As of December 2013, the median grade awarded at Harvard is an A-, and the most frequently awarded grade is an A. You might be tempted to believe this is the natural outcome for an institution populated entirely (by its own reckoning, at least) by geniuses. However, since any university’s grading scale is supposed to function as a sliding scale relative to its own student body, a better explanation is that Harvard professors aren’t very rigorous in their grading standards. After all, if everyone gets an A on everything, how much does an A actually mean?
The answer is not much, a fact put on fabulous display by the Wall Street Journal’s recent publication of an article detailing the findings of a recent Harvard Business School study. Feel free to read the whole thing if you like, but here’s a comprehensive summary:
Main Findings of Harvard Business School Study
- Being different can socially benefit some people, in some situations, sometimes
- Acting different can be both positive and negative, depending on the situation and whether or not the people around you think that you’re being different accidentally or on purpose
The first finding is my favorite, since it means absolutely nothing. I’m looking forward to subsequent weeks, when Harvard Business School students will undoubtedly be publishing new groundbreaking studies like “Eating is Occasionally Healthy” or “Some Shoes More Attractive Than Others.”
The second finding, though, is potentially dangerous. The benefits of occasionally going against the grain are obvious and myriad; virtually every innovation in every industry or field of study is the result of someone approaching things from a different point of view. But by reinforcing the power of non-conformity without any good explanation for how or when to exercise that non-conformity, the study simultaneously encourages its readers to express themselves while (by virtue of the aforementioned inconclusiveness) increasing the odds that their self-expression will come back to haunt them.
According to the study, wearing gym clothes into a luxury store will convince the average person that you’re out of your element while convincing the shop employees that you’re probably a super-rich celebrity so confident with his/her status that there’s no need to dress to impress. Except those impressions aren’t true for every average person or every shop employee. And a lot of it depends on whether or not you act like you belong there or like you’re about to rob the place. Since you can’t be certain how your attitude is going to be perceived by others, you’re basically trusting to luck – which makes this study profoundly useless. Suppose I want to express myself in some unique way at my next interview to stand out from the other applicants. How can I do that in a way that will impress my interviewer without making him/her think that I have no business being there? The answer, according to the Harvard Business School, is, “It depends.”
Bottom line – if you’re going to rock some sweat pants at your next interview, you’d better be able to convince the hiring manager that you wore them intentionally. That way, while they’re silently writing you off as a potential hire, they’ll at least be impressed with your individuality and autonomy.
As for Harvard, consider throwing in a D or two every couple semesters just to shake things up. Maybe that’ll make your students try a little harder.
If you want some advice about what you really should wear to work, check out the Jeff Havens Super Awesome Guide to Dress Code Etiquette. It’s small enough to fit in the pocket of your ironic sweatpants.