Black shirts and white shirts

After talking yesterday about the limits of collaboration, today I’d like to share a conversation I had about the natural alliance of artists and scientists.

When you think about the energy people put into making things happen in the world, you find roughly two categories: People who do things because they deeply believe in them, and people who do things as a way to another goal (usually making money). The people who do things out of inherent passion for the thing itself often dress down, preferring black tee shirts to white shirts and ties. For this reason, these creative types are sometimes referred to as “black shirts”.

On the other hand, people who go to business school and end up in CEO or COO positions within a corporate hierarchy tend to value exactly those aspects of appearance that are anathema to the creative types, such as wearing a nice shirt and tie. These people are sometimes called “white shirts”.

Today in conversation somebody asserted that the “white shirts” have an agenda to keep different types of “black shirts” separate from each other. After all, he asserted, if the creative people — whether scientists or artists — were to all find each other and join forces, they might not need all those other people. They could just get together and do it on their own.

This might not even be a conscious agenda, he continued. It could be that the participants — both business and creatives — cannot imagine an organizational structure without a business focus at its core.

The image of black shirts and white shirts struck me as somehow poetic, even if the theory might be flawed. For example, It could be that creatives themselves just don’t want to be bothered with these aspects of running an organization. Or that, as an organization grows, its founders could simply be changing their black shirts for white. In any case, it might be something worth thinking about. Or maybe not. 😉

2 thoughts on “Black shirts and white shirts”

  1. Sometimes people who you categorize as “black shirts” go incognito as “white shirts” in order to persuade or champion for changes that they could not get as a “black shirt.”

  2. Adding to Sally’s comment, there are also people who are white shirts but go incognito as black shirts–that is, they try to make people think that they’re just doing things because they love them, but they’re really in it for the profits. I think being a black shirt has become really “cool” ever since Steve Jobs became the icon he is, so a lot of people want to do it, but a lot of people are in it to be recognized or noticed or whatever. And increasingly, there are grey shirts, who want to do something because they love it but they also want to make money–not get rich, but they don’t want to live on the streets either.

    and then there are the red shirts… but we don’t talk about the red shirts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *