Your new boss.

I work downtown where a lot of traditional and conservative people work. As few as 5 years ago, it was all polyester and neck ties, with the odd rebel wearing jeans on Friday.

These days I’m seeing a different breed appear more often though; Mohawk and neck tattoo guy.

I think it’s good that mainstream companies are hiring people with Mohawks and neck tattoos. These are typically people with a different and creative personality which is why their appearance mimics better known creative careers (musician for example).

In 2011 and onwards, creativity is a far more desirable trait than conformity. A person who is willing to bend and break rules  – some of which don’t even exist yet – is going to triumph over the unquestioning worker drone almost every time. Embrace this reality or you will perish.

It’s obvious, but it also bears repeating because people seem to forget; we live in an era where the pace of change is unprecedented. What we can expect is for most of the old guard to be afraid of this. Some will not be afraid, and I believe they will win.

I had this discussion with a friend of mine last week. He told me a story about a programmer who works on his team who wore cords and a sport shirt with no tie one day, and the boss got all bent out of shape about it. My friends opinion was “is that a mountain you’re willing to die on? Just wear what the boss expects and live to fight a bigger battle later.” My opinion is “Yeah…I’m willing to die on that mountain.” Because that boss who objects to the material my pants are made out of is clearly a guy with mis-placed priorities. That is a guy who is concerned about things that make no difference. That is a guy with no vision and no ability to think like his employees. That is an autocrat. That is a poor boss.

As I see it, that programmer is going to move along shortly to a company that understands the expectations of younger workers. A company that places more value on creativity and skill than on wardrobe.

Another friend once said “Companies better start figuring out how to deliver work to their employees when they’re at the mall or the beach, because new grads are not going to stand for showing up at their cubicle 40 hours a week.” Of course some will, and this change will take at least a generation. But it will happen as people who enter the work force with modern expectations inevitably move into positions of power.

I heard of an experiment where a bunch of bananas were suspended over an apes cage with a step ladder underneath. Whenever one of the apes went for the bananas, it was hit with cold water from a fire hose. Then the hose was turned on the apes who were simply watching. Over time all the apes learned not to go for the bananas, and the hose was no longer necessary.

The next step was to replace the original apes one-by-one over time. An interesting thing was observed. The original apes discouraged – sometimes violently – the new apes from going for the bananas. Eventually the cage was full of a new generation of apes, none of whom had ever been squirted with the fire hose, but yet none of whom ever dared to tried to get the dangling bananas.

The conclusion was that the new apes were simply doing things the old way, the way they had been taught, because “that’s the way things have always been done.” All it would have taken was for one ape with a Mohawk and a neck tattoo to think “That’s stupid. I’m going for the fruit”, and the entire group would have had a feast.

I’d much rather take the chance and go for the bananas based on my own instincts. I’ll probably get hit with a fire hose a few times, but at some point I won’t and while everybody else is cowering in the corner I’ll be the new king of the ape cage.