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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #91
(September 8, 2020)

Can Common Sense Be Taught? (Or, at least, be made more "common"?)

This past week, I saw a sign in a building that stated, "In case of FIRE, exit building BEFORE tweeting about it!" Chuckling out loud, I recognized that whoever had hung this sign wanted to provide a humor moment. And it did ...

... but then I started thinking. What if that wasn't the motive? What if the person was being serious? No. That couldn't be. Could it? Is common sense really that scarce?

We all know people who seem to lack common sense. Most of us have no problem at all recognizing it when it's missing. We usually do this by saying (to ourselves), "What were you thinking?!" when something that's obvious to us is not—apparently—all that obvious to someone else. And, this opinion is often further reinforced when we watch individuals consistently making errors in judgment and/or repeating mistakes that any logical person would recognize ... and avoid.

So, let's come back to the question I asked earlier, "Can Common Sense be taught"? A reasonably thorough search on the Internet will leave you with the impression that common sense can't be taught—that it's something you either have or don't have. I disagree ... and here's why ...

Based on education and experience (including lots of observation), I've come to believe that "common sense" is a shared perspective of good judgment that people with common experiences develop. The ability to learn which activities and behaviors best facilitate desired outcomes creates a collective understanding of "common sense." In essence, common sense is the ability to learn from past experiences and apply that learning to future situations. Common sense equates to wisdom, whereas an academic understanding of specific job skills equates to knowledge. For the record, intelligence and common sense are two entirely different things. People who are intelligent do not necessarily have common sense because they use different parts of the brain.

Where many people go astray—leaving the impression they lack common sense—has less to do with the understanding of what is the right thing to do in a situation (the difference between responsible and irresponsible actions) and much more to do with a habit of ignoring their intellect and instead acting on emotion. The region of the brain that controls emotions reacts faster than the region that controls logic and decision-making so many people go with their preferred emotional choice ... not the choice that should have been made based on their rich learnings from their past experiences. This is where self-discipline comes in.

All the common sense in the world is rendered null and void if one doesn't have the self-discipline to apply it. So, while "common sense" is much more about gaining experiences (and therefore not really "taught"), self-discipline and self-reflection CAN be taught ... and coached ... and reinforced until a person is more consistent in using good judgment ... and common sense.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), pay careful attention to the decision-making processes you see your employees using when solving problems or developing strategies to overcome challenges. When you identify areas that have you wondering about "common sense" ask yourself if any of the HVAs below are applicable:

  • Increase the Value of Learning from Experience: With experience being the strongest influence on one's ability to discern the best approach to a situation—in essence, to demonstrate good judgment and good "common sense"—it makes sense to increase the time your team spends gaining new experiences. Using our BDL (Breadth/Depth Learning)™ approach, look for competency-explicit mentoring opportunities as well as short-term special assignments/projects for each of the members of your team. Discuss the specific learning goals you have for each of these assignments to ensure that each team member extracts significant learning from each opportunity. Remember, learning should be purposeful and intentional and not simply left to chance!
  • Ask 2nd Order Questions: Have the employee consider all of the possible consequences of his/her plan. We all live our lives by the law of cause and effect, but it's not always easy to predict what cause will lead to what effect. Some employees are better than others at considering the vast array of possibilities when choosing the "optimal" way to do something. Ask, "Are there any unintended consequences to this course of action?" This question should focus on both the immediate consequences and those in the long term (down-stream).
  • Slow Down to Smarten Up: Many errors in judgment are a result of impulsive, hasty—and largely emotional—decisions. Help the employee understand that a slight delay in decision speed will vastly improve decision quality. Encourage the employee to seek feedback from others. Frequently, another set of eyes on an idea, a plan, or a strategy—with the intention to be receptive to honest, constructive feedback—will result in a stronger solution.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are,
first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense."

— Thomas Edison —