"The American Revolution was not financed with matching grants from the crown,"
--David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear.
"Great change doesn't come with official endorsement. . . Change occurs at the edges, without permission."
--Patti Digh, Life is Verb
One thing I've noticed about organizational life is that job uncertainty tends to breed a culture where we seek permission for everything we do. The problem with this course of action, engaged in on a massive scale, is that we individually and collectively stop changing and adapting exactly at the time we need to do it the most.
In part we get stuck in permission mode because we tend to seek permission from those people in our organizations least likely to give it. We're talking to Finance and Legal and IT, departments made up of people who by both nature and training are more likely to say "no"--or who make getting to "yes" so painful that we give up halfway through.
This permission mentality also persists out of simple fear. When times are great and we screw up, it's more likely that all will be forgiven. When things turn sour, going out on a limb can be a way to lose your livelihood.
But here's the thing. Great change--the kind we need in times of uncertainty and disruption--does not come with a permission slip. It happens because a few brave souls take it upon themselves to be revolutionaries. They may start with small skirmishes on the edges of things, but as they experience success on the margins, they begin to gain a following that becomes a movement that becomes the change that is needed.
Change doesn't have to begin with large, bold movements. It can happen as a result of small steps, taken daily and with purpose. But you cannot wait for permission to take that first step. If you do, the journey may never begin.