Formality is like a virus that infects the productive tissue of an organization. The symptoms are stiffness, stuffiness, and inflexibility – its origin never with those who do but with those that don’t.
When did you last hear a programmer or designer clamor to wear a suit to work? The order always come from the executives (followed shortly by a request for those TPS reports!)
Formality is more than a dress code, of course. It infects how people talk, write, and interact. It eats through all the edges and the individuality, leaving only the square behind. In other words, it’s all about posture, not productivity.
And once you place being proper above getting great work done, it’s unlikely that you’ll attract the best and most creative minds to work for you. (Though you’ll surely have no trouble filling the ranks with folks who can fit the existing molds.)
Formality is so ingrained in much of our working culture that even though people intuitively understand its harm, as in the colloquial “it’s just a formality, but we have to…”, it lives on.
Thankfully, there seems to be a cure: Companies started and run by doers. People close enough to the work to see the damage of formality and who’ll have none of it.
In technology, the best and brightest have long belonged to this class. Their images are iconic: Bezos in his jeans and sports coat, Jobs in his turtleneck and New Balance shoes, Zuckerberg in his hoodie.
Contrast this to the suits running RIM or Nokia or IBM. They’re either in literal decline and despair or they’ve found a second life of relevance in the tombs of The Enterprise.
We’re breaking down the stranglehold of formality everywhere. No more personal secretaries, memos on official letterhead, meetings that must happen in person. There’s never been less mental mask switching between work and play. We wear the same clothes, use the same technology. It’s a liberation of the mind and it’s the new world order.