Science has taught us many things, but few that have been as insightful as the power of the beard. According to science, beards are tooootally hot, except when there’s a lot of them—then unbearded faces are waaaay sexy. There are business applications to be gleaned from this observation, but first let’s really dive into the science of the beard. Be warned, this could get a little hairy.
In 2014, a team of Australian researchers found that men with beards are commonly perceived to be more attractive than their shaven counterparts. But there’s a catch: Bearded men are more attractive when they’re the outliers, not the norm. The more bearded dudes you have in a group, the less social capital their stubble is worth. Or, put another way, according to Mic, “One 2014 study found that the more common a beard is, the less value it has as a distinguishing and attractive trait.”
What’s relevant in the business world is the idea of differentiation. A bearded man among bearded guys isn’t particularly attractive or prone to standing out in the crowd. But a bearded man among a sea of faces that are as smooth as a baby’s bottom is more likely to be perceived as attractive. The key is to stand apart from the crowd—do something unique.
Consider the following quotes from a few insightful business and marketing writers.
“Apple’s competitive edge, [Steve Jobs] and others argue, is that they have been able to avoid the ‘sameness trap.’ When you rely on consumer input, it is inevitable that they will tell you to do what other popular companies are doing.”
Being different can also be less tangible, such as being a company, like Carpool, that builds tools, strategies, and cultures that encourage employees to share work internally.
Not long ago, I led a few internal writers’ workshops. The goal of these workshops is to teach some fundamental principles, tips, and tricks that separate good writing from bad writing. I went into the workshop blind. After all, I developed my own voice and writing strategy in the world of journalism. But those principles don’t perfectly translate to business.
It wasn’t until after the workshop that I realized the true value and the lesson that was buried within all my rambling.
All of the points I stressed in the workshop—how to write a strong introduction, how to compose a written piece to hold the reader’s attention, and generally how to not be boring—rest on the same concept: How to be different and more attractive to strangers. In this instance, being different meant becoming better at storytelling.
Memorable ideas and products are often different. Many people like to call these ideas “innovative.” Einstein, for example, realized the inextricable link between space and time; Steve Jobs changed our conception of the personal computer; and Mark Zuckerberg refined how we communicate.
Consider a few blog posts I stumbled upon. Both focus on the same subject, but one of them is better positioned to capture your attention. One is titled, “Why Intranets Don’t Work,” while the other is, “What The Walking Dead Teaches Us About Surviving Traditional Intranets.”
Regardless of the content, chances are you’re going to remember one of these pieces (the zombie one, duh) and throw the other into a mental pile where good ideas go to be forgotten. Likewise, my hope is that you’re going to remember this article because of the beard metaphor, and you’re going to think about what you can do to stand out because the content stays on your mind. Maybe you’ll think about taking a slight risk to stand out, and hopefully you’re going to learn from it.
And, hopefully, you’ll think about how you can apply this to the way you work. For instance, rather than sending off an email some day, you might consider building a brand using your company’s internal network on platforms such as Yammer or Facebook at Work. Or, if you’re a manager, you might think of how to let your employees work remotely if it will help them be more productive and develop greater connections to their communities.
With a little luck, maybe you’ll publish an idea or an accomplishment to your company’s team site and compose it in a way that really sticks with the audience. Afterward you can come back and tell me that it worked, or that this advice is a bunch of nuclear-grade BS. Either way, we’ll both learn something and grow from it. And it will all be because I wrote a peculiar article about beards and business.