Monday, December 6, 2010

Common Sense---a (business) notion that has been around for a long time...

Ben Franklin often spoke of common sense with such notable quotes as "If you would be wealthy, think about saving as well as getting” and “Creditors have better memories than debtors." 

Ben’s practical approach to life was admired by many and certainly has much to teach us about executive leadership.

In business, complexity is the enemy of common sense. When business ideas are allowed to flourish in the form of highly complicated and confusing concepts, common sense is often a casualty. Complexity hides basic truths and we don’t have to look very far to find examples

Senior executives must constantly be on guard for ideas that are too hard to explain, are expressed with emotion rather than logic, and are pitched with certainty, often by individuals convinced of their superior intellect.  “Trust me on this one, I completely understand the issues.”   To ensure common sense prevails you should:
o     Ask pointed questions and listen carefully.  Questions are almost always more useful than statements.  Poor listening is behind many bad decisions.

o     Encourage aggressive debate and give your team permission to engage in conflict when considering important decisions.  Let them know it is okay to “get into it”, notwithstanding personal attacks.

o    Seek input from diverse sources both within and external to your organization. Check out your thinking with those you trust to tell you the unvarnished truth. 

o    Recognize the natural role your emotions play in decision making. Emotions can override judgment; learn to question your emotions.

In business, common sense is an important litmus test for good decision making.  By asking questions like, “Does the idea pass the reasonableness test?"  

Would I do this with my own money?  
Can the idea be expressed simply?  
Is it supported by facts? 

These are the kind of questions Ben would likely ask.  

We would all do well to heed his wisdom; it is as relevant today as it was 250 years ago.

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