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Forgiveness or Permission? How to avoid being an “inconsiderate jerk”

April 1st, 2014

One mantra of entrepreneurs is “beg for forgiveness, don’t ask for permission.” (For example, see Mark Suster’s post and VentureHack’s post.)

But many people are afraid to ask this way, or even more extremely, they take offense to this kind of behavior. Here’s a passionate plea against this mantra:

How would you feel if your spouse cheated on you, let you know afterwards, and asked for forgiveness? Sounds like a pretty inconsiderate and jerky thing to do, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better to ask for permission instead? Discuss what needs aren’t being met and how to make it better? Maybe figure out ways to improve the relationship as-is, maybe consider polyamory? By talking about it rather than acting first?

So are entrepreneurs just “inconsiderate jerks”, akin to cheating husbands?

The answer is: not really. In some cases, yes, but I’d like to offer a simple test. When you take your action without permission, is there a reasonable or plausible case for why the other person would find your action in their interest? You must consider the perspective of the other person, even if you don’t ask for permission first.

I fail to see how the cheating husband can pass this test. How is it possibly in his spouse’s interest for him to cheat? He is just trying to avoid the repercussions of his selfish action. You deserve the slings and arrows if you pursue this activity.

However, many entrepreneurs “bend” rules in ways that helps everyone. Google did not ask for permission to crawl everyone’s web pages, but the result benefits everyone, including web site owners, web users, advertisers and google. Google had a vision, and it would be impossible to get everyone’s permission in advance. And in theory, some might have been against it! (And a small number of newspapers and other sources have asked to have their content removed and Google obliges.) But the rest, as they say, is history.

As Venture Hack puts it:

We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it. Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome.

So now, go build something interesting and don’t be an inconsiderate jerk!

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