CFOs Don’t Know How to Dress

CFOs Don’t Know How to Dress


It’s all too easy to focus on keeping up rather than standing out. Like CFOs who don’t know how to dress, you risk you blending in with the herd. We all know the downsides of focusing on securing a reservation at the hottest restaurant, wearing the right clothes and surrounding yourself with the kind of people who reflect well on your social credibility—so much so that it’s a truism to say that these things don’t lead to happiness in our private lives. Even when you’re a step ahead, you know what we mean.

You’re wearing your puffer vest and striding proudly down the street in your brown leather loafers—you’re doing what’s trendy, staying on the cutting edge and yet still dressing like you’re part of the herd. But what we don’t consider as often is the way these decisions to go with the crowd can have a major impact on our professional successes, slowing us down by keeping our attention on fitting in with a category rather than crafting a careful roadmap to brand differentiation.

Here’s what we mean when we say CFOs don’t know how to dress—and what that seemingly jocular idea reflects about work, branding and the value of thinking outside the box.

What Your Aesthetics Say About Your Values 

Picture a successful CFO. You’re probably imagining someone in an outfit that looks expensively inconspicuous, decked out in all the expected markers of success. What’s missing from this picture is the creative verve that marks a more flexible mentality—but is wearing the same suit as everyone else really such a big problem?

Well, as Freud would say, sometimes a suit is just a suit. And sometimes it’s something more. The aesthetic choices we make on a daily level are a reflection of our individual values, as well as the idealized self we’d like to present to the world.

In the case of the classic CFO wardrobe, the image being created is one of continuity. Building power through the conversations, connections, branding and day to day choices that reflect an allegiance to the old boys network of power, a way of doing things the so called “right” way that all too often leads to stagnation. Sticking to the established way of doing things can feel safe, but it also limits our potential.

This is certainly true when it comes to branding. Just as the way we dress presents an idealized self to the world, the way we brand our projects and companies is a way of enhancing the value of the brand through the articulation of an aesthetic, the same way you’d stage your home before you sell it in order to obtain the best price.

Done successfully, an in depth branding exercise not only tells an investor story, it works as a reality check, basing your plans on a well articulated value proposition and clarity about the problems you solve, rather than abstract projections. And it does this by standing out, rather than worrying about fitting in.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: Why it’s Wrong to do Everything Right  

When your mind is on finding a safe harbor in a turbulent global marketplace, it can be difficult knowing how to stand out. This is why people in CFO roles often aren’t focused on their own aesthetic sensibilities—it simply seems more practical to stick to the established ways of doing things.

All too often, going with the popular option means following the lowest common denominator. When we obey our herd instinct, worrying more about keeping up with the Joneses and following the crowd rather than following our passion and curiosity, we doom ourselves to mediocrity that makes innovation impossible.

This is the classic “innovator’s dilemma.” Sticking to the plan and operating within the known parameters, mirroring the branding strategies of people who seem to be doing all the right things, can feel like the safer choice. But it’s also the choice that prevents us from articulating the true value and specialness of our own brands and sharing our capacity to innovate outside of the established expectations of what it means to exist in our particular niche of the global marketplace.

Doing things because they’re the things to do simply doesn’t lead to innovation. It never has, and it never will. This is why CFO types are so often dependent on the outside resources of creatives to help them create their aesthetic presences.

They allow an interior decorator to choose the wallpaper in their bathrooms and ask their tailor for input on how their suit should fit. They trust the expertise of these professionals to help them create an aesthetic that works for them as an individual, but all too often are afraid to trust the creative professionals who are able to assist them in creating aesthetics for their company, standing out from the crowd by loosening up a little and thinking outside of the box.

How So Called Missteps Create Opportunities 

Just like an interior decorator understands up to the minute wallpaper trends, or a tailor can take in the dimensions of your body to figure out the most flattering fit of your suit, branding experts are able to look beyond the limits of what has been done in the brand space your company occupies and consider the possibilities.

You wouldn’t trust someone who doesn’t understand Excel to run your numbers—and in the same way, you shouldn’t trust someone who lacks the expertise, skill and sensibility to make the recommendations that define the market presence of your brand.

Done right, branding strikes the balance between fitting in with the category and differentiating yourself. It’s the same suit everyone else is wearing, maybe, but cut perfectly to suit you. Or it’s a cut everyone recognizes as chic, rendered in an unexpected color, texture or style. Collaborating with creative professionals in the branding space is a way to bring informed viewpoints and an outsider’s perspective, helping you envision new possibilities for what your brand can be.

So CFO’s don’t know how to dress. But can they learn? With the right creative support, we’d say it’s a definite possibility.

Now It’s Your Turn

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