o it, ask forgiveness later

The phrase “do it, ask forgiveness later” is often heard thrown around in business management and innovation circles as an aphorism and encouragement to stop fretting over a new disruptive idea; just get out there and do it.

Turns out, it is also a very effective way to say (and do) terrible things in public. Politicians employing dog-whistle tactics leverages “ask forgiveness later” to get terrible messages out into the public. Donald Trump has repeatedly employed this technique.

The process goes something like this:

  1. The politician originates a terrible dog-whistling message; publicly and shamelessly.
  2. If there is significant pushback from the wider community, the politician apologises or excuses it away as a joke, a misinterpretation, or sarcasm.
  3. If there is no significant pushback, the politician repeats the original message or moves on to the next message.
  4. In either case, the terrible message is out there. The outcome has been achieved, The appropriate constituent has been successfully called upon.

Business communications can employ the same technique too. A business can smear a competitor or competing product in the same way. Unlike in politics, libel and slander laws and the fear of lawsuits can limit this type of behaviour in the business world.

Socially, this technique can be employed to severely damage a person’s reputation and livelihood. The most obvious one is making false allegations of sexual crimes against women and children.

The effect is magnified by social media, which encourages non-thinking knee-jerk reactions and enables rapid dissemination.

Similar phrases include:
It's easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission
It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.
It’s easier to apologize than to get permission.
See these other examples.