A Plea For Corporate Disobedience

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- 6 min read

The world of work is in stark need of a revolution. The way we work is outdated, broken, and fundamentally flawed. Only a handful of people seem to be engaged at work, while at the same time, large amounts of employees are burned-out, disengaged or miserable at work. The required revolution in the way we work is not going to happen by itself, so it becomes about time to take a firmer stand against the broken way most organization are run. It’s time for corporate disobedience.

We fall prey to social pressure

As human beings, we easily fall prey to social pressure. We want to adapt ourselves to our social environment to not stand out from the rest. It is therefore that we tend to conform ourselves to the social norms of the group we belong to. The video below is as humorous as it is painful in that it shows how strong this desire to conform actually is.

The same thing happens when we join an organization. We rapidly tend to conform to the social norms of the workplace and the colleagues in it. At the same time, we subconsciously stop listening to our common sense and start doing things that we might not actually like to be doing. It’s one of the reasons we do things “the way they’ve always been done” or because “it's just the way we do things around here”. This pressure to conform holds us back from being really innovative and being our true selves at work. Even worse, it holds us back from transforming our organizations into places we actually love to work in.

Time for corporate disobedience

To break conformity in the workplace and to challenge the status quo in the way work, a healthy dose of corporate disobedience is required. Corporate disobedience to stand up against the norm of demotivating and outdated workplaces across the globe.

1. Disobey rules that are unjust

In order to break free from the endless and often limiting rules and procedures in organizations, we must disobey the rules that we believe are unjust or unneeded. Many of the rules of today’s workplace have been implemented to provide the organization with a false sense of control or security. Disobeying such rules can be a strong symbol to the rest of the organization to change the things that are downright wrong.

Joost: "Before I quit my corporate job, I was a scientist working in advanced technology laboratories for high-tech research. We were doing lots of interesting stuff in our laboratory but spend most of our time reporting to our superiors. One time, frustrated with writing yet another report, I decided to count the amount of time those bureaucratic activities were taking us. I found out that we were spending 60% (!) of our time on writing reports or meetings about them. While we were spending so much time on reporting it struck me that we never got any feedback on it from our superiors.

So after one year of reporting, I decided to add a sentence to every page of the report, saying: "If you read this, please give me a call on [phone number], so we know somebody is reading this.". Nobody ever called me, and I wasn't fired. From that moment it was clear to me that nobody was ever reading them, so I decided to start hand in the same information time after time.

2. Ask for forgiveness, not permission

Trying new things, even if they're not 100% approved, can have a highly liberating effect. Follow your gut feeling, your instincts, and your common sense to do what you think is right. Go ahead and try new things, even if the status quo does not allow these things to happen. In such cases, it's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

Asking for forgiveness rather than permission speaks to the heart of many of our Bucket List pioneers. A great example is Frank van Massenhove, chairman of the Belgian Federal Office of Social Affairs, who fooled his superiors during his job interviews. He fooled them because he knew he wouldn’t get the job by telling them that he wanted to leave all decisions up to his employees. To make sure he got the job, he told them he was going to lead the organization in a traditional control-and-command style (as they wanted to hear).

In reality, Frank had completely different ideas about creating a successful workplace. He desired to give extreme amounts of freedom and responsibility to his employees; he trusted them to make better decisions than himself. Once he got the job, he started doing things his own way. Only after a couple of years (and after having created a highly engaging and productive workplace) he started to share the rebellious new way of working within the top leadership of the government. At the time they were informed it was already too late (and too successful) to go back to the traditional command-and-control way of working.

3. Team up

A revolution won't come from just one person. Try to find like-minded people around you to team up with. Challenging the status quo and standing up against social norms can be a daunting task. But it will become less daunting when you do it together with like-minded rebels. Teaming up makes it also easier to strengthen the movement, to recruit new allies, and to build momentum. The bigger and stronger the movement, the harder it becomes for the rest of the organization to ignore it.

4. Go public

Going public is another crucial ingredient to a successful corporate disobedience campaign. Talk about it whenever you can, and don’t be shy to leverage the power of technology and social media. Because to be able to influence the corporate agenda, it’s important that as many people as possible know about the existence of the campaign and about what it tries to accomplish. We've seen this happen successfully during, for example, the bottom-up revolution at e-commerce company bol.com.

Fight for your cause

The highly needed workplace revolution is already under way. To further influence the change that organizations are making in breaking down their old-fashioned and demotivating structures, rules and procedures, there is a strong need for more corporate disobedience. Such open, public, and non-violent action emphasizes the need for a radical change in the way organizations are run. With lots of people being disengaged, demotivated, burned-out, or depressed from work, it's time to fight for the cause of creating better work. It's time that we put an end to frustrating work environments, for once and for all. It's time for corporate disobedience.

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