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Ask forgiveness, not permission (venturehacks.com)
37 points by swohns on Feb 11, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments

Sheesh, guys. If you take every single piece of advice you read on a blog as a black-and-white gospel that you should never, ever disobey, then I fear for your ability to create.

Ask for forgiveness is to prevent you getting stuck into analysis-paralysis (as much as it grosses me out using business-speak like that, the term fits).

The top comment here as of now, about exposing a firm to $5b worth of risk?

C'mon... Do really think anybody is actually advocating that?

A lot of the time, using absolutes is pointless and irritating.

This is one of those things which sounds great, implies 'get it done' kind of people, and can have profoundly bad outcomes. Engineer testing auto-image-upload from a friends phone. Bad idea. Creating a release system where everything you copy into a magic directory, goes to the web, bad idea. Both sought forgiveness, both got fired. California being a 'right to work' state and all.

Asking permission might not be the right answer but checking your ideas out definitely beats just going for it.

There is not enough context to judge each action (ie such moves could be bad in specific markets with lot of red tape)

However, by default I'd say there are great ideas, and if they got the boot for asking forgiveness, maybe it's a good thing for your friends - as it it's better to be working where one's value is recognized, than at a company digging its own grave in the midst of a lack of feature, lack of ambition and lack of insight.

Every single company under the sun says that they follow this practice. But the reality is that very few companies actually follow through. Even startups who swear up and down they give their engineers complete control over what they build.

>But the reality is that very few companies actually follow through. Because asking your customers to pay you for a product/service when you also expect them to be your testers is going to lose you a lot of customers long-term in most markets. If something doesn't work consistently, or they are constantly finding new issues they will simply find another company to work with. Not to mention, by letting people push whatever they want to production and waiting for a customer to report issues you are counting on people to actually submit bug reports & not just ignore/abandon the issue.

Developers shouldn't have this kind of control unless your product is for developers. I say this as a developer.

The article mentions it only works if you hire insanely smart people, but that's also not a sufficient condition. You can have really amazing programmers, but if they don't have a strong understanding of your demographic and your goals, they're not "smart" in the way that's most relevant to this particular sort of decision.

I also dislike the phrase to begin with. Asking forgiveness rather than permission is often more effective, but that doesn't mean it isn't also irresponsible and a breach of trust. In an environment that doesn't claim this sort of non-regulation (i.e. most of them), if your integrity sells for the value of one commit and the risk of breaking or misdirecting your employer's project, you have more fundamental problems than potential bugs in production.

If you have the freedom to make decisions, you also have the responsibility of being correct.

I'm not sure of the full intentions of the article nor your comment, but I think you may have missed a major point here. The article does not seem to argue that insanely smart people know all the right answers; instead it argues that insanely smart people have a pretty good idea when something is a bad idea, and will be the type of person who works out the right answer prior to pushing it live. That said, the other cases is covered as well...

Actually, mistakes are fine. They’re something you trade off for other variables like speed of iteration.

One problem I have with your second quote is that "speed of iteration," like intelligence of employees, is not in and of itself enough to make the result good for the product. The latter requires that the employees understand the target audience and their needs. The former requires that your iterations are moving in a direction that satisfies your target demographic, and if it doesn't, this isn't just not beneficial: Your speed of iteration becomes directly detrimental to the product.

This policy only works if you hire insanely smart and capable people, and let go of the ones who are not.

Yet another pretentious startup blogger. I am insanely smart and capable, yet for anything beyond a cute web app, I don't think you should use users as a debugging tool

Right, the problem is most people who claim to do so NEVER ask for forgiveness...

OTOH I don't accept he sentence but that is a different question.

Indeed. Most of the time, it seems to me like it appeals to the people who read it as "Ask grudging resignation, not permission".

The article mentions it (briefly) but it's probably worth noting: Valve's a living example of success using this model. These guys went from zero to I-own-the-software-industry (both in development and distribution) in a breeze!

Employees get to pick their own projects: their work model is based around self-gathered work groups. Got an awesome idea? Go make a group, gather fellow employees and DO IT! The company is so centered around this fact that employee's desks have wheels so they're easier to move around.

Okay, this is just anecdotal evidence and they might just be the luckiest company ever, but they managed to pull the trick and it would be dumb to overlook their success.

Here's a cool handbook for new Valve employees if you want to take a deeper look at how Valve works:


Without controls in place, let's see how much "forgiveness" you receive from the SEC and Sarbox enforcers when things go awry and shareholders lose out.

Venture Hacks blog is back? Oh... I hope so!

Would love HN wisdom! We're using Twitter to build an NLP app, and everyday we're wondering if they will just pull the plug on us. We have a friend at Twitter in Ops: ask permission or forgiveness?

The underlying question of your comment is whether this is a stable business model. You already indicate that Twitter has the ability to disrupt/shutdown your service, which puts you in a difficult situation to build something of value. If you are ever wildly successful and dependent on one platform, then that platform will extract value from you or replace you. Consider this a rule, not a guideline, because it always makes business sense for the platform to do that. Recent examples include Zynga paying the Facebook "tax," Craigslist effectively shutting down PadMapper, and the slew of Twitter 3rd party apps that have been crippled by limited/revoked access.

Re: Don't fuck around.

Ask forgiveness, not permission

Dear Board of Directors, During the past few weeks I have been engaging in unauthorized trading. I bet that the Euro would weaken drastically, hoping to make the company at least $4.6 Billion. Instead, we're 5 billion down, as the situation changed.

I was going to ask for permission to use all that cash to trade, but I read on a blog that I should ask for forgiveness, after the fact. So, forgive me.

This is also very tricky interpersonal advice. I used to tell college students not to ask for permission, but only for forgiveness. Then realized that this could be construed as advocating date rape.

The policy is not about always getting forgiveness, it's about asking for it when you can realistically expect it to be granted. A company employing that policy should also be very clear about what acts you'll never get forgiveness for, and that would of course include breaking the law like in the parent's (obviously exaggerated) example.

BS, they are essentially asking people to take the risk, if it works they benefit a great, if it backfires, they'll issue a press release disavowing you.

Remember, a hacker is not Google or Apple to get away with book scanning ("ask us nicely to remove scans of your books") or location tracking.

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