T-shirts are currency
Recruiter: Someone dropped out of interviewing a candidate at the last minute. Can you fill in?
Me: Hmmmmm… what’s in it for me?
Recruiter: A special t-shirt.
Me: Cool. I’ll do it.
Actually, the “what’s in it for me” is not spoken out loud. It’s an implicit contract.
Time and again, I’ve seen myself and other people go to great lengths to earn a t-shirt. Above and beyond the call of duty. More than they would for cold hard cash1.
Everyone in tech knows exactly what I’m talking about. T-shirts are currency.
Money? Money is common. A dollar is like every other dollar. It’s not special.
A t-shirt says something. It’s visible. You can show it off. It’s an invisible handshake among those who know what the t-shirt symbolizes. A team. An old, dead, but pioneering company. A small event. A place. You can gloat when someone asks “Cool shirt. Where did you get it?”
That’s why their design is taken seriously. People spend time and effort and breath on it.
Think about that next time you want to ask someone for a favor.
There’s a lot of behvioral economics research that delves deeper into this. “Predictably Irrational”, by Dan Ariely, is a good place to start. ↩