Let’s get personal. Recently I was brushing my teeth in an airport bathroom (I’d just eaten lunch) and someone commented, “That’s what I should be doing.” I replied, “I don’t like going to the dentist,” which prompted “That’s a big 10-4.”
Common sense tells us that we should brush after every meal, but few people do it. My point here isn’t dental hygiene, but rather to highlight a human issue that’s always impacted our lives; common sense.
One of our country’s founding fathers, Ben Franklin, was a big common sense advocate. A couple of my favorite sayings of his on the subject:
- “Common sense without education is better than education without common sense.”
- “I don’t know why they call it common sense when so few people have any.”
However, I think Ralph Waldo Emerson hit the nail on the head when he said;
- “Common sense is genius disguised in working clothes.”
I want to take you through an exercise I’ve used at times when facilitating team retreats. Take a few moments and reflect on your daily routine. Everything from your sleeping patterns, eating routine, exercise, hygiene, grocery shopping, house cleaning, yard work, etc. What’s your typical day like?
My exercise would include them writing out their routines in bullet points. The objective was to identify one area where they could interject a dose of common sense and make a change in their behavior. A discussion would follow where everyone shared their common sense change, explained the benefit, how they planned to make it a common practice, and why it hadn’t already been part of their routine.
The discussions usually ranged from sleeping patterns (bedtime and morning wakeup) to eating (structured meals, often including breakfast), to replacing television time with reading, and so on.
What was most interesting, as these discussions took on a life of their own, was how they always segued into their office routine. With no prompting by me, common sense ideas such as creating routines for social lunches, holding team meetings every week, and organizing personal communication with top clients – these are just a handful of common sense ideas I could recall offhand, but you get the idea.
Without fail, there was a commitment to make common sense a common practice on both a personal and professional level. Yet this is easier said than done. Other than initiating this exercise, my role would always boil down to being the devil’s advocate – trying to make sure these common sense commitments were doable. There’s a tendency to get lost in the moment and bite off more than you can chew – overcommit. The secret is in keeping things simple, which makes them more doable.
So, there you have it. Start with one common sense commitment on a personal level, and take pains to make certain whatever you select is doable (for instance, brushing your teeth after lunch is more doable than starting an exercise program). Think in terms of baby steps. If someone is able to develop the habit of brushing after eating lunch, there’s a strong probability that another common sense commitment successfully follows.
Obviously, these baby steps hold true for any professional common sense initiatives.
I love both Franklin’s and Emerson’s quotes, but Emerson explained the challenge; common sense is genius disguised in working clothes.