Freedom from Permission

by Alli Polin on July 5, 2013

freedom needs no permission for creativity or innovation

It’s Independence Day in the United States and barbecues, celebrations and fireworks will last throughout the long weekend.  Our family is excited to be home and it reminds our children that, despite the fact that they love Australia, they are American.  Even this morning our son woke up and exclaimed, “I love you, America!”

As I lay in bed in the early morning I began to reflect on what I love about America.  The first word that popped into my head was freedom.  While it’s a value that many of us would agree we hold dear, freedom means many things to different people.  I thought it’s time I got clear on what it means to me and I’d love to learn what it means to you. 

Here’s my definition of freedom for today:

Freedom is being self-directed free from the need to ask for permission to play with ideas, create change or experiment with innovation.

How often does the need for permission pop up in your life and leadership?

Personal requests for permission sound like:

  • I love this outfit but do I look fat in these pants?
  • I know that this necklace is really funky, is it too much for me to pull off?
  • I really want to go out with my friends.  Would you mind if I meet up with them on Sunday for brunch?
  • I’m starving!  Do you think I can step away for 15 minutes to grab lunch or will everything fall apart while I’m gone?

Professional requests for permission sound like:

  • Do you think I should bring up my idea at the next team meeting or is it too “out there?”
  • Can I go to the SVP directly because I know that they’ve been involved in this issue already or should I go through you?
  • I have all of my PTO days left for this year, would it be OK if I take off the Friday after the 4th of July?
  • I’m not wearing a suit today, can I still attend the last-minute client meeting since I’m lead on the project?

Ask yourself:

As a leader, how are you creating a culture of permission vs. one of creative energy?

As a parent, how are you giving your children the confidence to make decisions?

As a friend, how are you opinions transforming into “me too” choices?

As a partner, how are you balancing living your individual life and your shared life too?

As a project manager, how are you running the show? – by letting others run with the work or having to go through you to move forward?

As an adult child, how are you still looking to your parents to validate your career decisions?

As a coach, how often are you asking if it’s OK if you interrupt, ask a provocative question, or share an observation?

As a human being, how are you taking a stand for what’s right, willing to create ripples in service of creating a stronger tomorrow?

Freedom means many things and I encourage you to define it for yourself.  For you, is it about permission, ideas, creativity, innovation, or something else?

(Photo credit)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lalita Raman July 5, 2013 at 8:50 am

Good post as always Alli. Relevant questions.


Alli Polin July 5, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Thank you, Lalita! You are very skilled at sharing questions with us. Took a lead from you on this post!

Appreciate you!


Jon Mertz July 5, 2013 at 9:55 am

Excellent frame to freedom, Alli. It would be a great exercise to count the times we ask for permission in work and life. It would be a great sanity check on how caught we are in giving away our freedom to create and the type of environment we are working or creating.

We get caught up in the “political” moments and they can deafen so much creativity and innovation. Great questions outlined, which we need to consider and answer….

Thanks. Jon


Alli Polin July 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Jon – What a great suggestion – to count the number of times we ask for permission in a week. I’ll bet mine would be much higher than I imagine as I sit here thinking about it. We do give away our freedom much more often than we realize when we decide playing it small is a better option than taking a risk. Thank you for always giving me something new to consider!


Terri Klass July 5, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Loved your question and perspective of freedom, Alli! First, it might be so interesting for you and your kids to be here for July 4th, with one foot here and one foot in Australia. What an amazing adventure! Asking for permission seems so ingrained in all of us, whether we are aware we are doing it or not. I wonder if we could unteach ourselves to ask permission by just doing things that seem right. Then keep practicing not asking. Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin July 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Thanks for your feedback and insights, Terri! I think it’s the people pleaser in so many of us that comes out through our requests for permission. I love your question and it’s one I’m going to ponder: I wonder if we could unteach ourselves to ask permission by just doing things that seem right.

Thanks, Terri!


Johann Gauthier July 6, 2013 at 2:13 am

As always Alli your post brings a higher level of energy and creativity !
We’re all Americans aren’t we? We like you I celebrate our freedom and independence. In the end that’s what we should all care about and strive towards in life !
You exude leadership in so many ways as you often said to me I appreciate YOU and the how you bring your best self in every word that is written.
Enjoy the permission you give yourself every day for the rest of your life !
Appreciate you beyond imaginable words !


Alli Polin July 8, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Johann, Your passion always comes across in everything you write and your comment here is no different. Thank you! I actually also want to thank you for reinforcing that I give myself permission first and foremost. Permission to live my life with passion, purpose, creativity, and connection. You are appreciated, Johann!


Alice Chan July 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Alli, great topic! We do seek permission far more often than we realize. After all, we were trained since we were children to seek approval for our actions. And, at work, it’s an even more slippery slope because of established hierarchy. Perhaps, the trick is to seek feedback for our creative ideas to test potential reception without needing the feedback to be approving/disapproving of them. For instance, I had a colleague offer to be the sounding board for my ideas before they get presented. Since she has been around the org for a long, long time, and I’m new, she could help me see if I might need to broach certain things a bit differently. In other words, it’s about exercising freedom in such a way that can actually benefit everyone involved, instead of exercising freedom for the principle of it–which can be a slippery slope unto itself. Thanks again for this important and timely post on this Independence Day weekend, Alli!


Alli Polin July 8, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Alice – Greatly appreciate your example of how the freedom to express our thoughts and ideas still can exist even when we look to others to help us to shape them. It can be hard to find the confidence to stand by our ideas even with some potentially tough feedback that in your case is aimed not at killing our idea but instead, strengthening it. Love the differentiation between seeking permission and testing for potential.

As always, thank you for your addition to the conversation!


Gurpreet July 7, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Great post Alli. It’s commendable on how you structure your thoughts. For me freedom begins when I allow myself, my son, my team, my family to ‘think independently’. It can take many metaphors but if you don’t think freely would you act freely?


Alli Polin July 8, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Gurpreet – Independent thinking is a hallmark of freedom and I agree, it is deeply tied to action. I’ve discovered that I want my children and colleagues to think independently as well and then I’ll catch myself using language that does not give them room to do just that. Appreciate your comment and your perspective. Many thanks!


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