Tag Archives: style

Style vs Substance

I was having coffee with a colleague of mine Steve this week. Steve works in international sales for a highly successful Australian air monitoring business called Ecotech. Over coffee we were drawing a parallel between pain and knowledge. Basically pain doesn’t seem to hurt as much when you get older because you have a much larger “backdrop” of pain to measure it against. “Sure the cut hurts, but no where near as bad as the time I cut open the roof of my mouth, or broke my ankle”. Which makes kids tend to think you are superman  with a really high tolerance for pain.

In regards to knowledge, we both felt that there was plenty of stuff we knew and simply took for granted. Interesting and useful bits and pieces picked up over 20 years, don’t tend to stand out as a dramatic insight, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of the things stuffed away in your head. So it always comes as a surprise when you are asked to explain something that appears to obvious to you, but not to a graduate or someone at the start of their career. The type of person whom can explain the weighted average cost of capital – but gasps at an insight like managing your cashflow actually matters.

So this was the context I was thinking in when I got an email today from a Churchill Club member who asked me whether I thought clothing was important, even though it had nothing to do with a person’s substance behind the scene.   The position was kind of “are these things related?”

My answer was of course they are – but nothing as simple as the old saying “dress for success”. People who say that are almost certainly fools you should run away from, and never do business with.

I tend to think of the matter as a two axis graph. On the y axis (the up and down one) you have style, and on the x axis (the left to right one) you have substance. Style I tend to think of as how you present yourself, substance is your ability. Jon-Michail, whom spoke recently at the Churchill Club on the topic of personal brand says that style includes your clothes, language, habits and environment. Style is not just wearing a nice suit – its wearing a beautiful suit if you are in business, cutting edge clothes if you are in fashion and outrageous clothes if you are creative. Its creating the style to immediately portray what you are and how good you are at it.   As a contrast – Substance is not just your technical capability, but your depth of experience and authenticity.

Style V's Substance

When you put them together, you get a graph that suggests to me 4 types of people.

No Style & No Substance = Larry Loser

If you have no skills or capability and you don’t present your self in the best light – opportunities will never ever come your way and what you have will be eroded. If this is you do something now – don’t bug me about it though.

Style but no Substance = Fast Eddy

I see this person all the time. They tend to move up through the world very quickly, impressing the people ahead of them and making those left behind bitter and angry as they never actually achieve anything at all. They’re very big on weasel words, and in my experience – always come a cropper (the universe is brutally fair after all).

Substance but no Style = The not-so Quiet Achiever

This person endlessly whines about other people taking credit for their work and they never seem to get a break. They feel that their abilities are all important and only shallow people wouldn’t recognise this. Despite life long evidence to the contrary.  These people make good workers, not leaders.

Bags of Styles & Substance = Winner

Sometimes you meet someone and from that first moment they appear to be really good at what they do, and then surprise surprise they actually do what they say the y were going to. You can’t help but become a true fan and rave about these people. These “Winners” with both style and substance endlessly have first class opportunities offered up them and are forgiven for any mistakes they might make. One can only aspire…………

So here’s the guts of it. If your a technician and want to be known as a technician – dress like one (I have immediate confidence in the guy wearing blue kingees rather than blue jeans). But if you are a technician whom is trying to cross over to run your own business – start wearing a suit (a good one not a crappy), learn the language and act with confidence.   I reckon that all this is obvious but decided it was worthwhile mentioning, just in case it wasn’t obvious to everyone.