Intelligent Disobedience – A New Phrase for When You Know You’re Right

I stumbled onto a new phrase recently that really resonates with me.  Intelligent Disobedience.  I love saying it. Say it out loud.  Doesn’t it give you a strange feeling?  Apparently, it’s the concept seeing eye dogs are trained around.  Something that dictates they behave against their owner’s instructions when they know it’s dangerous for the owner. 

As someone who’s specialized in selling software for the last 24 years, I can say that I have used this concept a lot of times when I’m dealing with corporate issues, especially those having to do with sales.  Companies have a huge vested interest in how their salespeople perform. Let’s face it, that’s the core income of the company. Without sales, there is no revenue, and thus no company.  Some companies can thrive without a sales team, but those aren’t the ones I associate with.  With that being said, you’d be amazed at the support staff that pops up to “help” us in our daily business.  But they don’t show up with our permission, or even our best interest in mind.  

Theory versus reality

These are people who have studied pipeline “theory,” and sales forecasting “theory,” and seem to have no goals in life except to make life more difficult for salespeople.  As a fast-growing company, we have a lot of change.  We have to operate on our instincts more often than I would care to, but at least I have experiences to draw on.  When people come in who have never sold software before and have never worked in our industry, I have to operate under the mode of intelligent disobedience.  I know that for our company, the best thing to do is to produce clean, profitable sales.  I say clean because a lot of salespeople will “do whatever it takes” to bring in a deal.  That means they make promises that put the company in bad situations.  Such as promising features that don’t exist and aren’t even being considered.  I don’t do that.  I sell what we have, and we do well, but with clean orders. 

But along the way, we get told how to do our jobs by people who have never sold a single thing.  It’s a bit surreal.  So I pick and choose my battles, knowing that at the end of the day, a clean $450,000 order will not be turned down, even if I may have not followed all the new rules being implemented by some new anti-sales person. 

There’s freedom in subversion

The idea of intelligent disobedience gives me the freedom to make the decisions that I feel are right for the company’s best interest.  With a solid concept behind me and a lot of documentation to back up the concept, I am building a foundation for me to get done what really matters – selling software.  There are days where I might get my hand slapped.  My boss might tell me, “You know you really should listen to…”  At that point, it’s important for me to explain why I had to break the rules.  I could just shrug and say, “I closed the deal.”  But that attitude doesn’t really help me much. It creates strife.  I want senior management (of which I am one) to fully understand that I chose to break rules because, in my opinion, this is a better move for the company’s long-term health than sticking to a formula on a spreadsheet. 

I guess when it comes down to it, I do enjoy breaking the rules a little bit when I know that what I’m doing will be right.  It’s a little bit subversive, and I find that I enjoy that behavior from time to time.  I like being able to prove that I do know what I’m doing. That’s probably my insecurities popping up, but I do find it a good way to prove to people that I’ve done all this before, and I do know how to accomplish goals. 

But beyond a strictly work environment, I really love the whole idea of “intelligent disobedience.”  It gives you a sense of freedom that you can make the right decisions if you deem it warranted and in the best interest of the situation.  It gives you a way out, in case you’re locked in by stupid rules and regulations.  You just proudly say, “I was exercising intelligent disobedience.”  I’m eager to see how people respond to that. 

I know better than you

People can be funny when you ignore their rules and then tell them that you did so because their rules are not in the best interest of the situation.  Basically, the whole concept allows you the freedom to tell someone that you know better.  That by being “intelligent” they are not as smart as you are.  It smacks of a slightly arrogant attitude that I seem to enjoy. That really doesn’t say much nice about my character.  I don’t really enjoy having to go against people.  I’m much more of a “go with the grain” type of person.  But when I know I’m right, and a head-on confrontation will not yield the results I want, this idea gives me hope.  I can employ willful, conscious disobedience with a logical backing and a solid concept that I can explain to the person I’m trying to get around.   

Now that I write that out, it does sound pretty arrogant.  But the situation is always one where you know you’re right, and you choose what’s right over some bullshit rule or regulation in the best interest of the situation.  I don’t like being arrogant, but I dislike more being pushed around by someone who doesn’t know their asshole from their elbow (That’s a Texas term).  At least in corporate America, it seems there are a lot of people who don’t have any basis for their knowledge.  It makes working in a fast-growing company a challenge, especially when you’re the guy who’s being pressured into bringing 50% of the company’s annual revenue.  It also gives me the power and clarity to make those decisions.  I really don’t like conflict, and this allows me to do what I believe to be right without having to overtly tell someone, “You’re wrong and you’re stupid.”  I just go about my business, prove that I was right, and then, if I’m challenged, explain that I did this because it was in the best interest of the company, not in my own best interest. 

Sure, it’s fun – but it’s the last resort

Make no mistake, being the guy who pisses off corporate drones and then rubs their faces in it, is not in my best interest.  The first time I’m wrong, or make a mistake will be the time they are all waiting on the sidelines for me to fail. They will pounce on me like lions on antelope.  That’s OK.  They don’t know what I know.  In terms of another of my favorite new phrases, I’m a producer, and they are all consumers.  Plus, if it all gets too much for me, I have an extensive network that would offer me a new job, with the same, or brand new, challenges and situations.  Everywhere I’ve been there seems to be this similar battle between those who get things done and those who get in the way.  Such is life.  At least now I have a concept I can hide behind and use to explain my behavior. 

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Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

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