Monday, September 17, 2012

Trust Your Common Sense

How many times have you sat through a training session or read a study and thought, “Well, duh – I already knew that.  It’s just common sense?”  How many times have you been assigned to do something that you know is doomed to failure because it just doesn’t make sense…yet no one speaks up.  Too often, we ignore one of our greatest assets – the ability to apply plain ol’ common sense to solving a problem or implementing a new idea or averting a disaster.  And that’s just a shame.

About the middle of my federal career, I was in line for a promotion.  I had one competitor.  I was with my boss in a top management meeting; and when I leaned over to him to suggest that something just didn’t make sense, he said, “speak up!”  I didn’t because I didn’t trust my instincts.  My competitor did - and he said exactly what I’d thought.  Everyone lauded his brilliance because he’d pointed out something that would have led to failure.  And he got the promotion.  Lesson learned. 
When I was HUD’s web manager, my web team often got involved in vigorous discussions about what we were doing and how we were doing it.  But at some point, I’d stop them and ask, “OK – what’s the right thing to do for the American people?”  Nine times out of ten, the answer was right there; and we all knew it.  We just had to use our common sense to get through the weeds.
These are very busy times, aren’t they?  You’ve got the Digital Government Strategy to implement.  You have the Plain Writing Act to implement.  You have Customer Service legislation winding its way through Congress (it passed in the House last week - woot!).  And no matter who wins the election in November, you’ll have new initiatives and probably some new leaders, requiring even more actions.  With so many demands, you can’t help feeling overwhelmed. 
Call on your common sense.  Sit back, take a breath, look at the big picture, and ask yourself, “Which of these tasks can make the most difference for my customers?  Which of these tasks can do the most for my agency?  What can I do well, realistically?  What is the best use of my time and resources?  What is the right thing to do?”  Instead of trying to do 20 things at once (and probably not doing any of them well), use your common sense to pick 5 of the most important things; and do those well.  Then move on to others.   If something you’re being asked to do just doesn’t make sense, point it out.  Give alternatives that would make sense. 
Trust your common sense.   Use it.  Your customers will thank you.  Your agency will thank you.  You’ll feel better.
“Common sense is instinct…enough of it is genius” – George Bernard Shaw
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