Common sense for managers #23 in the OneSideOfA4 series

Common sense.

It is not common.

It’s not commonly sense, either.

Managers don’t like to think too much, preferring fast limbic responses. Tell me about it on one side of A4, have it on my desk by 9 am. So they depend on their common sense. The common sense in the publishing world, as Amazon was growing exponentially, was that the steady business of selling ink on dead trees in shops was blithely unthreatened.

So common sense is often a proxy for do it my way, we’ve always done it this way, and just do it, don’t make me think, now if you don’t mind, I have a meeting.

A good example fell into my notebook today:

Syriza stood up to the money men – the UK left must do the same

Grant Shapps, the Tory party chairman, provided a bland but elegant example of this on Sunday, when touting the election message – “Conservatives or chaos” – around the BBC. “The IMF says we can be the biggest economy in Europe in 15 years, but only if we stay on the road to growth.” Here, the IMF is presented as authority, godhead and visionary. It can see into the future. It cannot be questioned. In this worldview, party differences are simply practical, problem-solving ones: who can best do what the IMF wants? Who understands growth and how to deliver it? It is ironic that this has become the burning question for democracy, when history shows that growth is pretty unrelated to which party is in government.”

There you go, political common sense from Mr Shapps.

One way of responding to continuous and widespread change and challenge is to have a big conversation about it. There are many methods: Future Search, Open Space, and my own PossibilitySpace™, to name but three.

What emerges from these is Sense-In-Common. This sense is not very common, indeed, it is uncommon sense.

Commons sense, the sense that is common in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions, would be described as ‘common’ by my gran. That sort of unseemly behaviour, they are just showing themselves up. Don’t let me catch you behaving like that, our Arthur, we aren’t ‘common’.

Where does common sense come from? From history via various methods of cultural transmission, I would suggest. For example, it was common sense not to eat pig meat in a hot country with no refrigeration. Under those conditions, without a Smeg, it made sense. It was common sense that women can’t be Church of England bishops, until the boys in the purple frocks decided that girls could wear purple frocks as well. And big pointy hats. It was common sense that light is a wave and not a particle. A long time ago, in each case, one surmises that there was a big meeting that came up with some sense in common. Trouble is, like software, they never get round to updating the manual.

So, common sense: it’s often nonsense. Sense-in-common is uncommon sense.

And my gran wants me to remind you that the Commons is just common.

That is the Tragedy of the Commons.



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