Robert Poynton
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Cutting ties

February 19, 2016 – 2 min read


A neck tie is a curious thing – a long, thin piece of cloth that serves no practical function, wrapped around a man’s neck, where it dangles in a perfect position to collect any stray drops of spaghetti sauce. A tie separates head and body, physically and symbolically.

The police in Britain have thought about this. They wear clip-on ties, so that an officer can’t be strangled by their tie. Yet the tie remains an icon of male business attire in most of the world. How fitting.

I was reminded of this at yesterday by Tara Swart, during a talk she gave at the MCT HR conference in Istanbul (where I also gave a talk). A neuroscientist and leadership coach, Tara spoke of how most people in business talk and act as if the mind and the body are somehow disconnected from each other – as if the one does not affect the other. Something we know to be scientifically wrong.

This is common sense too. Indeed, it is so obvious it ought not to be news and yet somehow it is. In his famous 2006 TED talk Ken Robinson observed that academics regard the body as a means of transporting their brain from one meeting to the next, yet we largely ignore the intimate relationship between mind and body. Descartes still has a lot to answer for.

The tie, unabashed and unembarrassed, hides the idea of severance and disconnection between mind and body in the open. Flaunts it even. An idea that plagues us but which is so widespread we barely notice.

Might this be changing? A strong theme of the conversations the conference speakers had with Turkish business leaders was the importance of feminine qualities to the future of leadership. And in the main, women don’t wear ties.

At Ataturk airport, on the way home from the conference, I started reading a book given to me by another one of the speakers, Steven D’Souza entitled ‘Not Knowing’. He quotes Nassim Nicholas Taleb (author of ‘The Black Swan’) who says: “it is not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie”.

And on the Turkish Airways flight back to Madrid I noticed that they had an interesting variation on the safety video. As well as advising ladies to take off high heeled shoes (‘which may tear the escape slide’) they also invite men to loosen their ties.

I would go further.

Rather than loosen ties, I think we should cut them off, abandon them, burn them, bury them or take them to the thrift shop. We should embrace the idea that the head and the body are both part of the mind, literally and metaphorically. To separate them is to deny part of who you are and to limit what you are capable of.

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