Sure, you want to show how hard you worked. But sometimes it’s better to just do the work.
“The optics aren’t good.”
Ugh. That phrase is the start of something bad in many circumstances. Sometimes, bad optics and a good outcome is much better than a really pretty but really awful outcome.
Allow me a moment for two anecdotes…
Back in my college football days, I had a teammate who was caught rubbing dirt on his uniform after a game. He was not a guy who saw the field during games, but he really wanted to show that he had been in on the action. One of the equipment managers noticed him squat near the sideline and pick up some dirt clods to rub on his uniform.
Voila! Instant football hero.
Fast forward to my days at a top-tier consulting firm. In the middle of a hard-core operations strategy project in the electric power sector, we needed to run a workshop on site at a power plant. The issue was that–safety standards being what they are–we needed to wear steel-toed boots. So, of course all the white-shoe consultants go out and buy new steel-toed boots. Except, one of the partners, convinced that his new boots were a bad signal, decided to spend some time scuffing his up enough to be inconspicuous on site.
Voila! Instant operations veteran.
These two stories are important reminders of the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
They are also a reminder that people will often go to great lengths and waste great amounts of time and energy to “look the part.” They worry so much about the “optics” of a clean uniform that they actually go out and seek a dirt clod to rub on their uniform.
The same is true in the business world. Often, the 100-page PowerPoint deck is simply a dirt clod, or a set of scuffed shoes. It’s the way consultants, managers, and analysts show that they are doing real work–even when they aren’t.
I’ll just ask you this: Is the work you are doing actual, real work to solve a problem for a customer, or are you just digging up a dirt clod to rub on your uniform?
Because sometimes a dirty uniform just means you fell down a lot.
What do you think?