All of us have obeyed to Authority at some point in our life. We all have done that to our

  1. Parents
  2. Teachers
  3. Policemen


Obedience to authority is definitely needed. As young kids we do not know what is right or wrong. We need guidance.

  1. Our parents taught us how to be disciplined and respectful to others.
  2. Teachers taught us to read and write.
  3. Policemen provides us with a safe place to live, by maintaining law and order.

Obeying to authority has several advantages. But blindly following authority can result in serious problems.

1. Would you give 450 volts of shock to another person?

Your answer would be no. But under the influence of authority several people gave 450 volts of shock. Luckily the shock was not real.

  1. The experiment was run by a Psychology professor named Milgram.
  2. The participants(teachers) were told that the experiment is conducted to measure the effects of punishment on learning and memory. The learner’s task is to recall pair of words correctly. For every mistake by the learner, the teacher will give an electric shock. The intensity of the shock increases by 15 volts for each mistake.
  3. No real shock was delivered. The learner was not a true subject but an actor who pretended to be shocked.

To everyone’s surprise most of the participants went on to give up to 450 volts of shock. The results were the same for both male and female participants. Influence to authority is one of the main reasons for this.

2. Brand Ambassadors and Gold Loans


The advertisement shown above is run by one of the gold loan companies in India. The brand ambassadors are cine stars from different regions in India. Did these cine stars take loan from the company and being satisfied with the service, are they recommending it to others? I do not think so. Their authority(popularity) is already present in the minds of Indian public. Using them will create a powerful brand awareness for the company. The authority factor creates a powerful Halo Effect.

Excerpt from the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow‘ by Daniel Kahneman

I propose a simple account of how we generate intuitive opinions on complex matters. if a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not found quickly, System 1 will find a related question that is easier and will answer it. I call the operation of answering one question in place of another substitution.

Is the gold loan company good? The actors are brand ambassadors so it should be good. This is how we think! Now you should clearly see why the company chose the cine stars.

3. Doctors and Nurses

According to Harvard University study, 10 percent of all cardiac arrests in hospitals are attributable to medication errors. Excerpt from the book ‘Influence

Take, for example, the strange case of the “rectal earache” reported by Cohen and Davis. A physician ordered ear drops to be administered to the right ear of a patient suffering pain and infection there. But instead of writing out completely the location “right ear” on the prescription, the doctor abbreviated it so that the instructions read “place in R ear”. Upon receiving the prescription, the duty nurse promptly put the required number of ear drops into the patient’s anus.

Neither the patient nor the nurse questioned it. Both were influenced by the authority.

4. What does Charlie Munger teach us about authority?

Excerpt from the speech given by Munger on ‘Psychology of Human Misjudgment’

You get a pilot and a co-pilot. The pilot is the authority figure. They don’t do this in airplanes, but they’ve done it in simulators. They have the pilot do something where the co-pilot, who’s been trained in simulators a long time — he knows he’s not to allow the plane to crash — they have the pilot to do something where an idiot co-pilot would know the plane was going to crash, but the pilot’s doing it, and the co-pilot is sitting there, and the pilot is the authority figure. 25% of the time the plane crashes. I mean this is a very powerful psychological tendency.

5. Project Scoping and Authority

I am a Software Engineer. One of my job is to scope the project for a given set of requirements. The estimates will vary depending on who is asking for the scope.

  1. If it is for my peers, if the scope comes to 15 days, I will add some extra days and communicate it as 20 days.
  2. If it is for someone with authority, if the scope comes to 15 days, I will communicate it as 12 days. Most of the times they do not ask for the scope. I get the deadline and I need to work backwards.

Without questioning the authority, I have slogged several times. There is also ‘Persian messenger syndrome’ at play here. Excerpt from the speech given by Munger on ‘Psychology of Human Misjudgment’

Now you’ve got Persian messenger syndrome. The Persians really did kill the messenger who brought the bad news. You think that is dead? I mean you should’ve seen Bill Paley in his last 20 years. [Paley was the former owner, chairman and CEO of CBS]. He didn’t hear one damn thing he didn’t want to hear. People knew that it was bad for the messenger to bring Bill Paley things he didn’t want to hear. Well that means that the leader gets in a  cocoon of unreality, and this is a great big enterprise, and boy, did he make some dumb decisions in the last 20 years.


  1. Learn from science that you must doubt the experts – Feynman
  2. If someone is an authority in one field, it does not mean that he is an authority in every field. It is better to avoid Halo effects.
  3. Evaluate truth of the statements based on facts. Do not worry about authority.