Permission Paradox

They won’t believe in you until you have experience…and they won’t give you experience until they believe in you.

Have you ever applied for a job and been told that you don’t have the required experience? And have you ever been frustrated that you can’t get the required experience because nobody will hire you? This is the permission paradox in action.

The permission paradox is an example of a catch-22: a logic loop that’s inescapable if you play by the rules. You can’t succeed because you’re not qualified, and you’re not qualified because nobody will give you permission to try.

The permission paradox occurs because reasonable people don’t want to hear advice from unqualified people. This is totally understandable, and in fact, in most cases it’s a good thing. Generally speaking, we should require our experts to prove their worth. We should be skeptical of anyone who tells us what to do without having any relevant evidence or expertise. But that said, true innovation takes place in areas where no one has ever gone before. So, by definition, truly novel and unique ideas will not have a provable track record…yet.

The permission paradox can also create false positives. We sometimes assume people must be correct based solely on their personal track record, and not on the merit of their ideas. As an example, if a BJJ world champion tells us what to do, we’ll be far more likely to listen based on their personal accomplishments. But we’d be wise to keep a critical eye, because their successes may have been due to luck, personal attributes, or other factors which cannot be generally reproduced.

The permission paradox appears in any field where expertise is valued, including professional careers and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

How to overcome the permission paradox

The only way to overcome the permission paradox is to push through. Expect fierce resistance when you present a new idea, especially if you don’t yet have a track record. But once the success of your ideas creates that track record, you’ll get a lot less resistance.

That said, it’s also important to counter-balance this with an understanding that if you don’t have qualifications, you’re more likely to be wrong. A degree of humility is a good idea when you’re battling the permission paradox, because if you don’t have any evidence that you’re right, there’s a good chance you’re actually wrong. If you’ve got haters, it’s possible that they’re resisting your ideas for a good reason.

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