The myth about common sense

The widespread belief about common sense is that it is innate and widespread. Another widespread belief is that philosophies, approaches or methodologies like 5S, Lean, Continuous Improvement and more are “nothing but common sense”, said with a bit of contempt.

What is common sense?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, common sense (noun) is the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions. It is sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.

Is it common ?

My own experience tells me no. Not at all.

First, there are attitudes, reactions, answers, acts, etc. generally accepted as common sense: organizing workspace to ease work, calling for rescue when witnessing an accident with victims, refrain from using elevators in case of fire and so on.

Despite the fact they are common sense, they do not always lead to the proper behavior, reaction, etc.

For example, I keep wondering how few people are really able to spontaneously organize themselves / their environment in a safe, logical and efficient way.

Take ten people and ask them to organize themselves for a simple activity with several basic operations or tasks, some material and tools and chances are you get ten different layouts and organizations. If common sense is common, they should have come up with nearly the same solution.

Once you tell or suggest them how it could be much better organized, they generally will agree. But why didn’t they do it first hand?

Because of the second point about common sense: the perception of common sense is personal. Many times what people present me being “nothing but common sense” is not what I understand as common sense.

It should not take a seasoned consultant’s experience to understand that waiters in restaurant should try to optimize their walks, for example avoiding coming and going empty-handed.

While waiting for my orders, I too often have time to see waiters focused on one single thing, e.g. return to the kitchen but not taking the opportunity to take away empty dishes, empty bread basket… no, they’ll walk an extra way for that, usually after customer’s signal.

It is common sense that “optimizing” the walks would reduce tiredness, or isn’it?

If it is, so why so many waiters just don’t do it?

Remember, common sense: the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions.

The same works for safety, a matter people keep puzzling me with their ability to endanger themselves – and possibly others – with behaviors, organization, way of thinking or decisions that are all but contrary to common sense: “Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”.

5S, Kaizen, Lean… nothing but common sense?

Basically I do agree 5S, Kaizen, Lean, etc. are nothing magic and could be “discovered” by anybody using common sense.

But if it is only that (said with a bit of contempt by people who don’t impress me much with their achievements), how come the same 5S, Kaizen, Lean, etc. are credited with such high failure rates?

How come their rules and principles are so often resisted if they are “only common sense”?

In my opinion, common sense is recognized once people really able to demonstrate how common sense applies demonstrate it. And those are few.

Conclusion 1: common sense is not that common
Conclusion 2: common sense gets common and widespread once taught to the mass
Conclusion 3: I hate the concept of “common sense”

About The Author, Chris HOHMANN

About The Author, Chris HOHMANN

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One thought on “The myth about common sense

  1. Dear Chris,

    I like this new post !

    It remember me when in R&D we dicover something new and when each times people all around you claim it’s only common sense as it you were describing evidence.

    In this case, why not having applied the new thing before ?

    Common sense for me is a way for me for people to escape thinking more deeply on facts.

    Logics is never easy to handle !

    Warm regards



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