If there is any clear product of standardized education — both at the primary and post-secondary levels — it is a culture of asking permission. Children are raised to ask permission to go to the bathroom, to work beyond the group, to go outside, and to be children, in general. Young adults are taught to follow a required class guide, to ask permission from advisers before they can take different courses, and to seek permission from parents before pursuing a certain higher educational path.
On the other hand, if there is any clear ingredient for successful entrepreneurship, it is not waiting to gain permission before acting. There are a couple reasons why waiting to gain permission before delving into an entrepreneurial pursuit not only stymies entrepreneurship in the person, but crushes future innovation. These reasons are all grounded in the fact that the world moves quickly, the things which people want and need constantly change, and other people are also moving forward.
First, waiting to gain permission may make you miss your ideal time of launch. If you have the people and resources necessary to launch and need only to gain the permission, then that balance may shift by the time you gain permission (from whomever you must ask). A team member may fall into their own project, financing may fall through, or the market may totally shift away from a position in which your product is worth pursuing. The world of launching a project moves quickly, and if the cards are all in front of you, except for one which depends on a (likely arbitrary) decision by an outside party, don’t wait for that decision, but launch!
Second, waiting for permission from an outside party could force you to change your project or product in a way you wouldn’t want. One of the primary reasons people go into launching their own businesses is that they want to create something which is theirs. The chances of the person or group from which you are seeking permission — whether it be critics, government regulators, or competitors — are slim to none. It isn’t unusual to come across an abandoned business project and discover that the primary reason it was left behind was that it became something other than what the founders wanted, and they perceived it as no longer worth pursuing.
Third, and most frighteningly, there is always the (ever-increasing) chance that, if you wait for permission, that permission will never come. Though it may seem virtuous to gain all the requests and permits before going forward, there is no guarantee those requests and permits will be approved. There is no reason to believe that the regulator or critic is your friend (in fact, most Americans view them as something with which to do away).
Government regulators are, perhaps, the best illustration of how waiting for permission can backfire. It is important to remember that many of the regulations that apply to large, multi-national corporations, with entire offices full of lawyers and regulation-compliance staff, also apply to the startup team or the small business down the street. These smaller competitors (i.e., you), can barely afford the budgets they operate on, let alone a team of regulation-compliance attorneys.
Fine, then. It seems pretty clear that waiting around for permission from various groups is not the way that a startup changes the world, or that the new innovation gets off the ground. But what to do? Do we simply buck the status quo and go forward? Won’t that mean that once critics, regulators, and competition catch on, they’ll simply come down with greater strength and power than before?
As a recent article in Wired notes, the strategy of going forward, creating a product and the infrastructure to support the product, completely outside of the status quo, can have phenomenal results. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, 3D printers, and other members of the new economy are able to build themselves up so well that once competitors, regulators, and critics come for them, they have built enough clout to support themselves. One of the most politically unpopular moves among regulators is to ban car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, not because consumers have a deep conviction about the immorality of commercial regulations, but because they enjoy the services.
So, go out there and launch your business. Build the next new piece of infrastructure in the permission-free economy. Imagine if Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the co-founders of Uber, had waited around for regulators and taxi companies to allow them to launch. Imagine all the Ubers and Lyfts and Airbnbs that have fizzled out as dreams in the minds of their would-be founders, all because they were afraid they couldn’t get permission. Imagine the innovations that could flourish if we simply didn’t wait for permission to be free to innovate.