Does ‘could’ lead to good?

By Ting Zhang, Francesca Gino, and Joshua D. Margolis via hbswk.hbs.edu   Article

“When people encounter difficult ethical challenges, research has shown, they generally ask themselves the question, “What should I do?” Organizations, too, frame the principles to guide managerial conduct in terms of “should.” Despite the pervasiveness of having a “should” mindset when confronting moral dilemmas, however, the authors of this paper argue that a significant class of ethical challenges, often overlooked in efforts to understand misconduct, benefit from the application of unconventional thinking. When encountering ethical dilemmas, shifting one’s mindset from “What should I do?” to “What could I do?” generates moral insight, defined as the realization that ostensibly competing values are not entirely incompatible. Moral insight allows for exploration of more possible solutions beyond the apparent constraints of the problem provided, and for the formulation of creative solutions that satisfy multiple moral imperatives. Although our natural inclination is to contemplate dilemmas with a “should” mindset, the authors argue that adopting a “could” mindset opens a broader range of possibilities and brings us one step closer to moral insight. Key concepts include:

  • Moral insight is generated when individuals are prompted to consider the question “What could I do?” in place of their intuitive approach of considering “What should I do?”
  • Employees and teams might devise practical solutions that resolve the inherent tension in a dilemma. Rather than assume a fixed contest that requires adjudication and a tradeoff, the research indicates that with some unconventional thinking, managers can generate solutions to ethical dilemmas.”
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