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Correcting bad decisions with intelligent disobedience
“Daddy, you can’t cross when the traffic light is red!” she said while sitting in her stroller. I crossed an intersection when I brought my youngest daughter to daycare this morning. I saw no cars from any direction and decided to cross the street while the light was red.
“You’re right,” I said. “But I looked carefully and decided it was safe to cross the street.” She continued, “But if you do that, you get a fine, right?” I responded, “Yes, you might indeed.”
Some will argue this was bad parenting. I showed her I would sometimes disobey the rules. And consequently, I will have increased the risk that she, one day when I’m not around, might put herself in a dangerous situation because she might mimic what I just did.
And while I don’t disagree, I believe I also taught her another vital lesson.
The first time I heard about that concept was in the context of an assistance dog. When assisting a blind person and they give an instruction to cross the street, the dog MUST refuse to move when it would put the person in a dangerous situation.
This concept is powerful when translated to the workplace.
Bob McGannon and Denise DeCarlo stated “Intelligent disobedience in a business context is the ability to counter management directions or instructions and suggest improvements while defending the integrity of business requirements and organizational goals.”
In other words — always try to do the right thing, despite the instructions.
I’ll go a step further. As long as we have management hierarchies, we need intelligent disobedience. Why?
Management hierarchies suffer from information asymmetry. The manager sending the instruction often doesn’t have the complete picture of what’s going on lower down or how their decision might affect the day-to-day work of the people involved.
Intelligent disobedience is a self-correcting mechanism of this inherent management flaw.
If the purpose is clear, and people understand the implications of following or breaking a rule, they should be breaking the rules if they don’t make sense. Right?
If more people would do this, it would create a better customer experience and improve business results.
What do you think?
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