I Will Instead of We Should

While driving down Highway 36 from Boulder to Denver for a FullContact board meeting, TA McCann told me a wonderful phrase that I’ve been carrying around with me for the past month or so.

“At RivalIQ, we’ve implemented ‘I Will’ instead of ‘We Should.'”

I’ve worked with TA since we invested in Gist in 2009. TA was a co-founder and the CEO. He’s been deeply involved in Techstars Seattle since inception. When RIM acquired Gist, he ran a big software team within RIM for two years. A year ago he co-founded RivalIQ. And last fall he joined the FullContact board. So he’s been around the block.

As part of working together, we’ve become very close friends. We ran the Madison Marathon together (my 17th). We’ve fought together in the trenches over some challenging issues. We’ve enjoyed each others’ friendship, advice, and guidance on some heavy personal issues.

TA embodies the concept of “I will instead of we should.” I’ve always known him to be willing to roll up his sleeves and just get something done. He’s quick to give feedback, challenge ideas, and ask questions, but he’s never afraid to do the work himself.

At Foundry Group, there are twelve of us. I like to believe we embody the “I will” spirit – if someone suggests that something is wrong or needs to be done, they do it. Sure – we pass things around and there’s some delegation, but there’s never a willingness to criticize or give feedback without a corresponding willingness to participate in doing the work.

It’s a small but powerful mental tweak that is similar to the I / We challenge I used to have. In this case it’s the inverse. By shifting to “we” instead of “I” when I talk about what Foundry Group accomplishes, our whole team gets the recognition for the work we’ve all contributed to. This is powerful externally. But internally, by saying “I will” instead of “We should” it puts the responsibility for getting it done on the person making the suggestion. Even if they only manage the work, they are still responsible for making sure it happens, instead of the non-specific and ephemeral “we.”

TA – thanks for the phrase. I continue to learn much from you.

  • tamccann

    Thanks Brad. I learn a ton from you too as I do from my very active and “I will” founders at Rival IQ. Advice is easy, good advice is harder and doing is usually the hardest part of any company.

  • I was actually thinking about this earlier when I was sending an email to my boss. I had started to write “we should” and I knew it was too wishy washy (and nothing would result), so I changed it to “I’d be happy to”, to show that I was willing to invest time in driving the solution, but wanted some input before I headed down that path. It’s a huge difference.

    As an aside, I had a previous boss who hated emails that ended with “Thoughts?” — was a sure way to drive him nuts. I think it has similar negative implications in that the sender of the mail isn’t generally making suggestions/proposals, or taking action.

    • Great point on “thoughts.” I get 100+ emails a day that are open ended like this where the sender is expecting me to respond with feedback on something that they should just do. I now generally just say “looks good – do it.”

  • I think this is right, but the next step is to not even say “I will…” I just saw an old TED talk about how important it is to keep your goals to yourself. http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself

    So, no talking at all. Just doing.

    • Do or do not, there is no try.

  • This reminds me of a term I was just recently introduced to: “lullaby language.” Words like “should” and “just” lull us into a false sense of ease and discourage actual feedback. (See http://www.ayeconference.com/lullaby-language/ )

    As someone who manages a highly distributed team, I’m continually amazed at how impactful words are. I’m sure that’s true even if when in the same location, but when email, chat, and google hangout are your primary means of communication, you don’t have the liberty of refining your message every time you walk by someone’s desk.

    • Lullaby language is going up there with weasel words in my vocabulary – I’ll roll these out when I’m being put to sleep.

      • Most common weasel words I keep hearing: “Best Practice” who’s best practice?

  • ObjectMethodology.com

    “It’s a small but powerful mental tweak,,,”
    Yes it is!!!

  • Mauri Waneka

    Language shifting from ‘should’ to ‘will’ is a change that most likely instigates action! (Interesting thought!) However, prior to the “I will…” is the inner dialogue of discussing the possibilities of the day, week, or project. Should our mental dialogue be ” I could do x, y, z.” Then we choose, and then we say “I will?” Or, is it I could, I should, I will?

  • David DuPont

    I have been on a vendetta against the use of the phrase “we should” for years. I always ask, “Who’s We?” Similarly, I try to ban the use of the passive tense in my company. “It was decided” or “I thought the decision was..” are verboten. “We identify, we decide, we act.” Ultimately, it is all about taking responsibility, as you mention above, and displaying courage.

    • Banning passive voice is another great mental tweak that has far ranging impact. Thanks for the reminder.

  • man, do i like this.

  • Joe Wilkinson

    Excellent point. Definitely a mental tweak I’m going to try to implement for myself.

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