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The following is from Jeff Atwood's blog:

When given the freedom to "work on whatever you want", the powers that be have to really mean it for the work to matter. Mostly that means providing employees the unfettered freedom to fail miserably at their skunkworks projects, sans repercussion or judgment. Without failure, and lots of the stuff, there can be no innovation, or true experimentation. The value of (quickly!) learning from failures and moving on is enormous.


There are two sentences I don't understand:

  • the powers that be have to really mean it for the work to matter
  • sans repercussion or judgment

I found that "the powers that be" seems to be a idiom.

There's another paragraph:

If there isn't a healthy respect for individual experimentation versus the neverending pursuit of the Next Thing on the collective project task list, these initiatives are destined to fail. You have to truly believe, as a company, and as peers, that crucial innovations and improvements can come from everyone at the company at any time, in bottom-up fashion – they aren't delivered from on high at scheduled release intervals in the almighty Master Plan.

The following sentence I can't understand:

  • they aren't delivered from on high at scheduled release intervals in the almighty Master Plan.

Wow, studying English, there's a long way to me.

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3 Answers

The powers that be just refers to whoever’s really in charge of whatever makes sense contextually. Sometimes you will see them referred to in other more or less direct ways, like calling them the Management.

The other three words should be in the dictionary: sans, repercussion, judg(e)ment.

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Thanks very much. I'v known the meaning of "the power that be", but what does the remain mean:"have to really mean it for the work to matter" –  jasonjifly Aug 9 '12 at 3:49
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"have to really mean it for the work to matter". In other words the unsaid good work and innovations never really matter unless management make it so. this is the reality of a lot of workplaces still, even though on the face of it they (management) pretend to have empowered the workforce through initiatives.

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Can I understand this sentence and separate it like this: The power that be || have to really mean it || for || the work to matter. –  jasonjifly Aug 9 '12 at 6:03
    
I think this is not a idiom, so it must comply with the grammar. Could you teach me some more details? Thank you very much. –  jasonjifly Aug 9 '12 at 6:10
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i think it's mostly the "mean it" that is both most troublesome and key to understanding this phrase. thankfully there's plenty of context providing cues in this as an entire piece. As the saying goes "no words stand alone." It helps if you're already familiar with the subject. The "mean it" here means take it seriously, action and follow up in all seriousness. I'm all too familiar with very serious enterprise wide initiatives and even large projects that amount to nothing in the end. that work was all a big joke but everyone still had to do it and keep a straight face. –  Chris Aug 9 '12 at 6:27
    
Thanks for your patience. I'v almost got it. –  jasonjifly Aug 9 '12 at 7:35
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The key is in the previous phrase: When given the freedom to "work on whatever you want"

The powers that be have to really mean it (They have to be serious about the idea that there really is freedom to "work on whatever you want") for the work to matter (or else the employee doesn't truly feel that his work is meaningful)

"sans repercussion or judgment" (without negative consequences or undue criticism)

"they aren't delivered from on high at scheduled release intervals in the almighty Master Plan." good ideas don't come down from "on high" (as in the Ten Commandments coming down from God) at scheduled release intervals...
The message here is that innovation and good ideas are organic, they come by degrees from many people, they don't come on a set schedule or because management deemed it so.

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