Bureaucracy lets us off the hook in many ways. It creates systems and momentum and eliminates many decisions for its members.

“I’m just doing my job.”

“That’s the way the system works.”

Most of all, it gives us a structure to lean against, a way of being in the world without always understanding the big picture or the side effects or the implications of our actions. Bureaucracy, the organizational imperative, the system of meetings and people and leverage—it keeps us sane.

The one thing it can’t do, though, is let you off the hook.

When you write your history, and when others judge you, they will not accept that you had no choice. What you did when it felt like it was too difficult to say ‘no’ is precisely who you are.

We remember the people who said ‘no’ when they thought they had no good options. And we remember the people who went along as well.

We get the benefits of bureaucracy, but we also have to accept the costs. And the biggest one is that we’re required to own our actions, to speak up, stand up and act up when we’re asked to do the wrong thing.

The alternative is to lose our agency and to accept that we’re no longer human.


This post originally appeared on Seth’s blog.

About the author

Seth Godin

Seth Godin

Seth is the author of 17 books that have been bestsellers around the world and translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. Seth is also founder of squidoo.com, a fast growing, easy to use website. His blog (which you can find by typing “seth” into Google) is one of the most popular in the world.

Before his work as a writer and blogger, Godin was Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo!, a job he got after selling them his pioneering 1990s online startup, Yoyodyne. In 2013, Godin was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, one of three chosen for this honor.