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Don’t Ask For Permission When Forgiveness is Easier

29 Apr 2010 Posted by Ben Snyder CEO

You’ve heard it said that electricity follows the path of least resistance, so why shouldn’t this principle apply to our decision making too? We’ve all been faced with making decisions in situations where the time available to make the decision is less than ideal. Some of those situations were probably such that the best action was not readily apparent causing us to seek permission or validation before we decide. Others had readily apparent actions but the time required to obtain permission came close to extending past the deadline for action. We can still remember the angst we felt in the moment that caused us to freeze up when deciding what to do in the little time we had left to decide.

decision makingNext time you find yourself in one of these situations ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is my motivation and intent pure in taking the action?
  2. Is it easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?

Doing so will lessen the anxiety in making the decision and put you in the best light after the action is taken.

Let’s look at two scenarios and see how asking these questions would help. One night Alison was the last person in the office from her team. They had just released a new version of the order entry application the sales department uses the night before and all had gone well. Her boss was currently in flight on a trip half way around the world when the VP of Sales came to her desk. He was irate because one of his sales persons could not enter a huge order into the system. The customer wanted it booked that day so it would fall into the current quarter’s budget as he had no budget for it in the upcoming quarter. Alison researched the problem and found the error in the code. It was not hard to fix however, her boss and department relied on a strict testing and configuration control process to insure the quality of the application. The process required Alison’s team to run a set of regression tests and her boss to sign off on the new release before it was installed. This process would consume most of that night and the next day to complete. If Alison implemented the fix without getting permission would her motivation and intent be pure? Yes, she wanted to fix the application so her company would get the big sale. Would it be harder for her to get permission to implement the fix than to ask for forgiveness the next day? Yes, given getting permission was almost impossible and implementing the fix had little room for failure.

Now for scenario two. Mark wanted to take the direct flight the following week on his sales trip. It was Friday and he was waiting for his customer to confirm the date and time of the meeting, so he had not booked his flight yet. His boss had left early for an extended weekend vacation, but was available via cell phone as usual. When the meeting was confirmed by his customer Mark checked out the availability and pricing of flights and found that the non-stop flight was twice the cost of the connecting flight. Company policy required Mark to get approval from his manager before booking the more expensive flight. If Mark booked the direct flight would his motivation and intent be pure? No, he wanted the direct flight regardless of the cost incurred. Would it be harder to get permission than ask forgiveness when the airfare was reviewed? No, his manager was available via cell phone all weekend long.

Next time, relax a little more when you find yourself in one of these situations. Ask the two questions and answer them honestly. It may do you more good than harm to break the rules.


  1. Chuck van der Linden04-30-10

    You should give credit where it’s due. From one of the great pioneers of our industry:

    RADM Grace M Hopper

    “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”

  2. Ben Snyder05-04-10

    Thanks for raising the fact that RADM Grace M Hopper was the first person to speak the phrase “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” I was aware of this but chose not use her specific phrase and give her credit for it. While the phrase is very provocative it is not realistic. The intent of the blog post was to give people the guidelines to identify when asking for forgiveness would be better than seeking permission. That is why I went with “You’ve heard it said that electricity follows the path of least resistance, so why shouldn’t this principle apply to our decision making too?” as the leading phrase. Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment on it.

    And yes, she was one of the greatest pioneers of our industry and was Leslie Matthies, the founder of our company, Systemation.

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