If you’ve been paying attention the past couple of weeks you know I’ve been on vacation. If you’re hoping I’ll get back to posting profound ideas about leadership, management, organizational dynamics and such …

Well, first, thanks for thinking past posts have included profound ideas. I much appreciate the compliment.

But second, no, I’m not. In fact, as I type this sentence I have no idea what the sentences that follow will talk about. Let’s find out together, shall we?

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Seems to me there are two types of travel. There’s travel that takes you to places that pamper you – places you can just lean back, breathe deeply, and pretend all the aggravations of the world, be they petty inconveniences or important but nothing you can do anything about at the moment, are Someone Else’s Problem, at least until you’re back at home.

In this kind of travel, going to experience stuff is something you do in between mojitos.

The other type of travel is more adventurous; the experience is the point of it. It immerses us. It isn’t just the same as our response to the pages of travel magazines only more so, no matter how talented their photographers might be.

This vacation has mostly been the former, not to say we engaged in no sightseeing. There was, for example, our excursion to see the Pulpi geode – the world’s largest. It was spectacular in a way no photograph can possibly convey. A marvel.

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If this post had a plot, the Pulpi geode reference would have been its plot spoiler. Not a plot but a tout: We’ve been vacationing in Spain, near Mojacar, at Cortijo Del Sarmiento, a lovely bed and breakfast whose proprietors, our new friends Yvonne and Carsten, are taking care of us in fine style. If you like what you’re reading about this week, I’m sure they’d be delighted to talk with you.

I hope you’ll forgive the plug. Even more, no matter what business you’re in, please don’t ask me to give yours a plug too. This is a one-time thing.

Speaking of asking for forgiveness, while there’s been no quid pro quo, for those who enjoy calamari there was a squid pro quo.

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I had an eye-opening conversation with Yvonne (eye-opening for me, at least) regarding their marketing efforts. Without going into a great deal of depth … and gimme a break! I’m on vacation, so I wasn’t taking notes! … to run a business like this in the 2020’s it isn’t enough to run the business. Yvonne is quite sophisticated in social media marketing, posting content about Cortijo Del Sarmiento and nearby points of interest at least as often as I post content here on KJR, on their own website as well as on a variety of social media platforms; and beyond this investing time to encourage other local businesses to create a unified presence – a regional brand – everyone can use to attract visitors.

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Mojacar is located in Spain’s less-touristy southeast corner. If you’re looking for a more French Riveria-ish sort of Mediterranean experience, that’s what Spain’s Costa Del Sol is for.

But call it tourism or whatever else you like, it’s in this region that you’ll find Alhambra, which was, in its heyday, one of Islam’s most important religious / political centers on the Iberian peninsula.

Speaking of experiences even the best photos can’t convey, what I found most remarkable about Alhambra was how little damage the Catholic hierarchy did to the glorious Moorish artwork and architecture they took possession of in 1492.

Religious intolerance did, thankfully take a back seat to the desire to preserve something spectacular and utterly irreplaceable.

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Most Americans, when we hear the word, probably think it’s little more than folky tap dancing. Having attended a couple of flamenco performances on this trip, permit me to suggest you pay attention to the guitar playing that accompanies the dancing. Flamenco guitar entails a speed and precision of play that puts Mark Knopfler – my personal guitar hero – to shame.


Bob’s last word: It’s hard to explain in concrete terms what we get out of the sort of travel we’re engaged in right now. All I can say is that there’s something about being Someplace Different that’s apart from the specific experience of being someplace that isn’t the same as the place we left and will soon go home to.

Speaking of confirmation bias …

Confirmation bias is a tendency we all have. It’s what leads us to accept without question expositions we agree with no matter how flawed they might be, while nitpicking to death ones we dislike no matter how carefully constructed.

We typically unleash our confirmation biases on presentations consisting of evidence and logic. But I’ve noticed that clever quotes, wisecracks, and even cartoons can also trigger the effect.

Cartoons (not this week’s subject) are probably the most pernicious, because really, don’t you feel silly arguing with a sketch and a caption? But clever quotes are, I think, a close second, which brings us to the subject of this week’s diatribe – Admiral Grace Hopper’s frequently repeated, “I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission.”

It’s a quote that, when you don’t stop to think about it, encourages us to stick it to the bureaucrats who force us to jump through a cube-farm-full of flaming hoops before we can do something that is, to our completely objective foveae, Common Sense.

When you do stop to think about it, your flaming hoop is someone else’s hard-won wisdom.

Maybe I’m just confirmation-biasing Admiral Hopper because of her role in creating COBOL – a hideously inelegant language whose approach to basic arithmetic: ADD L TO M GIVING N is harder than Roman numerals to quality-assure, in contrast to FORTRAN’s more enlightened N = L + M.

But my confirmation-bias aside, I wonder if, as a naval officer, she would have been as forgiving to a subordinate who neglected to ask her for permission before charging ahead with something risky as she hoped for forgiveness when she took her own advice.

We’re faced with a dual challenge. An organization’s policies, procedures, governance, and compliance requirements represent the accumulated knowledge, judgment, and wisdom it has acquired since it first launched itself into the marketplace.

Ignoring them because they’re inconvenient given what you’re dealing with right now might not be the best way to stay on the right side of the line that separates self-confidence from arrogance.

But on the other hand, all the accumulated knowledge, wisdom and so forth is about the past. The action you’re contemplating is about the future.

To the extent you expect the future to resemble the past, you should, at a minimum, take the time to make sure you can articulate why waiting for permission would be damaging.

And to the extent your expectations of how the future will come out make the organization’s stored memories irrelevant, the day you take your first step on the path toward needing to ask for forgiveness isn’t too soon to start preparing a compelling narrative that explains why and how today’s constraints aren’t relevant to what tomorrow will require.

Compare Admiral Hopper’s formulation to that of a different naval officer: D. Michael Abrashoff, former Captain of the Benfold and author of It’s Your Ship: “Whenever the consequences of a decision had the potential to kill or injure someone, waste tax-payers’ money, or damage the ship, I had to be consulted. Sailors and more junior officers were encouraged to make decisions and take action so long as they stayed on the right side of that line.”

Bob’s last word: There’s another dimension to all this: Sometimes opportunities and threats arise all by themselves. They’re both real and ephemeral – by the time you finally get approval they’ll have passed the organization by.

Admiral Hopper’s guidance was, I hope, directed at these situations, where tactics legitimately get ahead of strategy.

That is, what I hope she meant is that if you had jumped through all the flaming hoops you would have ended up receiving permission eventually.

Wise leaders, though, provide guidelines along the lines of those Captain Abrashoff gave his crew. Do this and you make asking for either permission or forgiveness irrelevant.

Bob’s sales pitch: I’m always interested in what you’re interested in … and what any non-subscribers you know would be interested in.

My most frequent topics are, in no particular order: leadership and personal effectiveness, business ethics, career management, metrics, office politics, organizational change and effectiveness, project management, and architecture.

To name a few, but I’m open to other suggestions, too.

Please take a few minutes to let me know.

And yes, I do accept emailed in ballots. And no, I don’t require a photo ID to accept your vote.

On CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide:Why every IT leader should avoid ‘best practices’,” explaining why CIOs would be wise to know there are no best practices, only practices that fit best.