Letting go of shoulds — a key step to innovation


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

The second common type of these ‘mis-blinks‘ is when we expect that something should happen in a particular way, or should be a particular way.

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

“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 do it this way,” “He should have won the deal” — all of these give clear direction, but none explains why. So taking action based on any of these statements is a step into the unknown.

Once we become aware of it, the word ‘should’ becomes a useful red flag: a warning sign to look closer for an unconscious decision process or even a deliberate manipulation. (“I really think you should…”)

To understand whether the recommended action will lead to an outcome we want we then 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 brings 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 are planning and the outcome we want.

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 we realise that this is just another set of ‘shoulds’. Policy, rules, and habit are just a shortcut, a rule of thumb that used to work in the past but in a time of change and churning 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, especially in a time of change. If we want to lead ourselves and other people through this time well it is important to understand this difference and to be clear about what we really mean.

Because learning to spot and let go of our expectations about the way the world ‘should’ be is an essential step to finding innovative solutions, such as Uber, Airbnb, Spotify.

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

Adapted from Inner Leadership.

Photo By Tara Zuk via StockPholio.net

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