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Entrepreneur Tip: Don’t Ask Permission. Ask Forgiveness.

by Larry Chiang on August 15, 2011

Larry Chiang scandalously reveals how stuff really works and breaks it down. He edits the Bloomberg BusinessWeek channel “What They Don’t Teach You at Business School”. After Chiang’s Harvard Law keynote, Harvard Business wrote: “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School“ (its the same title as his NY Times bestseller). He is Entrepreneur in Residence at Stanford University. If you read his hilariously awesome “What a Supermodel Can Teach a Stanford MBA” and “How to Get Man-Charm”, you will like his latest post:

Entrepreneur Tip: Don’t Ask Permission. Ask Forgiveness.

By Larry Chiang

Asking for forgiveness (versus permission) is often a tip I have heard.

I hear them at keynotes and panels on entrepreneurship. The advice semi-motivates. The idea is to forge forward but there is RISK in having to ask for forgiveness. There is a risk of getting yelled at and embarrassed.

Well me and my controversial brand hardly gets yelled at. I break a lot of rules and didn’t have to ask for forgiveness or / and permission. This maneuver of Permission-Forgiveness is part of my Guacamole Recipe Series for Entrepreneurship. Guacamole is easy to make but hard to make in a legendary, award-winning fashion. I engineer guacamole recipes for entrepreneurs to beat the catch-22s of a startup.

Here are about 13 tactics broken down into 5 categories for how to “Don’t Ask Permission. Ask Forgiveness.”

-1- Align and Augment in a Value Added Way

I observe that there are 650 possible little details.

Designing a product launch in a new market?! 650 details.
Getting a new conference up?! 650 details
Investigating a murder as law enforcement?! Search 650 little details that the culprit needed to think through.

You are a genius and a hustler if you can think up of 400-425.

The saying, “There is always more you could do” is true because even a legendary and awesome thing only covers 425. There are still over 200 possible other things. This is your opportunity to not ask for permission to execute.

Align and augment by doing 30-35 of the over 200 possible other things for the entity that at best will execute 425 things.

For example, the GSB hosts an annual entrepreneurship mixer during Stanford Entrepreneur Week. It is really, really big and really really bad. After the two bad years, I decided to augment their event in a value added way by inviting 13 VCs. I called it the “Reverse VC Pitch (Sub) Party at GSB”. I asked for VCs to ‘sponsor’ and brought balloons to tie to the VCs wrists. I thought I’d add value by promoting the event to my VC friends to help them connect. I did not keep the PR and goodwill for myself but rather for a startup I was a fan of: Plancast — It was their first live event. I definitely did not ask for permission to hijack the GSB entrepreneurship mixer but provided added value for the party attendees and the VCs I roped into pitching and quasi-sponsoring (I did a rebate model where if the VC showed up, they got their money back).

What are the ‘650 things’ leads to the next point…

-2- Guestimate Agenda

I love the technique of brainstorming “Multiple Party Agenda Fulfillment”. The old way was win-win. In academia and b-school it works. In the real world, there are multiple parties that all need to win. Engineering a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win is possible when you start guestimating multiple parties and their multiple agendas.

For example, there was a new franchise in the making when the TechCrunch summer party was first at August Capital. I looked at their event and guessed that they were not going to have enough resources to produce a separate afterparty at a different venue. I also guessed that they might have sponsors that were wanting to get distribution for their message. Those people could sponsor and they would pay it directly to TechCrunch. The mulitple party agenda fulfillment component comes from brainstorming the potential parties involved and their agenda expanded HERE

-3- Prepare Countermeasures

You are going to be stepping on toes. Prepare countermeasures to those knee-jerk reactions.

There is a quote from TrueVentures conference.

‘Out of the 12,000 people there, only 200 people do all the coding and create the product. All the others are there to tell you why you can’t do what you want to do. None of those guys work for us.’”—Amit Kumar,

The bad news from the above example is that there are 11,800 wanting to pee on your parade. The good news is that most knee-jerk urination is not well thought through… Here are bullet points on specific reactions and the countermeasures required…

Pee Countermeasure
Terse Email – Open dialog. Be ok with communicating your 30-35 of 650 possible

Voicemail threat – Open dialog. Ask to be fired but not quite yet

General threat – Open dialog. Do above and give veto power

Meeting request – Open dialog. Meet on neutral ground and preview your full plan. Give credit and simiultaneously allow for plausible deniability

Legal threat – Open dialog. Remember a cease and desist is an opening negotiating position. They probably will love you when they realize you’re doing 30-35 things to augment their existing parade. The good news is that you’re gonna star in their next board meeting so you better start charming, preparing, countermeasuring, gathering up relationship capital and charming. I said charming 2x because its important.

Back channel threat – Open dialog but not too much. It’ll be along the lines of “As your friend, I am telling you…” Educate the back-channel communicator that you’re executing 30-35 things in a value added hijacking fashion. And that you’re open to feedback. And thank them for the back-channel communication

Preparing countermeasures goes a long way. You ask for forgiveness from a position of strength. Your hijack has momentum because you didn’t ask for permission. Here is how to get more momentum before you have to execute countermesures.

-4- Get Momentum Before You Ask Forgiveness and After Not Asking Permission

Not asking for permission allows you to do what others find so difficult: Execution.
Not asking for permission is best done if you know and understand the environment.
Not asking for permission gets you ahead with documented work that they can take credit for later. Be the point person in that effort.

My execution mentor, Jim Rohn, has my favorite quote… “No wonder they were successful… look at all they DID”

There is another quote: “The harder I work, the luckier I get”.

I recommend executing on the 30-35 so that you brainstormed. You and your startup are a snowball rolling down the hill. You are getting bigger and bigger. But make sure your getting big is stable versus leveraged. Stay balanced in your large-ness by…

-5- Transferring Power to the Host Organization.

In open field interrogation, I transfer power to people to see who they are. Open field interrogation is the opposite of waterboarding or closed room interrogation. Open field interrogation allows you to see what that organization does with power.

I seek to transfer power back to the host organization as a pre-emptive measure before I am forced to ask for forgiveness. An ounce of prevention may be worth of pound of cure, but an ounce of pre-emptive power transfer is worth a ton of relationship capital that can be used for getting forgiveness. Here is exactly how to pre-emptively transfer power.

Subject line forecasts, updates and previews — You are seeking to be transparent and open in your value added hijack

Ask to be fired — The best employee is one that you can steal the credit but also blame them if things go wrong. You will be this ‘best “employee”‘. You will be even better because you are temporary and they get the power because you “Asked to be fired (eventually)”

Give veto power — Presidents can shut down a bill. You give them veto power to cancel whatever you are working on.

Give power to line item veto — Dictators can line-item veto. A line-item veto allows them to have the ability to cancel the smallest of little things

Entrepreneurs — go out and gain a lot but not have to risk anything using these tips for “Don’t Ask Permission. Ask Forgiveness.” If there is a maneuver you want de-mystified, email me and I will concoct a guacamole recipe for you.

Entrepreneurship, promotion, launching a franchise, investigating murder all require execution of 650 little details.

Execution for both large and small organizations can take time. In not asking for permission, I start executing little details.

If you liked this…
Larry’s mentor Mark McCormack wrote this in 1983.
His own book came out 09-09-09. It is called ‘What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School

*** BONUS ***
a party invite for you…

This post was drafted in an hour and needs your edits… email me if you see a spelling or grammatical error(s)… larry@larrychiang com

Larry Chiang started his first company UCMS in college. He mimicked his mentor, Mark McCormack, founder of IMG who wrote the book, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School”.
Chiang is a keynote speaker and bestselling author and spoke at Congress and World Bank.

Text or call him during office hours 11:11am or 11:11pm PST +/-11 minutes at 650-283-8008. Due to the volume of calls, he may place you on hold like a Scottsdale Arizona customer service rep. If you email him, be sure to include your cell number in the subject line. If you want him to email you his new articles…, ask him in an email :-)

You can read more equally funny, but non-founder-focused-lessons on Larry’s Amazon blog .

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