In a changing world, the assumptions we make about how the world works might not hold true any more.
There are eight common ways that this happens. And the second of these is the word ‘should’.
‘Should’ is a word that strongly urges us to do something yet never quite explains why. If you want to avoid the danger this brings 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. “You should buy this book.” “You should feel angry about this situation.” “You should vote for me.” All these statements command you to do something. But none of them tells you why.
If we want to find our best way forward through a churning world it is important for us to find out that why: “Why should I do that or think that or feel that way?”
Sometimes the answer we get back will be an ‘output’ answer: “Because then the outcome is likely to be X.” Now we can keep asking “Why?”, “Why?”, “Why?” until we have created an unbroken chain of understanding between the action we are being told to take and the outcome we want to create. And if we agree, we can then take those actions.
But sometimes the answer we get back will be an ‘input’ answer — “Because the rules say…,” “Because I say…,” “Because that’s what we always do…,” “Because we are good people and they are bad people…” All these responses are rules of thumb, policies, habits, and value judgments that describe another set of ‘shoulds’. They are clear warning signs, red flags, that have nothing to do with the output we want to create. They describe a way of doing things that used to work in the past but might not work any more. So following them in a changing world is risky.
Even long-accepted business practices can become shoulds. “A retailer should own stores.” “A hotel chain should own hotels.” “A taxi company should own cars and employ drivers.” It is only when we let go of these unconscious shoulds that we become able to find transformative solutions like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb.
Being unaware of the power of the word ‘should’ puts us at risk. It enables the word ‘should’ to manipulate us into doing things that are against our own best interest. And it can stop us from finding better ways forward.
But once we are aware of its power, the word ‘should’ becomes a useful friend and ally: it becomes a clear and very visible warning flag that tells us to pause, look more closely, and ask ourselves if we agree. Why should we do that? What outcomes will it create? Is somebody making an assumption that no longer holds true? Are they trying to manipulate us? And once we have found our answers then we can choose for ourselves, from a deeper understanding, and create our own future.
The more we let go of our old ideas about how the world should be, the more we become able to imagine new ideas for how the world could be.
This is another step to becoming antifragile.
When was the last time you heard someone use the word ‘should’? What did you or they really mean? Was the ‘should’ really your best way forward?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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