Let’s say you have a a new job. Let’s say you need a work wardrobe?
Careers are won or lost to the 80% rule. In other words, focus 80% of your attention on the 20% that matters. Career wardrobes should be handled the same way.
Wardrobe recommendations often start with a general list of pieces to own. I believe this to be folly of the worst sort. What you don’t want is to end up where every outfit you own is 80% appropriate for what you have to do. Starting with a list of pieces puts you at risk for that outcome.
Instead, start with your Use Cases. What are use cases, you may ask? The concept comes from software design, meaning, instead of listing the features you want in your product, first document the actual use cases, i.e. user actions you will be supporting or user problems you will be solving. Fully solving. Not 80% solved.
For example, in one of my previous jobs, the list of wardrobe use cases would have read as follows:
1. Presenting To An Important Customer In Boise, Idaho
2. Defending My Product In Front Of Ed Zander
3. Speaking On SunTV
4. Weekly Product Team Meeting
5. Day In, Day Out
6. Skiwear (I Do Not Golf, But Large Companies Insist On Team Building)
7. Trade Show In Paris, Meeting With Thai Entrepreneur In Bangkok, Or, Foreign Business Of All Sorts
This methodology requires that you build your list of use cases, populate each of them with outfits that are 100% appropriate, and then, and only then, abstract out to the necessary pieces for the full wardrobe. The key use cases will make clear everything you need.
For example, (where would we be in life, without examples? Wandering a land of generalities and disappointment, that’s where. The particular always precedes the general.) here’s what I wore to visit the Thai entrepreneur.
Cultural Context: Asian country, women rare in business, status brand appreciation.
Special Circumstances: It’s HOT in Bangkok
Desired Impact: Power, professionalism, representing a leading United States technology company. (This was in 2001.)
Here’s what I wore to Idaho.
Cultural Context: Idaho is a conservative but not stuffy state.
Special Circumstances: I did not know the sales rep accompanying me but I bet he’d be wearing a blue shirt and I did not want to match.
Desired Impact: I am only here to represent my company and answer your questions. Trust me.
And here’s the weekly product team meeting. I had an impressive collection of cardigans in those days. My “brand,” if you will.
Cultural Context: They were software engineers. I was marketing. Need I say more?
Special Circumstances: Our particular product group had a history of non-productive engineering/marketing relationships. Our software engineering director had a very big personality.
Desired Impact: I am reliable, approachable, and flexible. Also, I come bearing free food.
If we abstract these out, we see that I needed:
- An impact jacket. I also wore it to Paris. Chanel is good for international business.
- A conservative suit with button-front shirt and belt.
- A host of mid-range trousers., one of which I could wear with the impact jacket. Not hard to find, that. Black is good.
- White tee-shirts, long and short-sleeved. Personal issue. I hate fussy tops.
- Cardigans in different colors
- Flat shoes in brown and black, with varying shapes and degrees of formality.
- A small amount of conservative but luxurious jewelry. Some vintage. Again, a sort of signature or brand.
- Food to bribe engineers.
And that list, as it turns out, took me through an entire decade.
Other industries present other use cases. Academic life, for example, has a completely different culture.
Make a list of the high-impact situations in which you expect to find yourself, and play career paper doll. Although this may seem like a lot of work, once you start documenting, you will realize that there are only 3-4 Arch Use Cases, and all others mirror those requirements.
By the way, it’s too hot, in Bangkok, for cardigans. Unless they’re cotton. But you knew that.