From Harvard Square to the Hamptons: Is Your Invitation to Success All Set? - Blog

Do you really have to stop wearing white after Labor Day (U.S.)?

Maybe. Situational awareness, dress-for-success and emotional intelligence are all effective tactics that would call for compliance. None of these tactics, however, quite encompasses the subtle art of calibrating discrete information and leveraging it for sustained success. The holistic strategy of “setting the table” we believe is the most impactful. Employing these “setting the table” techniques can have a tremendous positive impact on increasing the chances of you winning acceptance to a competitive graduate program, landing an angel investor or earning that coveted new job. Crimson Oak has distilled the “setting the table” concept into simple S-A-A Principles: Style, Affiliation and Advocacy. A careful look at seemingly “natural” scenarios will show successful execution of the SAA Principles.

For instance, Wall Street-ers often shed the pin-stripe suits and restrain the bravado in exchange for khaki shorts, buttoned down shorts and a much mellower mood when they migrate to the shores of Cape Cod, the Hamptons and similar habitats. Style makes them “fit in”; affiliates reinforce this rationale and they advocate the benefits of this migration ritual. Martha’s Vineyard has long advocated explicit rules on decorum that preserve the quaint appeal of its community and seem to reform bankers better than any Washington DC Dodd-Frank Bill ever could!

Counter-balancing this “natural” scenario are mind-numbing situations where clear data or quantifiable effort is trumped to deliver an unexpected result. For instance, your perfect GMAT score of 800 that hasn’t yet resulted in a pre-invitation to Wharton School of Business – “baffling”! Your renowned 48 hour back-to-back all-nighters for 50-page meticulous pitch books that have thus far failed to produce a well-deserved promotion – “puzzling”! May we humbly suggest that you consider the question: have you set the table for your success? First place to check: your wardrobe!?

The concept of “Setting the Table” still requires pre-cursors of hard work and good results on universal test assessments. The emphasis is on, what many venture capitalists would refer to as, “unstructured data” – i.e. discrete information that does not follow a logical pattern. Elements could be distilled to: i) style; ii) advocacy; and iii) affiliation (S-A-A Principles). The strategy of employing these principles goes beyond simply presenting well and does not require you being rooted in “group think”. Let’s explore applications of “SAA Principles” under three (3) inflection points of a typical business career: (1) College; (2) MBA/Graduate School; and (3) Mid-Career.



The deliberate, nonchalant style of college students gathered in Harvard Square engaging in debates ranging from the esoteric to the banal over coffee seems “authentic”. SAA principles that your college friend can implement to set his table for success include:

STYLE: Admittedly, style in college is expansive and less of a factor to ultimate success. The college campus allows for er…let’s call it individual expression. Many opt for the pictured NFL New England Patriots coach Bill Belichek’s sweat shirt look. A recent New York Times article points to the limits of this look especially for those wanting to gain access to a hot nightclub. [Sorry Bill even with the “cut-off” sleeves, it just won’t work.]

AFFLILIATION: Beyond casual gatherings over pizza, class selection is probably the most important affiliation decision that a college student is faced with.  This key decision is often under-appreciated. GPA management, course load capacity and the composition of courses for major requirements are the more obvious factors to college success. Less apparent are affiliation decisions and their implications. The decision of which academic class to enroll in is critical as it cements a bond with dozens of fellow students, the professor and at times, teaching assistants over a semester. This affiliation is an announcement of the student’s career intention and his opportunity to deepen relationships with affiliates for future success. Choose wisely.

ADVOCACY: College is often a period of awakening of greater causes for some. Note the term "advocacy" in this context does not refer to third party support of any particular political position. To our college friends, we recommend developing the skill to verbally support the merits of your cause, purpose, major or potential path early on and in various settings.


Armed with laptops and iPads, graduate students collaborating for a business plan competition seem “fitting”. The banter is peppered with cited statistics. SAA principles that graduate students can use for table setting success:

STYLE: The style of a typical top graduate school student is a balance between fashionable and serious. She recognizes that her schedule can range from class in the morning, to meeting a professor in the afternoon and finally, to a corporate recruiting reception in the evening. Generally, top schools’ graduates are more sensitized to this neat business casual look.

AFFLILIATION: As most first year coursework is mandatory for the entire class for top MBA programs, the choice for many grad students comes into play with the student groups. Once again, seeding your network – affiliations – early will increase the likelihood of success. One of the more interesting initiatives comes from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in its university wide field based, cross-learning opportunities.  Another initiative is Harvard Business School’s new group the HBS Start Up Tribe. Can’t get any more affiliated than naming your group a tribe!

ADVOCACY: Being your own champion – advocate – has been institutionalized on many graduate campuses where a significant portion of the grad student’s grade is based on her comments. Thoughtful classroom comments and at least one piece of authorship – broadly defined – provide her with the best platform for post-advanced degree success.


Tie slightly loosened with his tailored jacket open, a seasoned professional stands comfortably by an after-work bar. His hand clutches a drink with the wrist barely exposed to reveal a prominent watch. To emerging/mid-career professionals: “salut” for employing the SAA Principles.

STYLE: Attention to detail defines the successful mid-career executive. From dimpled ties and well-polished shoes to original cuff links. He views suits as investments and will either have them tailored off-the-rack or custom made.

AFFLILIATION: As he is even more time-constrained than earlier periods of his life, with continuing professional development courses, family/dating commitments, affiliations can dissipate. Industry associations, through active membership, provides an avenue for him to authentically broaden his network and deepen the relationships with his affiliates.

ADVOCACY: At this stage, the executive’s advocacy is best found in his presentations. These presentations can either be internal or external.  Internal presentation examples include those on behalf of his company such as a short list presentation to win an institutional client or a presentation on the strategy of the division. External presentations are another area for successful advocacy such as being a panelist on an industry seminar or presenting on behalf of a charity. Presentations provide a concrete example of the power of your advocacy that have lasting, brand building power.

Authenticity, passion and hard work are all necessary for effective use of these principles. Style without authenticity leaves you embarrassingly naked. Affiliation minus hard work to earn peer respect marginalizes you to a token. Finally, advocacy devoid of passion is hollow self-promotion. You are much more than a number! Utilize these SAA Principles beginning today and take your seat at the table of success. After all, it has been all set for you.