Letting go of shoulds – a key step to innovation

Red warning flag

In a world that is changing fast, we can easily find that our assumptions no longer hold true.

There are eight common ways in which we can do this and the second of them is called ‘shoulds’. This occurs when we expect that something should be a particular way or should happen in a particular way.

‘Should’ is a powerful word. It is a word that strongly urges us to do things but never quite explains why. If you want to avoid its hidden influence in your life it is worth spending time to become aware of its power.

  • “You should do that” is clearly an instruction that you ‘ought to’, ‘have to’, or ‘must’ do a thing. It implies a duty, an obligation, or perhaps a correct way of doing things. But it doesn’t explain why we ought to do the thing. This creates a problem.
  • “We should invest in that project,” “She should have done it this way,” “He should have won the deal” — all of these give a clear direction, but none of them explains why. Taking action based on any of these statements is a step into the unknown.

Once we become aware of the word ‘should’ it becomes a useful red flag: a warning sign for us to look more closely to understand whether an unconscious decision process or even a deliberate manipulation is happening. (“You should buy this product,” “I really think you should…”)

To make our own best decision we need to understand whether the recommended action will lead to an outcome we want. We need to ask: “Why? … Why should I do that? Why should it be that way? Why should we?”

Sometimes we will get back an ‘output’ answer: “Because then the outcome is likely to be XYZ,” or “Because this project will create the mix of risk and reward that we are looking for.” Then we can keep asking “Why?” until we have created an unbroken link of understanding between the action we plan to take and the outcome we want to create.

But if we get back an ‘input’ answer — “Because the policy is…,” “Because the rules say…,” or “Because that’s what we always do…” — then this is just another set of ‘shoulds’. Policies, rules, and habits are just a shortcut: a rule of thumb that used to work in the past but might not reflect the way the world works now.

The way the world should be and the way the world is are two very different things. This is especially true in a time of change. So if we want to do a good job of leading ourselves and other people through this change it is important for us to understand the difference and to be clear about what we really mean.

Letting go of our expectations about the way the world ‘should’ be is what enables us to find innovative solutions such as Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify.

Before we can truly imagine the way the world could be we first need to let go of the way the world should be.

Are your decisions driven more by what you want to do or what you think you should?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building emotional engagement and inspiration during times of change. Buy the Book

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Photo By Luke Hoagland via StockPholio.net

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