Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

By John Blumberg, Andersen Alumnus and author of Return On Integrity (

It’s an old mantra that in so many ways mocks a sense of truth from a number of dimensions: shoulda-coulda-woulda. It seems, most often, this old saying has been used to shine a light on needless regrets of what I should have done, could have done or would have done. It holds the rhythm of a yeah, yeah, yeah or more likely a blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Filled with hot-air, empty promises, or even hopeful delusion.

A different form of these words is each used to anticipate the future. What should you do? What could you do? What would you do? This is the basis of a lot of ethics training. It can certainly stir some thinking and possibly plant a few treasures to be mined in the event of an actual future ethical dilemma. Yet my long-ago historical experience in behavioral interviewing gives little credence to what someone anticipates their behaviors would be in a reality they have never experienced. It is why we specifically trained our interviewers to never ask these anticipatory questions and gave no credit to the answers they obtained when they did so.

They make for well-intended distractions.

This past week, in a meaningful conversation, the dialogue evolved into a reminder of the great risk that organizations face when the real truth isn’t put on the table. In some cases, it is referred to as the “elephant in the room.” Yet the “elephant in the room” refers to what everyone is fully aware-of, but no one is talking about. The greater risk is what is in plain sight, but no one is willing to see.

An Inconvenient Truth was a 2006 movie directed by Davis Guggenheim about Global Warming. While its style may have been too documentary for main-stream movie theatres, the film’s very title taught a very powerful truth about … well, truth.

The truth can be very inconvenient.

Or at least it can feel that way. And in most cases the dawning of truth usually is inconvenient in the short term – for it often invites you to a change. A change in awareness, a change in thinking, a change in behavior. It may invite you to a “giving-up” or “giving-in.” Change can be very hard when it’s headed toward truth – and very easy when it is not.

I’m not talking about our conveniences parading-around as truth. I’m talking about the kind of truth that is worthy of the wisdom so thoughtfully proclaimed by a great many thinkers and mystics – if it is true anywhere, it is true everywhere. Truth seems to be more introverted than extroverted. You can pretty much expect that the more hype you see, the less truth is being revealed. Truth seems to be more of a quiet invitation that ultimately has its say.

Instead of pontificating and boasting our shoulda-coulda-wouldas in meetings where we are looking for all the “right” answers, what if we started every meeting consciously and intentionally looking for truth. No matter what the conversation, the challenge, the obstacle, the risk or the opportunity – you can always count on one thing:

The truth is there, inviting you to discover it.

That truth won’t be flashy, glittery or sexy. And in today’s world, there-in lies the problem. As Walter J. Cizek, puts it, “The terrible thing about all divine truth, indeed, is its simplicity … all can be simply stated. And yet how curious it is that this very simplicity makes them so unacceptable to the wise and the proud and the sophisticated of this world.” Walter has every reason to know this truth about truth. As a Jesuit priest spending over four years in solitary confinement and 15 years in the work camps of Siberia, he had plenty of time and experience to honestly discover it and accept it.

Truth may be simple. Yet when you are truly searching for it, you will always find it to be intriguing.

Who knows? It may have been the very reason back-in-the-day that porches were originally put on the front of houses. They make for the perfect place to sit, wonder and eventually accept truth’s invitation. It seems like every organization could use a front porch. For no executive — regardless of their sophistication, or any organization — regardless of their innovation, is exempt from truth. For if truth is everywhere, there is always more of the same truth quietly waiting to be discovered in new ways. Indeed, truth is the pavement on the road to integrity.

John G. Blumberg is an Andersen Alumni, a national speaker and author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at major bookstores. You can connect with John at