To innovate better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission

Cultures of innovation are naturally dynamic. Employees think of new ideas and try them on the fly. Processes and procedures are fluid. There often is no one right answer to a problem, but rather experimentation drives many projects, efforts, assignments, and ultimately opportunities for improvement.

With that said, in my neck of the woods, businesses are the complete inverse.

Take a recent experience I had with the marketing manager of a telecommunications company based in Tijuana. With Startup Weekend Tijuana 4 coming this week, this marketing manager enthusiastically let me know that she signed up to participate. “Great!”, I said. But there was one minor problem: she didn’t want me to tell her boss about it.


According to her, the boss doesn’t want people to have their head occupied in anything other than what they’re supposed to be doing at work.

Sound familiar?

People leave their leaders, not organizations

This is a clear sign that this company, for all their marketing speak about being innovative, is not what they say they are. And, it comes directly from the top. A boss that doesn’t support you, is a boss that doesn’t want to empower you.

I’ve been there before a bunch of times (it is something that I expect as a matter of fact), but I’ve always intuited that I should take matters into my own hands in these situations. It is very simple: better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

This is what I did when I worked at FedEx. For me, it was literally “lead me, follow me or get the heck out of my way!”. And, since I didn’t feel they were leading me anywhere worth going to, I took matters into my own hands:

Change the game

Again, I’ve always anticipated that whatever I propose is not going to be received with open arms. Why? Because no matter how smart an idea sounds, my aim is to push boundaries. That is just the way that it is.

If you are an inpatient optimist, like me, I advise you to act this way when you feel there is a better way, and are motivated to do the right thing.

Truth be told, it is an option that is always open. You see, playing a game of preemption opens up a variety options for long-term advantage. By being aggressive, and setting the rules of engagement, you are shifting the advantage to you. If everything works out for you, now, everyone has to react to what you are doing.

This is what happened at FedEx. If I hadn’t taken action, who knows if my ideas had ever worked! And you know what? When they did work, the conversation and attention shifted to me. Next thing you know, everyone started following my lead 🙂

Understand: these situations are quite normal. Most people would rather fit in than stir the pot. This is a huge, and obvious, insight about human behavior, but it is rarely taken advantage of. And, it is also a reason why you shouldn’t have to worry about people stealing your ideas: if they are challenging enough, people won’t copy them until it is entirely obvious that you are on to something.

Bottom line:  Roll the dice! You don’t need to ask permission to do things better. You gotta believe in yourself and do what you think should be done. There is genius in being bold!

P.s. I’ve never asked for either forgiveness or permission.