Showtime’s ‘Billions’ and Enclothed Cognition

imgres-1 imgresI’m nothing short of a voyeur watching Showtime’s new series, ‘Billions.’ It’s a smart send-up of capitalism and democracy gone awry. Two powerful men – a rapacious hedge-fund manager with a shady past (played by the intense Damian Lewis) and an ambitious and twisted U.S. Attorney (played by the terrifying Paul Giamatti) are in a Wall Street showdown of masculinity, money and power. Throw in smart and sexy female characters, stunning corruption, S&M, the 1%’ers on steroids, and it’s a formula for an addictively watchable series.

In the season finale, our hedge-fund billionaire is clawing his way back from a major assault on his firm and his reputation. He and his terrifyingly sadistic CFO are making rounds to major firms, trying to drum up clients to survive. And they are poster men for the prescribed Wall Street pitch – wearing $50K Saville Row suits, carrying binders of financials – oh baby, they are back on the street! But, alas, yesterday’s financial guru is today’s contagious disease and the bankers and investors are not biting. So what does our anti-hero billionaire, Bobby Axelrod (Axe), do?

Why he changes his clothes!

Of course. He reclaims his everyday designer jeans and T-shirt and literally ditches the fancy suit in a NYC trashcan without a second glance. Realigned! Transformed! And his next Wall Street pitch is emboldened, honest, brash as he practically threatens the investors, When I walk out that door today, we are friends for life or you don’t exist to me ever again.” And in that moment, we know the money is going to flow and Axe is back!

I laughed out loud. And thought, “Ah yes! Enclothed cognition.” You know – the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. It’s both a scientific phrase for the aphorism, “the clothes make the (wo)man” and a fascinating study about how what we wear changes our psychological processes. In order to get his “king of the world” mojo back, Axe had to lose the “suit” and the traditional, conformist mindset it embodies.

The research in this field of enclothed cognition is fascinating. Led by Dr. Adam Galinksy at the Kellogg School of Management, the experiments highlighted not just how we respond to the clothes others wear, but how, our actual performance changes, when we wear, say – a white lab coat. And, if said white coat is called an “artist’s smock,” our testing performance changes again. Fascinating stuff. Read more here and here.

A common question in public speaking forums is, “What should I wear?” There are a lot of factors in this decision – your audience, your role as a speaker, your style, comfort, colors, confidence. Typically there is a long list of what “not” to wear. We’d like to say that it doesn’t matter, but there is an art and a science to masterful public speaking, and what you wear matters.

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You are invited to join SpeakWell Partners for a free 45-minute webinar, 4 Ways to WOW, on Friday April 22 at 1PM. Discover new ideas and practical advice for achieving your peak communication performance. Register Here.

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