of success to relate to other successful people. If dressing up is a requirement, then the idea of success has gone away. S
      • by DogDude (805747)
        All of what you said could certainly be true. But the one big one you missed out on is that in some situations, the person honestly just doesn't give a shit how he/she "presents" to other people. It's rare, but it happens.
    • by antdude (79039)

      Every time I see humans wear bunny ears, I think of Playboy's logo. :P

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @10:33AM (#45781767)

    ... when making judgments. News at 11.

    Seriously?

    Based on the summary, this study seemingly shows little about competence. It shows that students will recognize that a teacher who dresses poorly probably cares less about teaching than about other things.

    At a top university, those "other things" are likely to be research, or else the prof wouldn't be there. At a lesser college, the prof may just be a slacker in general.

    I don't see how this has much to do with perceptions of "conformity" at all.

    • by Zakabog (603757) <john.jmaug@com> on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:00AM (#45781857)

      Exactly what part of teaching requires you to follow a dress code?

      From the summary it sounds like the students feel the laid back teacher must be excellent at his job for the top tier school to keep him despite not following their dress code.

      • The part where you are trying to get tenure or a contract renewal.

      • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:24AM (#45781951)

        Exactly what part of teaching requires you to follow a dress code?

        Caring about your appearance used to be a marker of "attention to detail" in general (and still is in some circles). A person who wears the "appropriate" clothes is still seen to care enough to do the minimum for the job.

        If a person is teaching at a top university, they presumably are already perceived to be competent, so not caring about clothes might be perceived as someone who is too busy doing high-profile research to care.

        I've noticed a similar effect in email etiquette: sometimes you can command more respect from students at a high-profile university sometimes if you deliberately write abrupt emails with apparent typos. I had a colleague who did this deliberately. Taking care to write a careful, measured response with no typos means you have time to waste on email. If you have typos and a one line response, you might be too busy doing "things that matter."

        But if you do this at a community college, you're likely to just be a poor teacher who doesn't give a crap.

        • by wolrahnaes (632574) <.sean. .at. .seanharlow.info.> on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @12:23PM (#45782183) Homepage Journal

          Caring about your appearance used to be a marker of "attention to detail" in general (and still is in some circles). A person who wears the "appropriate" clothes is still seen to care enough to do the minimum for the job.

          The question is why a "casual" appearance is seen as "not caring". To me, not caring about your appearance is what I did in college, showing up to class wearing whatever was convenient without having showered or only having done a quick shower without attention to hair and such.

          If someone shows up to work clean and well kept, wearing clean clothes, why does something comfortable like a t-shirt and jeans strike so many as "unprofessional" compared to even khakis and a golf shirt? Why is it basically that the less comfortable the clothing, the more "professional" we consider the style?

          Shouldn't people be encouraged to be comfortable while working, as that presumably will make them more effective at their actual job?

          • If someone shows up to work clean and well kept, wearing clean clothes, why does something comfortable like a t-shirt and jeans strike so many as "unprofessional" compared to even khakis and a golf shirt? Why is it basically that the less comfortable the clothing, the more "professional" we consider the style?

            First, let me be clear that I don't care what people wear. If they're competent, and their clothing isn't actually disruptive in some way, why should I care?

            However, I think you're missing a distinction here. It has nothing to do with discomfort, but rather care of the clothes. Proper upkeep of dress shirts, suits, wool pants, etc. requires careful washing, ironing, or (these days) generally dry cleaning. It also often requires more effort in tailoring, customizations, etc. to get appropriate fit. It

            • by Anonymous Coward

              Interesting observations you made there, I personally dont like suits at all, nothing comfortable or useful about them. I also dont see a distinct purpose for them. They dont shield me as well from the weather and at best only constrict me in my day to day job.

              I wonder why people think having high maintenance equipment and forcing one to waste time on said process again and again is a sign of caring. If I would use the same thought process I would presume that said person has a distinct lack of caring for e

        • by davydagger (2566757) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @01:27PM (#45782451)
          to be honest for me its the reverse. I see people with "proffesional" image as liars and tricksters, using image to trick people, and getting away with things normal people don't.

          When someone shows up to work over-dressed, I immediately think he's compensating for lack of skill.

          When I see you act "corporate polite", or act corporate proffesional, I immediately assume your trying to swindle me out of *something*.

          I obviously also work in IT, and this attitude is pretty common.

          I think the obvious message is, if people see someoe in authority of flouts social norms, it must be, because they are so talented, social norms don't apply.

          Its a reflection from pop culture, where celebrities flaunt their deviance as signs of social prowess, a form of conspicious consumption, showing the world they are so high on the social latter, rules don't apply to them.
          • by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @02:38PM (#45782795)


            When someone shows up to work over-dressed, I immediately think he's compensating for lack of skill.

            There is the "norm". Ie. people who are dressed appropriately to the norm.

            This article is referring to people who are UNDER dressed relative to the norm and suggests that that in some circumstances this can confer additional 'status' onto them. Their primary examples appear to be harvard profs and facebook CEOs.

            You are talking about people who are OVER dressed relative to the norm, which is sort of beside the point.

            I think the obvious message is, if people see someoe in authority of flouts social norms, it must be, because they are so talented, social norms don't apply.

            This is spot on. But the article is only looking at one side of the coin. I consider dressing to the norms in most environments to be a sign of respect to the other people -- so showing up under-dressed and being able to "get away with it" may be some sort of demonstration of status... but at the same time it's likely to lower my estimation of you. I dress very casually for work, but will dress up for certain meetings not because I need to but out of respect for the people I'm meeting with and the event.

            So Zuckerberg showing up at something in a jeans and hoodie just reinforces my negative impression of him as someone who just doesn't respect anyone else around him. An impression that started with him hoovering student profiles into the initial facebook without their consent and that has only been solidified since then. So while I recognize that he can get away with it, it doesn't raise my estimation of him as a person in the least.

            University profs ... I'm not really sure where that's coming from. That was the full range; from shorts and sandals with a beard to clean shaven suits. There was maybe some correlation with subject matter -- the business related electives I took (Economics, Organizational Behaviour and Psychology, etc) were more likely to be taught by suits than programming language and compiler design, but there really wasn't a correlation with tenure. The "norm" at university was that the profs generally wore whatever the hell they liked and were comfortable with. And the same went for the students. I certainly didn't dress up for lectures, and I didn't expect them to dress up for me.

            Everyone was more or less beyond correlating image with competency. Maybe that was just my university experience. Maybe harvard is different.

            • >So Zuckerberg showing up at something in a jeans and hoodie just reinforces my negative impression of him

              and this why its a status symbol. Zuckerberg is flaunting the fact he is so powerful, he doesn't have to care what you think about him. not only does he have "fuck you money", he has "fuck you" social status.

              He's making it clear he's the alpha, and he sets the rules. Zuckerberg doesn't need your favors, you would more likely need his.

              >but will dress up for certain meetings not because I need to bu
              • by vux984 (928602)

                and this why its a status symbol. Zuckerberg is flaunting the fact he is so powerful, he doesn't have to care what you think about him. not only does he have "fuck you money", he has "fuck you" social status.

                But when a prof shows up to teach in sandals and and shorts, its NOT a 'fuck you'.

                your conforming to a position to seek favors. If your the one receiving and not giving the favors.

                That's just it, I'm not receiving favors.An example would be simply meeting my father for lunch. I could show up in anything

                • >But when a prof shows up to teach in sandals and and shorts, its NOT a 'fuck you'.

                  but it is, its inferring he has the social status to flaunt rules. Students, especially in our pop culture driven society of social vultures see this, and flock to it.

                  True Alpha males(not internet alpha males) distinguish themselves but setting the rules, not following them.

                  This whole concept of conformity as "respect" has to do with hiearchy. This concept you miss.

                  Also, in no culture that has hiearchy, has there ever been
    • By the way, I agree that some of the examples in TFA seem to show a perception of confidence in non-conformists. But most of them -- and the example in the summary -- indicate that such confidence will only exist if the non-conformist has some sort of status already. Profs at top universities, MIT students giving presentations, people invited to dinners with fancy dress codes, etc. can score points for ignoring the standards. But if the person isn't actually competent already (which is obviously the reas

  • In a similar vein, I knew a prof who researched "Methods of getting out of having to do research" (I used quotes but this is really a paraphrase.)

    I don't find anything wrong with such researchers. They are playing a game and earning a living.

    My question is: How does such seemingly-ridiculous research get approved for funding? Can we not spend that money on greater good?

    • My question is: How does such seemingly-ridiculous research get approved for funding? Can we not spend that money on greater good?

      For the same reason we have "zero tolerance policies" in schools... We do not trust the people making decisions to make them well. So we set up an arbitrary set of standards that can be gamed, and remove the capability of intervention from the people we do not trust, but decide to give the job anyway...

  • I don't have access to TFA; but it strikes me that it might be slightly more complex than the 'deviance can signal status if there are norms from which to deviate' thesis provided by TFS.

    There are 'norms' for basically every situation a human might find itself in. You might no know them (which can be awkward), and the 'norm' may be along the lines of 'maximize the probability that you won't be dressed even slightly like anybody else, or naked+LEDs'; but they are there.

    I'd (purely off the cuff, of cour
  • by koan (80826) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:34AM (#45781989)

    When you make a profit it is accepted.

  • There aren't many people in a position to fire a CEO. More or less the same is true for a tenured professor. So lets conduct this survey in some Fortune 500 companies and see if this phenomenon holds true.

    I'd also like to see this study conducted across a number of companies with differing reputations of competence in their field. I'm guessing that the acceptance of deviance is probably related to the reputation of the organization as much as that of the individuals.

  • The headline says CEOs but the study was about a different topic.

    The more interesting question is whoch one would you (or a venture capitalist) be more willing to lend $10 mil to, if they both submitted the same proposal and had the same business track record. Non-conformity might be trendy in academia, where all the students think they're special and unique - just like everyone else does [ thanks despair.com ] but I'd be more willing to trust my life savings to someone who was predictable and appeared "so

    • Ahhhh, but which VC would you want to work with - the one who feels he needs a suit to project his power, or the same billionaire who is confident enough that he'll come to key meetings in jeans and a hoodie?

      • by tomhath (637240)
        The study indicates that jeans and a hoodie are a tool to project even more power than a suit. Draw your own conclusion.
  • First impressions when you first see someone can have an effect on how you perceive them. There is titles, i.e. professor at Caltech but many are bankrupt these days, i.e. there's lots of presidents of one man companies that are struggling or account executive (salesman). It seems it all comes down to the person. Some people when you hear the name or see them, you pay attention to what they say or write. And others are regarded as gasbags. It gets difficult at times, someone dressed like a slob but you may
  • That's why you always see politicians, CEOs and such wearing suits. Nobody would take them seriously without those.
    (There are very few politicians that look normal even by its country's standards, without the suit they usually look chubby, weak, unkept, and at times downright ugly. No one would trust them like that.)

  • If it's the new norm.

  • It is sad that Jonathan Schwartz of Sun had problems too, as they were the one that pushed SEC to allow blogging material information for example.

  • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:31AM (#45786551)

    There's an old saying: 'The rich are eccentric, the poor are crazy.' This is just another variant of that trope. How oddity is perceived is dependent not on the attributes of the oddity, but on the attributes of the person displaying it.

  • I'm surprised that "tie wearing" is trotted out as one of the key dividing lines in these articles. At least in the software industry, "tie wearing" hasn't been required at any level for about 15 years. For example, I was a software engineer for 18 years and and then switched to being a patent lawyer. I basically wear the same t-shirt and jeans outfit. Maybe it's my West Coast bias, but I haven't met with anyone on the business or tech side of things who wears a tie. Frankly, if I has been enough of a "rock
  • get pierced and tattooed. The freedom to deviate from "norms" is earned. Any idiot can go get pierced and tatted like a 19th century sailor, but keeping/finding a job while being pierced and tatted is a different story. Once you've established your brilliance you are sometimes granted more freedom. Here's the thing a lot of you will find hard to accept: not many of you are ever going to be so good at what you do that you'll be granted the freedom to look like a sideshow attraction, and that if you look

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