The Art of Intelligent Disobedience

Would you accept company policies and procedures that are counter-productive without making an effort to turn things around?

Would you abide strictly by the rules of the organization without question even if they were to the long-term detriment of the customer and the organization?

Would you dive into implementing the generally accepted solution even though the situation calls for a different approach and some independent thinking?

If you answered no to any of these, then you’re familiar with Intelligent Disobedience - disobedience with purpose.

Life as a business analyst involves working in teams, with senior management or people that have authority over you. There will be occasions when you disagree with them.

One popular example of a logical fallacy is the belief that an argument from authority is always true. In reality however, the fact that a person is highly placed does not mean their claims are always true. This is where learning to “disobey intelligently” comes in handy.

If you know for certain that a certain position is wrong, the last thing you want to do is “do what you were told to do” for the simple reason that you were told to do it. If your decision to follow suit backfires and it becomes evident that you had knowledge that could have saved the company millions (in sunk costs) or saved them from embarrassment, you will look bad, to put it mildly.

I’m not advocating that people disobey laid down rules and regulations or discard processes – these are certainly crucial in organizations and are there to prevent chaos and constant firefighting. The point is, there are some situations or projects in which current ways of working, popular opinions, laid-down rules & regulations, recommended processes or proposed recommendations on the way forward can be improved. Such situations call for independent thinking and intelligent disobedience.

The case of a guide dog leading its blind master is a popular analogy here – A dog with intelligent disobedience will disobey an instruction that puts his master in danger, even if the instruction is from the master.

So, how do you practise intelligent disobedience without getting your fingers burnt?

The art of intelligent disobedience is one that is delicate enough to deserve this caveat:

You must have facts and figures to support your argument. It is not enough to know something is wrong. Show evidence that the direction you are proposing is the right way to go. Don’t present an emotional response that suggests your arguments are based solely on intuition or feelings.

The intelligent disobedience path can be quite unpopular and lonely. To succeed, you will need to tread softly and present your case with: 

·      Confidence, backed by facts

·      Wisdom

·      Alliances

·      Sensitivity to the opinions of others

If for example, you know that a proposed solution will not fulfill the needs of the organization, use the skill of intelligent disobedience to raise the issue with management without coming off as a pessimist or someone who is simply not interested in working.

The more you progress with a project, the more difficult it becomes for decisions to be reversed since numerous resources would have been scheduled and expended. If you notice the business is headed in the wrong direction, make sure your voice is heard. Even if the business forges ahead and does not accept your recommendation, you would have done your bit.

Pick your battles wisely.