Nope, this isn’t about the empowerment of saying no. This is about a more perversive power, a dysfunction that seeps into organizations as they grow: the proliferation of people and roles whose primary function is to say no.
Think the ivory tower process nerds who insist on requirement-level precision in a plain-language document. Or the procurement system that buys an eraser as if it were flight-hardware. These things rankle because they’re foolish consistency run amok—(potentially) sensible guidelines (in one context) applied without thought by people whose only calling is hobgoblinry.
I’ve discussed before why this happens: sensible consistency is harder to maintain as an organization scales, and the strong law of large numbers regresses talent to the mean. The default answer is process, and the easiest way to enforce it is uniformly—because saying no requires no thought. So now we have guardrails, but the only way to get somewhere new remains to drive off-road.
I’m not sure how to fight this, but I think a start is taking back the power of no. You, me, anyone, only gets to say no for one of three reasons: (1) that’s unsafe; (2) that’s unethical; or (3) that’s illegal. Otherwise, help and get out of the way.