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 that this can happen and the second is called ‘shoulds’.

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 it is worth spending the 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. “He should be more careful.” “She should do it my way.” “You should buy my product.” “You should vote for me.” All of these are strong statements but none of them explains why.

Once we are aware of this word ‘should’ it becomes a useful ally, a clear red flag, a warning sign for us to pause, look more closely, and ask ourselves whether or not we agree. Is an unconscious decision process happening or 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 this project will bring the mix of risk and reward we are looking for.” If this happens then we can keep asking “Why?”, “Why?”, “Why?” until we have created an unbroken link of understanding between the action we ‘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 now to create the results we want.

In a time of change, even accepted business practices can become shoulds. “A taxi company should own as many cars as possible.” “A hotel chain should try to own more hotels.” It is only by letting go of these unconscious shoulds that we become able to find innovative solutions like Uber and Airbnb.

The more you let go of your ideas about how the world should be, the more you will be able to imagine new ideas about how the world could be.

This is the innovation mindset that forms another step to antifragility.

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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Photo By Luke Hoagland via StockPholio.net

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