Thoughts on Creative Disobedience

I recently returned from a fantastic trip to South Africa where I was able to give a talk on Intelligent Disobedience at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, experience the awesomeness of nature in Kruger National Park, tour Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he served in prison, and visit the Jewish Museum and Holocaust Memorial, which is a painful reminder of the importance of Intelligent Disobedience.

I have also been thinking a lot about cultures of Creative Disobedience. Creative Disobedience is the highest expression of Intelligent Disobedience. It requires us to disobey our own set ways of thinking and doing, which is prerequisite for making real breakthroughs. See below for tips on how you can create this culture in your workplace and voluntary organizations.


  1. Identify likely risks & opportunities related to your organization’s mission.
  2. Brief people on the four phases in questions of obedience: cooperation, strain, divergence, and divergence amplification.
  3. Impress that the earlier individuals overtly question, the more likely they will think for themselves.
  4. Intelligent Disobedience can be done politely, but prepare people to act assertively when necessary.
  5. Establish a norm that when told policy forbids doing something innovative, individuals check the relevant policies themselves.
  6. Develop simulations to teach Creative Disobedience.
  7. Build into orientation & development programs the elements of Creative Disobedience.
  8. As leaders, remain supportive when individuals display Intelligent Disobedience in service to the organization’s values, even if outcomes are imperfect.
  9. Value & encourage the creative use of Intelligent Disobedience to counteract a culture descending into learned helplessness.
  10. Reward committed perseverance when working to correct unacceptable situations or to find better ways of achieving worthy goals.

Thoughts on Creative Disobedience
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