If You’re Looking for Permission You’ve Come to the Wrong Place

One of my favorite interviews of all time (and thanks to the handcrafted Aux Hook-up in my car, I listen to many) is Bryan Elliot’s interview of Seth Godin, for the Icarus Deception.

In the interview, Seth says — and I’m going to paraphrase here:

“The excuse that, ‘My boss doesn’t give me permission’ is a bad one. Why should he? You’re not asking for permission, what you’re saying is, ‘Can I go do this thing, and if it works, I’m going to take all the credit, and if it doesn’t, you’ll take all the blame.’ Who would agree to that?”

At the theory level, the logic is simple. But when it’s time for application, the “logic” contends with “emotion”: pride, ego, embarrassment, anger… all of which overwhelm logic in half-a-second.

Let me tell you a story of when this overwhelm happened to me…

While working for a literary management company, I met with a young man who was doing interesting work in the music space, bringing more of a performance art component to EDM, with custom built hardware and software.

He was brilliant and motivated. At the moment, there wasn’t an immediate business opportunity for either of us. I didn’t expect that, though. The meeting was about getting on each other’s radar, should an opportunity present itself.

I took the story of the meeting into a staff meeting — not as a hard sell, but a soft pitch.

Sorta a “hey, met this guy who’s doing really interesting work in this space…”

My boss at the time thought very little of the idea:

  • “That’s pie in the sky shit.”
  • “You’re wasting your time.”
  • “This is what you should be spending your time on…” citing examples of tactics he used… 20 years ago.

I can’t say I wasn’t embarrassed. And angry.

He called me out in a staff meeting… in front of everyone.

As far as I could tell, the extent of my indiscretion was meeting someone — on my own time — that may pan out to nothing (as these things often do).

My immediate gut (read: emotional) response was: “fine, he doesn’t want to ever hear any new ideas, then I will never bring in any. We’ll keep using tactics that worked in the 80s and early 90s.

Don’t Ask Permission. And Don’t Do This, Either…

Later (when I cooled off) I remembered Seth’s words: Don’t ask for permission to do interesting work.

To which I’d like to add the corollary:

Don’t seek validation, either. Seeking validation means you’re not sure if you’re working on the right problem. Without the right problem, what good is any solution you propose?

Do the work. Solve the problem. Then show them the results.

Yes, this is tricky. If you screw up, then it’s on you… which is the whole point, isn’t it?

To which I can only offer:

  • Build confidence in your choices.
  • Confidence comes with experience.
  • Fail quickly, not fatally.

Also, build reversibility into any solution you present:

  • A fleshed out story  bible — that can always be rewritten.
  • A completed website redesign — installed locally, not live on the site.
  • A new marketing strategy — that can implemented in stages.

Why Are You Here, Again?

No, no organization is going to tell you to do these things.

Why would they give you deniability?

You’re responsible for picking and choosing your own risks.

But with that said…

If you’re with a company that actively tells you: “don’t try new things, don’t take risks, toe the line, do what worked before…”

What are you still doing there?

Photo Credit: JD’na

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