Intelligent Disobedience

Yesterday, while driving through the Blue Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, I caught a radio interview with someone who trains German Shepherd dogs to become Seeing Eye dogs, dogs that guide the blind. An important part of the training, she explained, is to teach the dogs "intelligent disobedience."

Intelligent disobedience means that the dog must learn not only when to obey the commands of the blind person, but when to disobey commands that might put their owner in danger.

What a wonderful concept.

I later found out, via Google search, that the concept has been adopted by some in the field of Project Management (or example, here, and here) as a way to combat scope creep and other PM ills. How well it is practiced is another matter entirely.

Seems to me that this concept has wide application. For instance, parenting. Good parents probably teach this skill unknowingly. Sooner or later, little kids learn to say "no" and refuse commands, usually to the parents' chagrin. But it's an important, potentially life-saving ability.

Another application is supervisory management development. While there has long been a tradition of teaching supervisors how to effectively handle insubordination on the part of workers, perhaps there should be a counterpoint that focuses on intelligent disobedience? In some scenarios (such as where safety is paramount), it could save lives.

And perhaps the ultimate application is in the field of organization development, where leaders are attempting to build a highly adaptive and successful organization. Unless the organization has a way to overcome its own blindness and detect a real and present danger, it may get run over.

An organizational learning process that teaches intelligent disobedience, and a corporate culture that supports it, will help bolster organizational effectiveness.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 1/4/07


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Nimmy said…
What this post brings to my mind is the concept of teaching people to think rather then giving them solutions...

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