In a recent job interview, my personality was assessed by the interviewer, using a pretty boring 90-question test. Turns out that the profiling of my personality seemed pretty accurate after all, unless this works the same as astrology, which mostly works by being general enough to please everyone.

One interesting thing in my profile was a big 0 for respect and support of my hierarchy. That sounds about right. My point of view is that there is no point supporting your hierarchy if they’re doing something stupid or wrong.

Then I remembered Narelle and I arguing with Narelle’s mum about how one should soft-boil eggs, and how laundry should be hung. Basically Narelle has developped a fairly complicated timing process for egg cooking, while her mum sticks by the 3 minute rule. Meanwhile, I was hanging laundry in a way that used half as many pegs as her method, and she argued it wouldn’t dry as fast. In both cases, her main argument was that that was the way she’d done it for 40 years, so it can’t be bad. In both cases, she’s wrong: eggs are bigger these days, and 3 minutes in boiling water won’t cook the white. Underwear doesn’t need to be all lined up to dry.

This brings me to my point: respect for authority hinders innovation. By definition, to innovate, one must put old assumptions in the bin in the hope of building something better. This involves criticising your elders’ knowledge. The strange thing is that it should be a natural process: obviously if we’d always listened to our elders and trusted their experience without ever questionning it, we’d still be painting hands on cave walls. (caves? what caves? Back to the tree!).

This has implications in the business world. An engineer that does not question its hierarchy’s views will not be able to innovate: at best he’ll implement his manager’s vision. So a company that is looking for innovative people, should actually look for people who do not respect authority.

Now, there might be an interesting development of this in that the bigger companies are built with a stronger emphasis on authority (it becomes harder to procure stuff, it becomes harder to just set up a small server on the side, basically everything becomes forbidden). The amount of innovation that happens in a big company is usually a fraction of that that happens in a small company, which has a more relaxed, flexible approach to authority.

Don’t believe me: you’d be thinking under my authority!