In a fast-changing world our old assumptions increasingly no longer hold true.
There are eight common ways this can happen and the second of these is the word ‘should’.
If you want to avoid the danger it can bring it is worth spending time to become aware of its power.
‘Should’ is a word that strongly urges us to do something 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 even a ‘correct’ way of doing things. “You should vote for me.” “You should buy this book.” “You should feel angry about this.” All of these are strong statements but none of them explains why.
Once we become aware of the word ‘should’ it becomes a very useful ally for us: a clear and very visible red warning flag. It becomes a sign for us to pause, look more closely, and ask ourselves whether we agree. Should we do this? Or is an unconscious assumption taking place or perhaps even a deliberate manipulation?
To decide our best way forward we need to understand whether the recommended action will lead to the outcome we want. We need to ask why: “Why should I do that? Why should we think that? Why should it be like that?”
Sometimes we will get back an ‘output’ answer: “Because then the outcome is likely to be X” or “Because doing this will bring the outcome we want.” If this happens then we can keep asking “Why?”, “Why?”, “Why?” until we have created an unbroken link of understanding between the action we supposedly ‘should’ take and the outcome we want to create.
But sometimes we will get back an ‘input’ answer — “Because the rules say…,” “Because the policy is…,” or “Because that’s what we always do…” If this happens, realise that these policies, habits, and rules are just another set of ‘shoulds’: rules of thumb that used to work in the past but might not work in the way the world is now.
In a time of change, even long-accepted business practices can become shoulds. “A hotel chain should own hotels.” “A taxi company should own cars and employ drivers.” It is only by letting go of these unconscious shoulds that we become able to find innovative solutions like Uber and Airbnb.
The more we let go of our ideas about how the world should be, the more we become able to imagine new ideas for how the world could be.
When was the last time you heard someone use the word ‘should’? What did you or they really mean?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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