Published on: September 7, 2011by Michael Sansolo
The great philosopher Linus, of Peanuts comics fame, once easily summed up everything we need to know about the world. “I love mankind,” he said. “It’s people I can’t stand.”
I started thinking about Linus’s outlook recently as I watched discussion about the differences in people’s political outlook, generational feelings or even sports teams. What puzzles me is probably the exact same thing that puzzles so many of you: How is it possible that people look at the exact same situation I’m looking at…and see it all so wrong? I mean, how is it possible they don’t agree with me when I’m always right?
But I don’t say it like that. Rather, I find myself asking a question over and over: Whatever happened to common sense?
There actually is a better question: What is common sense?
Most of us might quickly default to the basics such as, treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself ... don’t litter ... and always drive on the correct side of the road. But my brother-in-law raised this topic with me as we discussed problems in the world we find so perplexing. He frequently reflects back on a college lesson from the 1960s when a professor was talking about the myth of common sense. The professor argued that common sense relies on a group of people having common values, common experiences and common needs. When they don’t have all that in common they find there is simply no way they will see everything the same way.
And when that happens, common sense starts meaning lots of different things to many people. What’s absolutely right to one group is, incredibly, absolutely wrong to another. In business and especially management, this can be a big problem.
What’s really essential, I think, is un-common sense.
At a recent Supervalu University conference where I had the opportunity to speak, one of the other presenters had attendees take a quick personality/management test. The DISC test - Myers-Briggs is another example - helps us all understand our decision-making and leadership styles. And, it reminds us that our teams, our families and our communities are made up of people with very different styles. We’re not just different by generation, racial, economic or ethnic reasons. We are simply different.
What I perceive as bossy management, someone else sees as decisive and another welcomes as offering structure and guidance. What I might see as inspirational discussion, someone else sees as chaotic and a third sees as overly touchy-feely. As the speaker reminded us, we need to understand and even recruit to these different styles. Otherwise we end up with a group of people who think and act the same way, handicapping our ability to achieve creativity, diversity and change.
Or put another way, we need un-common sense to our way of thinking. We need people who do things differently, who behave in ways that irritate or annoy us because without those differences we’ll find change and greatness almost impossible to achieve. At the GMA Executive Conference, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner made this point a different way, talking about the importance of partnerships among leaders. The best pairs, he said, have different strengths and perspectives, which enable great decision-making. The recent resignation of Steve Jobs provided another example of exactly this point. We’re all learning about Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, who apparently took care of the details that made Apple’s innovations possible.
Another great philosopher, the late comedian George Carlin, once talked about his relationship with other drivers on the road. People who drove faster than him, Carlin said, were maniacs; people who drove slower were idiots. In other words, they were different and therefore, had to be wrong.
Un-common sense is everything it seems. And I’m sure you agree because it isn’t possible that I’m wrong. Right?
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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