“Common sense”
is not common


As I was working on my “Mentoring the Mentors” post for PIE, I recalled an older piece of mine where I dug into the whole “common sense” fallacy. It seemed timely and, potentially, helpful. So, I’m sharing some of those thoughts, after a little bit of refreshing the content.


Common sense. It seems so, well, common.

But fact of the matter is that it’s not.

I mean, common common sense is prevalent. I’ll give you that. Those widely held understandings. And things that most people seem to know. Sense that is common across a community or population. Yes, that exists. Common common sense is common.

But your common sense?

Nope. Not common, at all.

You see, your common sense is different than everyone else’s common sense. And that’s because your common sense is based on the experience and insights that you have derived from doing the same thing, day in and day out. Or by being part of something for a period of time. Or from repeatedly trying, failing, and iterating.

Your common sense is a byproduct of your focus,
your vantage, and your experience.

And because of that, it is completely subjective. In fact, even if I were doing exactly the same thing you’re doing, day in and day out, the same things that are obvious to you wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to me. Even worse, I might have my own cadre of common sense that I thought you should already know.

Common sense is, counterintuitively, uncommon.

So that stuff that seems so obvious? It’s not. And that forehead-slapping “What is that person thinking? Isn’t it obvious that you do [or don’t do] that?” response you have on a regular basis? Whatever it is that is so painfully obvious to you may not even register for the person you’re observing.

Like it or not, we are all victims of the “curse of knowledge.” And that’s really difficult to shake. And it’s nearly impossible to unthink or unknow.

And that’s why, be it for business or mentoring or whatever, I am constantly challenged — and fail regularly — to do two things:

1) Stop assuming intuitive leaps have been made.

I have a really bad tendency to assume that everyone has already thought about what I’m thinking about. As such, I assume that they’re making the same intuitive leaps I am. So I don’t say anything. Or share thoughts.
The problem with this is that — more often than not — they aren’t making those leaps. It’s not because I’m smarter. (That, I can guarantee.) It’s just because I’m working with my set of common sense. So, even if it feels like I’m backtracking, I’m working to start with the reasoning behind my thinking. To ensure that everyone is on the same page.

What’s more, I’m really trying to focus on beginning at the introductory level — the 101 — and go from there. Without being pedantic or dismissive. Because you can’t just jump into the deep end of the pool and assume that everyone knows how to swim.

2) Over-communicating what I think I know.

If I’m not sure where my peers stand, then the onus is on me to be more effective at communicating. And I need to be more conscious and deliberate about sharing my opinions. No matter how small our company or our organization, we should be over-communicating when telling one another what is important, how we think things should be done, and how we have learned to get there.

Even better? We should be documenting what we know to provide a common lexicon for those discussions and a foundation for new folks entering the fray.


The value of our common sense lies in the very fact that we have produced it from our unique vantage. And because of that we need to, first, understand that it has very real and intrinsic value, even if we don’t perceive that it does. And second, we need to do a better job of sharing it and not assume that it’s common.

We need to get away from assuming that
“Everyone else knows this stuff. I’m nothing special.”

You know more about what you do than I do, or he does, or she does, or they do. In fact, we’re all incredibly ignorant of your unique flavor of common sense. And we would all be better off with you sharing those insights which you incorrectly assume we have already had.

That thing that seems so completely obvious to you? It isn’t to the rest of us. Your common sense isn’t common.


Rick Turoczy (@turoczy) has been working in high-tech marketing communications in the Portland area for nearly 20 years. As founder and editor of Silicon Florist, he has blogged about the Portland startup scene for nearly a decade — even though numerous people have begged him to stop. That side project led Rick to cofound PIE (the Portland Incubator Experiment), a startup accelerator formed in partnership with global advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy. Those efforts led to the founding of Oregon Story Board, a project that is using learnings from the PIE experiment to accelerate the companies in the services industry.

All because of a blog. Weird.


Image courtesy Gian Luigi Perrella. Used under Creative Commons.


Originally published at morethanaliving.com on October 23, 2007.