Dont Ask Permission

If you won't like the answer to your question, don't ask (see BairsLaw). Act confidently. Those who would deny you permission may well leave you be. Some may even reward you for your initiative and leadership.

Not to be confused with "Never ask permission" or "Always break the rules." Use sparingly and with a generous helping of good sense.
Can be considered an AntiPattern or DarkPattern. Any takers for formatting as a pattern?

The aphorism is: "It is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission."

Individual initiative generates good results. Colleagues bond best when they trust that each will act appropriately without lengthy arguments and consultation. (CollectiveCodeOwnership is an example.) Demonstrating ability to make good decisions will often garner respect and admiration.

Sometimes this is the only way to get things done. By acting, you create inertia that the uncertain are unwilling to interrupt.

Often, the only way to effectively demonstrate that a rule needs to be changed is to break it and let people see the results. This allows change to be judged on its concrete results rather than by abstract fears. The caveat: you have to succeed and the results must be recognizable as success to the stakeholders. Nobody argues with success.

Doing things without first getting permission is what that EmPowerment buzzword is supposed to be all about. Empowerment fails when employees are FraidyCats: too timid to make decisions on their own or to take responsibility for the consequences. Many managers would be pleased to have subordinates stop treating them like surrogate parents who can make all the scary things go away.


This can backfire if deference is not paid to powerful people. You may lose allies and gain enemies. You also risk losing the trust of your colleagues and customers, which may be more valuable than short-term success.

There is no way to CoverYourAss with ManagerialCoverFire. You can't hide behind BlameAvoidance mechanisms. Doing unauthorized work or breaking rules may be grounds for dismissal or may be illegal. Be prepared to accept full responsibility. This could be a CareerLimitingMove or CareerTerminatingMove.

Remember, TheyreJustRules. If there is a sanction against something that you know needs to be done, a more constructive action is to illuminate the conflict and eventually loosen or eliminate the sanction, not act outside the sanctioning body. Activities that undermine cooperation undermine an organization's ability to succeed.

There has to be an AntiPattern here. There are many rules that are routinely broken because obeying them would be counterproductive to everybody, including those creating and enforcing the rules. This causes disrespect for the rules (and the rulers), confuses the newbies until they understand which rules to obey and which ones to break, and often the managers and leaders think that these rules are helping out because the only time they see them being broken is when things go wrong (after all, if things aren't going wrong, they're liable to let you do your job). When a rule is counterproductive to the people who make the rule, they need to be aware of that. While this applies at the government level, it's easier to act on at the corporate level.

If you fail without official sanction, forgiveness is rare. If success is uncertain, ask permission first.

Not asking permission can lead to unprincipled behavior.

The concept can be easily twisted into work avoidance. Time-consuming features are omitted without "asking permission" and turn out to be critical to a project's success.

However, it is the lack of principles -- rather than permission -- that leads to unprincipled behavior. The implication is that without blessing, subordinates will act irresponsibly or reprehensively. An unprincipled person may seek and gain permission for unprincipled behavior. A principled person will act properly even when unsupervised. People believe authority can control the unprincipled, but often it only forces one to be sneakier.

Know your manager. Whether one can get away with it depends heavily on the manager. Sometimes a little barter might work. "I'll pull some overtime and finish project X by date Y if you let me clean up the Z."
The "don't ask permission" mantra also refers to "EasierToAskForgivenessThanPermission?" (EAFP), which is attributed to GraceHopper. -- MicahElliott?
See: TheSecretOfPower, SilenceImpliesConsent, ActBoldly

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