Seek Forgiveness, not Permission

“If one asked permission there was a 50% chance it would be refused. If one just got on with it, 19 times out of 20 nothing was said.” – Chemical engineer Trevor Kletz, a pioneer in his field, on how he accomplished so much. (Credit: James Clear)

When discussing projects with my clients, I often recommend they seek forgiveness rather than permission when making certain decisions. Some examples:

  • If you ask your staff “What data do you need to collect for this process?” quite often they are going to give you a laundry list of data points that they “need.” I’ve seen membership applications that include dozens of questions that have nothing to do with actual membership.
  • If you ask staff “Do you still need this report?” they’ll most likely answer yes, even if the report itself hasn’t been touched for months or years!

It’s human nature not to want to throw anything away, “just in case I need it later.” But the reality is, in most cases, you can get rid of these things and no one will say a word.

The advice I give my clients is to simply remove the data points or the reports (or whatever it is) and see if anyone complains. More often than not, no one notices and life goes on. And if someone notices, just apologize (“Sorry, didn’t realize you were still using that”) and fix it and move on.

Asking for permission often leads to unfruitful discussions and bad answers. Seeking forgiveness allows you to move quickly and accomplish more things.

About Wes Trochlil

For a quarter century, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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