How Much of a Rascal Are You?

Make change without approval.

Published on

Around 2 minutes to read

A specific theme has been surfacing lately across many of my students and mentees. All of them have great ideas to improve their work situations that help their coworkers and colleagues. These ideas usually get shot down by a boss, manager, or client. My students ask me what they can do about this.

To which I reply, “How much of a rascal are you?”

For many, it’s important to know that they’re doing a good job at work. Doing a good job often means following a previously established standard. When you’re trying to change something, you’re actively subverting the current standard. Even further, you’re actively subverting the current standard in an attempt to abolish and replace it.

That means that, for a time, you won’t be doing a good job. In fact, you’ll be doing a bad job, on purpose, at least according to the current standard until a new standard gets implemented.

No manager in their right mind would give you permission to subvert the status quo, to intentionally do “a bad job.” It’s too risky to their jobs, unless of course they are rascals too.

How much tolerance do you have for knowing you’ll be doing “a bad job” when though you know you’re doing a good job? This is why many changemakers are people who are intrinsically motivated, not extrinsically motivated.

So, how do you change something if you don’t have the approval to do it? Do it anyway, but don’t tell anyone you’re doing it. Only share the results when your work is done.

This goes against the common wisdom of being a good direct report and colleague. You’re supposed to say what you’re going to do before you do it, do it, then say what you did. But that’s not what rascals do.

The key is not doing all of the work before you share it. That’s pragmatic; it’s not feasible to do months of work under the radar without your boss noticing. So only do the first 10% of it, enough to see some results. Then share it with your boss and ask for the resources, budget, time, space, whatever to continue earning results like this in a larger way.


To be a good rascal, don’t wait for permission to start. Get permission to keep going.

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