Bruna Martinuzzi, Intelligent Disobedience (excerpts)
I once worked for a technology company that encouraged employees to practice what they called “Intelligent Disobedience.” The concept originates from Seeing Eye dogs: while dogs must learn to obey the commands of a blind person, they must also know when they need to disobey commands that can put the owner in harm’s way, such as when a car is approaching.
Intelligent disobedience is not about setting out to be disagreeable or arbitrarily disobeying rules for its own sake. Rather, it is about using your judgment to decide when, for example, an established rule actually hinders your organization, rather than helps it. The antonym of intelligent disobedience is blind conformity. Conformity smooths our day’s journey at work. Conformity, however, can have its downsides. It saps creativity for one, and it is, in John F. Kennedy’s parlance, “the enemy of growth.”
Here are some ideas to inspire you and others in your team to establish a culture that values intelligent disobedience:
Consider the benefits of decentralizing some of the decision-making in your unit. If you are used to making all the decisions, allow those closest to the customer the flexibility to make appropriate decisions on the spot, as for example, to right a wrong, even if the decision is contrary to some established rule of the organization. This places the value where it should be—on customer satisfaction rather than on lockstep adherence to the process—but it also places value on team members by giving them the authority to bend the rules when necessary.
Catch yourself if you habitually insist on “going by the book.” Ask yourself: Is this necessary for every issue? Might you enhance your team’s productivity if you paid more attention to the restraining effect that this could have on the people involved? What would happen if you built some elasticity in your rules, if you allowed others to apply standard procedures more flexibly?
Barry Rand of Xerox, quoted in Colin Powell’s A Leadership Primer: “. . . if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant.”