From the moment we leave the womb we enter a world in which our survival relies on our ability to comply with those in authority. First it’s our parents, then it’s our school teachers and finally it’s the boss. It then comes as no surprise that questioning authority is a trait that most of us feel ill equipped and so we willingly accept our position of inferiority.
In a book entitled Medication Errors, in one case, a physician had ordered eardrops to be administered to the right ear of a patient suffering from an infection. But instead of writing the location out completely, “right ear,” the doctor abbreviated it so that the instructions read, “place in R ear.” The nurse promptly put the required number of drops into the patient’s anus. Neither the patient nor the nurse questioned it – they were just following orders.
Although this sounds like an extreme case of authority obedience, the scary truth is that there are thousands of people who go to work everyday and are afraid to question those in charge even when a decision could have a devastating effect on the entire organisation.
Instead of being trained to take ownership, we’ve spent years reinforcing the idea that compliance equals reward. Give the right answer, receive a gold star, give your opinion, and risk being fired.
We’ve become so hyper sensitive to authority that we’ve almost switched ourselves off.
Fortunately, the new economy relies on people who are willing to stand out. Innovation thrives on diversity meaning our differences in opinions are becoming extremely valuable. Young people entering the jobs market must become confident in their abilities to lead up, which means speaking up. Obedience can be rewarding when justified but if like the nurse you’re just doing what you’re told, then there are two arses in this story.