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Steve Roesler

Bob,

This one made me smile because it brought back memories of my first job interview in 1969: with IBM.

The college career counselor called me in to coach me on the fine points of an IBM interview, beginning with how I should dress for the occasion:

1. White Shirt
2. Grey Suit
3. Red Tie
4. Raincoat (trench coat with belt; it was autumn).
5. Grey felt hat with medium width headband.

I did what he said.

I looked like a 22 year-old Frank Sinatra impersonator. And a bad one.

I didn't get the job.

In hindsight, I realize I was so darned uncomfortable looking like a caricature that I actually didn't focus on the interview.

I wouldn't have hired me either. But I've always wondered if Sinatra would have landed the gig.

Kevin Rutkowski

I have experienced this situation many times, but I tend to be the person who keeps asking "why?" and pushing for change. I sometimes succeed in being a catalyst for change.

One example was at a small consulting company in the late 90s. I was on an employee satisfaction committee, and I suggested that we provide laptops for employees for work use. Most consulting firms had started to do this, and it benefited both the company and the employee.

The other people on the committee had been at the company longer and told me that the idea would be rejected. I asked why. Other members stated that they did not know why. They just knew that the idea was presented more than once in the past and the president rejected it.

I said that I needed to know why so I could address any issues. It seemed clear to me that this was a reasonable idea. Finally, I convinced someone who knew the president well to ask why it was rejected in the past.

The answer was that the president was afraid that employees would steal the laptops. Once I knew that, we were able to address the issue with various proposals.

It can be difficult to walk the fine line between challenging why thing are the way they are and just being a pest.

Shane Twomey

Bob,

Another great post.

The desire to conform, to blend in and to be one of the pack is part of what makes a society - we all have to suppress some of our individuality for the common good. The danger, as always, lies in the extremes. On the one side, you have those who will assert their individuality irrespective of the cost to others - the classic asshole. On the other extreme is a culture that allows no deviation from the norm - irrespective of the damage to both the individual and the organisation.

A different take on your tie story; 1 year on from my wedding, I continue to get (some) comments on my decision not to wear a tie. How strange am I?

Rick

More than anything, Bob, I am happy to hear of the good fit you are with Stanford, regardless of the strange and obscured path it took for you and Stanford to marry and bear well-educated graduates.

Anonymous

Bob,

thanks. If you want another humorous example along the same lines, consider the old story about how company procedures develop.

How company procedures develop:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, all of the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him and beat the hell out of him. After another attempt and being attacked and beaten silly, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes up the stairs and is attacked and beaten stupid. The previous newcomer takes part in the butt kicking with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then the fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is beaten. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in beating the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here.

And that, is how company procedures develop.

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