Letting go of shoulds is a key step to innovation

Red warning flag

In a fast-changing world our old assumptions may no longer hold true.

There are eight common ways this can happen. The second is called ‘shoulds’. These happen when we expect that something should be a particular way or should be done a particular way.

‘Should’ is a powerful word. It strongly urges us to do something 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 even a correct way of doing things. When somebody says, “We should invest in that project,” “She should do it my way,” “He should be more careful” then taking action based on any of these statements is a step into the unknown. All give a clear instruction, but none explains why.

So, once we become aware of the word ‘should’, it becomes a useful red flag for us: a clear warning sign to pause, look more closely, and ask ourselves whether an unconscious decision process or even a deliberate manipulation is happening. (“You should buy this product…”, “You should do what I say…”)

To make our best decision 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 it be that way? Why should we think that way?

Sometimes we will get back an ‘output’ answer: “Because then the outcome is likely to be X,” or “Because this project will bring the mix of risk and reward we are looking for.” Then we can keep asking “Why do you think that?” until we have created an unbroken link of understanding between the action we intend 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: rules of thumb that used to work in the past but might not reflect the way the world works today.

Letting go of our expectations of how the world should be is what enables us to find innovative solutions like Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify.

So if we want to develop an innovation mindset then before we can imagine how the world could be we first need to let go of how we think the world should be.

How often do you use the word ‘should’? How often do the people around you use it? If you dig deeper, what are you and they really saying?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Luke Hoagland via StockPholio.net

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