Earlier this week I sat in a meeting room with some potential suppliers. I was the only woman in a room full of men, and every one of them was wearing a tie. I became distracted by all of the ties. They were very nice ties, as ties go. But I got distracted by the fact that I just didn’t know why they were wearing them at all.
So I tweeted it.
And as usual, we can rely on Twitter to rise to the occasion.
I had a variety of replies from the serious to the not so serious (I hope).
Simon Jones pointed me in the direction of France, where he tells me that it was used to hold the top of shirts together in the days before buttons.
There is a paragraph from a book that my mind comes back to, again and again. It is from A Year Without Pants, and it goes like this.
Every tradition that we hold dear was once a new idea that someone proposed, tried and found valuable, often inspired by a previous tradition that had been outgrown. Continuing tradition simply because it is a tradition works against reason. The responsibility of people in power is to continually eliminate useless traditions and introduce valuable ones.
There are plenty of traditions in every workplace that once served a useful purpose, fulfilled a particular need, solved a problem along the way, but have since slipped into tradition. Custom and practice through to observed obsolescence.
The tie serves no actual purpose. Just once upon a time someone’s definition of smartness. A tradition that was once found valuable.
There are some companies that probably still require the wearing of a tie, a rule hard wired into the dress code. There are even companies that have disputed it all the way to the employment tribunal. I have an intense dislike of dress policies. If someone gets to the age that they can legally work and earn money and pay tax but doesn’t know how to dress themselves appropriately, then we have a big problem that cannot be solved by yet another HR policy.
As often happens, the frequency illusion served me another example of tie disapproval via social media. In my timeline came Richard Branson, cutting off ties. I hadn’t come across it before, but he is known for his active dislike of ties and even uses the hashtag #nomoreties. He thinks that ties encourage conformity and restrict new ideas.
My tie pondering took me to further thoughts. What other traditions surround us at work that we don’t even question? That are so embedded in our consciousness that the automatic neural pathways take over and run the routine? Traditions that we could simply do without and nothing bad would happen or no one would even notice? It says something about humans beings, that we hold so tightly onto traditions when their purpose is not only outdated, but their origins unknown, and their value unarticulated.
Someone once asked me on a development programme ‘how routine orientated are you?’ My answer? Very. For we are creatures of organisational habit. Unless we actively seek to eliminate useless stuff, and invent something more valuable instead.