How (not) to radiate intent

Mark Dalgarno
3 min readJul 15, 2019

I read Elizabeth Ayer’s “Don’t ask for forgiveness, radiate intent” blog post the other day, about radiating intent rather than doing something and asking for forgiveness later. It’s a good piece of advice that challenges the commonly heard adage “It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

How not to radiate intent?

I reflected on how I radiated intent — usually through Slack, email or face-to-face — and wondered whether I could do it better.

Regular readers will know that I oftent use the anti-problem to come up with creative solutions to a problem.

I took the problem “How could I radiate intent better?”, turned it around to “What could I do to radiate the least amount of intent?”.

In 5 minutes I brainstormed the following ideas:


  • Lie or mis-direct people about your intent
  • Put up a physical poster of your intent— in your hall cupboard at home, where no one can see it
  • Write what you intend to do and put it in a locked drawer at work
  • Talk to only yourself about your plans, in the mirror, quietly
  • Radiate intent — for a microsecond
  • Write 20 volumes about what you intend to do
  • Use jargon, acronyms, gang signs, coded messages to radiate intent
  • Radiate intent — a few milliseconds before you act
  • Radiate part of what you intend to do, but leave out important details
  • Only radiate intent when it suits your own agenda
  • Radiate intent only when you want to be stopped from doing something
  • Radiate intent to colleagues who have no interest or involvement in the work
  • Radiate intent for weeks and weeks and weeks
  • Radiate intent through the medium of contemporary dance or mime
  • Literally go to the rooftops and shout to your colleagues radiate intent, every day —
  • Radiate intent with your megaphone
  • Radiate intent only on the Intranet — complain when people say they never look at the Intranet
  • Only radiate intent down the hierarchy
  • Only radiate intent up the hierarchy
  • Radiate intent for everything you do. It’s important your colleagues know when you need a bathroom break or want to sharpen a pencil
  • Radiate intent only through private Slack channels
  • Radiate intent by painting abstract art on the side of your office building
  • Never radiate intent when it’s important to others or the company

How to radiate intent

A few themes emerged for me from the above list.

  • It’s important to be clear about what you intend to do and why. Give people the big picture and important details
  • You need to think about who needs to know and when, don’t just look to your boss or immediate team but don’t tell the whole organisation everything all the time.
  • You need to let them know, actively, and give them time and information to help them decide whether they need to do anything about your plans. If something is time-critical make sure you communicate this to them and give them time to act.
  • Radiating intent isn’t about making yourself the centre of attention or activity — it’s about helping others help you.
  • You need to make sure your intent is accessible to those who need to know. Don’t hide behind jargon. Be inclusive — remember part-time colleagues for example.
  • If you find yourself regularly radiating intent for the same things, it may be that you just need to be generally empowered to do them.

The worst example of not radiating intent

Of course, there’s a very well-known example of how not to radiate intent by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the Vogon Constructor Fleet arrives to demolish Earth.

Film clip here.

“There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now. …” Douglas Adams

I hope this post has given you some inspiration for how to radiate intent…

Don’t do any of the above!