Common sense isn’t common

“It’s just common sense,” people say, as if this is a resource that we all possess in ample quantities. Yet if that’s the case, we don’t tap this resource very effectively.

The very impressive Wikipedia entry on common sense helps illuminate why this is so: “The common sense is an actual power of inner sensation (as opposed to the external five senses) whereby the various objects of the external senses (color for sight, sound for hearing, etc) are united and judged, such that what one senses by this sense is the substance (or existing thing) in which the various attributes inhere…”

commonsenseSo, common sense is not a pool of basic information that everybody has at hand; instead, it’s a way of putting information together to gain a deeper understanding, in a multidimensional fashion. In this, it has some similarity with Roger Martin’s term “integrative thinking,” or the way of finding creative approaches to reconciling two seemingly contradictory notions (such as, from fifty years ago, the thought that high quality and reduced costs could go hand in hand.

“It’s just common sense” doesn’t mean that an answer to a problem is easy – it means that in order to solve it, you have to find the common “inherence” between what you observe with all your senses. It doesn’t mean nod in agreement when the beautifully-formatted spreadsheet is presented; it means to probe the numbers, try to find flaws, vulnerabilities; it means, in the words of my son’s Kindergarten teacher, “Using your resources,” instead of blurting out the first thought that comes to mind.

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