It’s Easier to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission

July 25, 2009

I think I first read this in a Tom Clancy novel, but Google/Wikipedia tells me it’s attributed to Grace Hopper.  Regardless of the source, I like it.  And a lot of people who know me would recognise I try and live by it during my working hours.

It’s not a mantra for everyone.  I’ve learnt that some people are not comfortable with making decisions where they are not certain of the outcome.  Some people like to understand the complete context before launching in.  Not me.  I have a go.  If it works great.  If it doesn’t, less great, but I’ve still at least learnt how not to do it.

Problems can arise in a work situation when there is a clash of personality.  People like me get frustrated with people asking conceptual questions, making checklists and seeking more and more information.  I just want it done.  I have learnt though that they definately aren’t doing it to frustrate you.  It’s their way.  And I have also learnt to use it.  Whilest they are collating the information, formulating the plan I do something else.  Then I can be presented with the most probable solution and can pretty much jump straight into it.

I think as a young professional we may be in a slightly advantageous position to other employees regarding making mistakes.  We’re early in our careers, inexperienced, learning the ropes.  At least I hope that’s what my boss thinks when I “have a crack.”  Try it out.

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3 Responses to “It’s Easier to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission”

  1. […] I certainly don’t.  So we learn in the workplace by reading manuals, trial and error (see my last post) but probably mainly by talking to your colleagues.  Being new to an area, you need to learn from […]

  2. Claudia said

    Good post – highly debatable!

    At such an early stage in my career, I need those around me to be able to provide guidance and expertise. Similar to what you mention in other posts, it’s about absorbing and internalising a lot of knowledge to make you better off in the long run. In the question of whether to ask for forgiveness or permission, I think a lot of it boils down to what your boss wants or expects. Personally, it’s been established that I need to ask for permission in order to get ahead. As I gain experience and exposure in my role, that’s where I think I could start taking risks (and inevitably forgiveness). Plus, I think that you can still display innovation and creativity, and asking permission will also give you that buy-in from those who you need to make an impression on.

  3. […] One of my earlier posts spoke about getting in and having a go.  If there is an opportunity to gain some early ground by being the first to move in on something, then being the first can’t be the worst, can it? […]

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