The Intelligent Disobedience of a Badass Business Analyst

As a Badass Business Analyst, I am keenly aware that there are always going to be difficult conversations to be had, opportunities to be seized, monumental influencing efforts to undertake, and times where I simply need to go against the grain or broach a difficult topic.  I might just have to disobey normal conventions.  We are about to have one of those “moments”.  Have you intelligently disobeyed your leader or your organization lately?  One can argue that if you are not actively and intelligently disobeying on a regular basis you are not progressing, evolving, and helping out your organization.

Now before you answer quickly, rage against, or praise the question and/or the concept, let’s level set a few things…  let’s answer the questions of what is a Badass Business Analyst and what is Intelligent Disobedience?

A Badass Business Analyst is someone whose moral compass always guides them to do the right thing for the people, the project, and the organization maximizing business value.  Someone who uses their knowledge, skill and experience to call bullshit on entitlement, and speak truth topower because they give a damn.

What is Intelligent Disobedience?  Technically, Intelligent Disobedience is where a service animal trained to help a disabled person goes directly against their owner’s instructions in an effort to make a better decision.  Why don’t we break this down for how a human might interpret and apply it?  “Intelligent” means the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills as well as having the capacity for thought and reason, especially to a high degree.  “Disobedience” is a failure or refusal to obey rules or someone in authority.  They seem to work against each other but actually fit together like warm cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.  “Intelligent Disobedience” is understanding that you should disobey instructions, authority or other influences to make a better decision.  When you combine that with the “Badass” mentality, Intelligent Disobedience is: A Business Analyst who is willing and able to disobey authority, break rules, or go against the status quo when they know it is the right thing to do for the people, the project, or the organization.  But is that easy to do?  No, but when you are successful it feels like warm cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.  Tart, sweet, and soothing - it just tastes so right (and yes, insert your own flavor of pie and ice cream for the full experience)!

A lot can get in the way of breaking the rules or going against authority.  Most people have been taught early on that Disobedience is simply not tolerated.  For example: disobeying my father was not a smart thing to do.  He took a belt to me once, just once, and thereafter it was the threat of the 2x4.  No, I am not kidding!  Disobedience in his world was the last straw and if he sensed you were about to disobey he would run out to the garage, come marching into the house with the 2x4 in hand yelling “Do you want this!?  Are you sure!?”  For the record, I never got hit by the 2x4.  It was the threat that kept me in line.  My mother though had her own methods; which was a bar of soap and a washcloth - for everything (which I can still taste to this day - thanks mom).  Despite that upbringing of the fear of the 2x4, I have still recognized that disobeying can be good in organizations where rules, processes, and decisions simply do not make sense.  For some organizations, disobeying a leader could be a CLM (career limiting move) which is a lot like that 2x4!  Judging when you can break the rules or disobey a leader is not always readily apparent and much thought should go into this decision.

Intelligent disobedience is not about extremism.  You do not simply jump off a cliff because no one else has.  You never compromise the principles and values of your organization, nor do you withhold communication from your leaders.  It does not mean you argue just to argue, be a random rule-breaker or be disruptive and sabotage.  One could argue that you can indeed disagree with the principles and values of an organization but ultimately, they are paying you to uphold those values and add to their collective whole.  What you should be arguing and disobeying is whether or not what you are actually working on supports those values and goals of the company.  

Intelligent disobedience is about dealing with conformist views, challenging the fallacy that your leader or people you work with are always right, ensuring you are a critical thinker, and when no one else can see the answer make a decision for the right reasons.  Please keep in mind when I say you should “challenge the fallacy that your leader or people you work with are always right.”, this is not a disrespectful view.  This is a realistic view that everyone is challenged with making difficult decisions and we should not assume that those decisions are always right.  When all is said and done, intelligent disobedience is not exactly something that will be easy to do for some of us, even if we are Badass Business Analysts!  Here are some ways to help you be ready to be intelligently disobedient.

  • Determine is it fact or opinion?  Don’t let your mental model of what you think something is become truth without verifying.  This is where you will learn to be a better critical thinker.  A lot of things come out of peoples mouths where the truth is stretched, manipulated in some fashion, or clearly not present.  A critical thinker will question fairly to break down statements to validate and verify. 
  • Trust then verify.  Do not blindly trust - not even your subject matter experts.  Yes, our SMEs work very hard and they have a tremendous amount of knowledge that they are entrusted with.  Knowledge that they are expected to manage with accuracy.  However, our subject matter experts also know things by muscle memory and rote.  They know it but they may not be able to readily recall all of it; they have a lot of tacit information.  Trust them initially, then verify the accuracy.  It is an intelligent decision to not take things on blind faith which a lot of people do.  In order to disobey you need facts and they need to be correct facts.  Hey - did you catch that you should determine if the statement “our SMEs work very hard” is a fact or opinion?  
  • Separate yourself from the “yes” crowd.  You know what I am talking about right?  Conformists are a dangerous group to be around, and honestly, they inhibit a company from progress.  Do not agree just to agree regardless of the pressure being put on you.  You can walk away and make an informed decision later.  I was once at a client site where I watched an entire group agree with the sponsor as they forced their idea down everyone’s throats.  Everyone was too afraid to say no.  When it came to me I said no.  The response?  “Bob the BA?  I will remember you.”  I knew they were headed for failure but were not ready to make the commitment for change.  I was fighting too many “yes men”.  I intelligently disobeyed and started working on the solution without approval because I knew this was going to be a timing thing.  A few weeks later when they came to their senses everything was ready to go.  Yes, they did remember Bob the BA but not because I disagreed.  
  • If you think it has to be done that way rethink it!  Challenge yourself.  Reflect on how you thought about things during the day.  Could you do it differently?  I spend a lot of time reflecting on my “sins” of the day.  Areas where I could have made a difference by speaking up or simply doing and asking for forgiveness later because I knew I was right and could back it up.  I don’t dwell on my missed opportunities too much.  I simply need to reflect, recognize and resume the journey.  
  • Learn to live with saying “no” comfortably.  So not an easy thing to do!  Most of us live in a world where we say YES!  It is a service attitude, a pleasing mentality.  What if we looked at saying no as a service to our company?  The idea that “no” means we are potentially saving the company money, improving processes, and removing roadblocks which is a great thing! 

At the end of the day, a Badass Business Analyst needs to be intelligently disobedient because we care and we know that it is the right thing to do.  Don’t go crazy and start saying no to everything.  Take a step back and recognize what is the right thing to do.  There is certainly a lot more to say on intelligent disobedience, and certainly a lot more lessons to be learned about its effectiveness.  I am betting there are a lot of people out there that have had great success and likely some failure with being intelligent disobedient.  Experience is a great way to learn - want to share how you have been intelligently disobedient?