By William Wiley, October 18, 2017
Here’s a little quiz to demonstrate the difference between the private sector world and the world of bureaucratic government employment:
When confronted with the question, can you do X, you look for:
- Some authority that says you can do X.
- Some prohibition that says you cannot do X.
We get this sort of question here at FELTG once or twice a month. An inquisitive practitioner who has been through one of our training programs will say something like, “In the webinar yesterday, you said we should do blah-blah-blah. Do you have a case on point that says that blah-blah-blah is legal?”
Many times, our response is, “No, there’s no authority that says specifically that you can do blah-blah-blah. However, blah-blah-blah is a logical extension of the current case law, and there’s nothing that says you cannot do blah-blah-blah.”
Even though we don’t always hear back, I bet this is what’s going on in some minds when they read our response:
Oh, Mr. Bill. I’m so afraid. You haven’t given me anything that says specifically I CAN do blah-blah-blah. What if I were to do it and it turns out I don’t have the authority to do it? I’m so scared.
Well, pucker up your frightened little lips and kiss my sweet advice. Textbooks that criticize government often point out that whereas in the private sector an individual gets rewarded for doing new and creative things (e.g., the iPhone), in a bureaucracy an individual gets rewarded for not making mistakes (where some government agencies might still be using rotary dial telephones if we let them). Rather than ask, “Where does it say I can do that?” the better question is, “Does it say anywhere that I cannot do that?”
Make this change to your approach in how to do your job, and your world will be more fun and creative, and just might be good for America. I can’t imagine my end coming and being post-mortem happy that they wrote on my tombstone, “At least he didn’t make many mistakes.”
If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. Rather than look for guidance, look for opportunity. Wiley@FELTG.com