Common Sense – Revisited

Have you ever asked yourself where common sense comes from? How do we get it? Are we just born with it? Why do some people seem to have more of it than others? If something makes perfectly good sense to you, shouldn’t it make perfectly good sense to everyone else? I’ve been doing some research on the subject and I’d like to share some of what I’ve discovered so far.

“The only thing common about common sense is the fact that it’s not very common amongst most people”.  The more I observe the people around me and witness the strange things that they do, the more I believe that it’s not very common. Michael Dillon defined common sense as, “a rather uncommon ability to do the right thing without a lot of forethought; a close connection to deep intuition”. A participant in a recent workshop of mine suggested that common sense was the lowest common denominator of beliefs thought to be common, in most people. Common sense is often referred to as “horse sense”. (our ability to look at things in a straightforward, logical fashion.) To lack common sense would suggest a lack in street smarts.

The people we meet, the books we read, and the things we see shape us from the moment we are born, to the moment we die. Somewhere in the middle of all that lies common sense. The amount of common sense one has seems to be proportionate to the amount of life experiences one has had. For the most part, adults like to learn as they go along.We learn from our past experiences. Most people learn by doing, refining what they’ve done, and then they do it again.

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years” – Mark Twain. (It just seems to me that the older we get – the smarter we get. They should call it life-sense not common sense)

Have you ever been guilty of using the “common sense” excuse? Does this sound familiar? “How long have they worked here? If they had any common sense, they would not have done what they did. They should have known better!” I’m certainly guilty of using that rationale to try to cover up the fact that I failed as a manager to give proper instruction. As managers, we sometimes make assumptions based on what we think a person knows. We figure because we know, they should know. We surmise that, because they have worked there for a number of years, they must have learned how to do it by now. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact of the matter is – If you haven’t taught someone how to do a task the way you want it done, then don’t assume they know how to do it. (There are no dumb students, only dumb teachers)

It’s very rare that we get to hire employees who are fully trained for the job, it at all. It’s the managers role to give his or her people the tools they need to perform the task, and then get out of their way and let them do it. Making sure they have been properly trained is part of your manager’s tool kit. Always keep this in mind: There is no such thing as common sense. The only way to turn a “can’t” into a “can” is to train the “t” away. After all, isn’t that just plain common sense?