The backlash was consistent with research by Namrata Goyal, an associate research scholar at Columbia Business School,who found that nonconforming behaviour backfires when people violate “injunctive” norms, i.e. unwritten rules which are respected: for example, wearing a tie to meet a client, which conveys reverence.
Flouting “sacred” norms can seriously backfire; for instance, dress codes that are time-honoured or rooted in religion, says Goyal. “Violating injunctive norms will be viewed as anti-social behaviour and violating sacred norms would be to insult your colleagues.”
In Peston’s case, the British political establishment is still snared in formality – until recently, centuries of tradition dictated that male MPs had to wear ties to address parliament.
So last year
Does this mean the red sneakers effect is most powerful in more ‘casual’ or ‘new’ industries such as technology?
Bellezza argues that the opposite is true. She says that in banking or government, for instance, deviating from the norm could offer the richest rewards – because the behaviour will still be perceived as nonconforming.
Whereas “the problem with Silicon Valley is precisely that these behaviours have become the uniform,” she says. “Wearing a t-shirt and sneakers in that context is mainstream.”
One important factor to consider is the culture in which we transgress. Homan analysed how nonconformity is viewed by different cultures. The study found norm violators were seen as more powerful than conformists and evoked less outrage in individualistic cultures, such as much of the western world.
But she found that in collective cultures,such as East Asia and Latin America, people prefer norm followers as leaders, because they may prioritise organisational goals over their own.
Since different people view different behaviour differently in different contexts, the red sneakers effect is highly individualised, says Goyal.
She believes that research is essential to using it to good effect. “Understanding who observes the non-conforming behaviour and where it’s done is the key to making it work for you.”
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