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Switching on Your Common Sense: A Key to Success
By Halyna Semenova

The topic I’m about to address is quiet simple: common sense as a secret to success and ways to switch it on. I chose it because it’s just my favorite phrase to explain things that you can’t explain: “It’s common sense”. Headline “Common Sense is a Key to Success” lived alone for almost four weeks because it seemed that there’s practically nothing left to say except for the obvious: in order to be successful you need to have common sense. But after giving it an additional thought I understood that it’s not about having common sense (everybody has it) but about managing it properly. And here is how the second part of the title arrived: Switching on Your Common Sense.

Common Sense even though it has “common” in its name has a varied set of definitions. For me common sense is a sound judgment that is not based on specialized knowledge or expert assessment. I consider it to be a key to success because it allows you to make the right decisions in confusing situations even with the absence of formal education.
I believe in this statement because I have had a successful career in the IT industry for the past 10 years having a Master’s degree in Economics with Marketing as a specialty. I’m not encouraging those of you who are still studying to drop out of school. And by no means am I stating that if you already graduated, you did it in vain. On the contrary, I admire people who combine theoretical knowledge with common sense. What I would like to emphasize is that listening to your common sense besides using books and experts is very important for your career and personal life as well.

Let’s have a look at some examples from real life to prove the importance of common sense. Everybody will agree that you don’t have to get a diploma in philology to know that the same word can mean different things in different languages. It’s quiet obvious, right? If so, then I have a question: Where was the common sense of the Bacardi marketing team when they named their new fruit drink “Pavian”? Of course, with that name they meant “French chick” but it seemed they forgot about targeting the German market because “Pavian” in German means “Baboon”!
Another example which is more related to IT: you don’t have to acquire a certification to know that after developing a solution, it should be shipped to the client and installed on-site, right? If so, then why are the efforts on developing an installer or IT deployment efforts missing in the schedules, budgets or project plans? Besides, missing estimates or project activities, some certified engineers even manage to miss the whole person. If you develop a product, it’s obvious that somebody should eventually own it, possess the knowledge and understand the development roadmap. Then why is the Product Owner’s role in some organizations still often assumed as optional?

Here is another example showing that I’m as irrational sometimes as anybody else. You don’t have to graduate from veterinary college to know that cats have claws which they show if angry or scared. I know it as well. And I have a cat which I once put on a rubber Pilates ball… I thought it would be funny if the cat rode a ball like in the circus. And I must say that I was caught by surprise with a big bang that followed. It was few years ago so I can’t blame my age for this fantastic idea.

I bet anyone among the readers can give plenty of other examples of irrational behavior or behavior that totally contradicts common sense. So WHY do smart, intelligent and educated people do these stupid things and make erroneous decisions? I can’t think of any reason other than sometimes everybody’s common sense can be switched off.
I’m not investigating reasons why it happens this way – it can be a theme for a new article, a TEDx speech or even an entire conference. I would like to share five simple actions to turn things back to normal. They may help you to make a right decision in a confusing situation.

Five Simple Keys to Switch on Your Common Sense

  1. Ask questions. It’s common sense for a human being to ask if they don’t know something. However often we are afraid or ashamed to sound stupid or funny for not knowing something or we can simply forget to ask before starting, let’s say a project assignment. Omitting a question may lead to reinventing the wheel as a best case scenario.
    Just remember that when you start a new task, there is a so-called rookie period when none of your questions are stupid or worthless. The magic phrase “Since I’m new to this, please advise…” opens any door. Use it whenever necessary.

  2. Answer questions. Common sense tells us to give a direct response to a direct question. When common sense is switched off, a lot of unnecessary details, stories come up in the answer to a yes/no question. When a question is whether a wall is black or white, please don’t tell how long it took to paint it, at least not in a 15 minute speech that starts “Oh, I know an interesting story about that!”

  3. Stick to your words. Nowadays keeping your promises has become a virtue that less and less people possess. However it’s common sense to do what you promised you would do. If you’re not going to do this, don’t say you will. If you think that being that predictable is boring, just do something quicker than promised and it will be a nice surprise.

  4. Zoom in and out. That’s one of my favorites. Maybe you know or have even used prezi.com, a cloud-based presentation solution. It has an absolutely fascinating functionality that makes prezi so different. Instead of putting information you try to convey in chronological order as in PowerPoint, you use a white canvas where you place and arrange your ideas in a way to have a full picture available at once. Regular zoom in and out is a useful practice while working on any task. Zoom in to focus on the details and zoom out to understand why you do it in the first place.

  5. Balance. To switch on your common sense you need to use the right combination of the 4 previous actions. It’s the most obvious and the hardest step to follow. Any action that is exaggerated or underdone loses its common sense. Too many questions, too much attention to detail and too little to the whole picture may be confusing and lead to the wrong decision. You need to balance.

It is the same way as some of you may have learned to skate – applying a right pressure to the right wheel. Zoom out when you ask a question to understand why you need this information and what you’re going to do with it. Zoom in means you need to be specific when you tell what you’re going to do.

As I mentioned before anybody can switch off their common sense once in a while. It’s normal and may even lead to some unexpected results that a reasonable and down-to-earth person won’t ever achieve. But when it comes to your career and daily life, a person with common sense definitely has an advantage.

That is my message to you: let’s make common sense common practice.

Halyna Semenova is currently working as an Engagement Director at SoftServe, Inc., a leading global provider of software development, testing and technology consulting services. Halyna is Certified Outsourcing Professional® (COP) with more than 10 years of experience in IT. She ensured a smooth and successful start of the numerous software development projects by identifying a right sourcing model and strategy; consulting on adopting engineering processes to a distributed environment; developing service transition plan etc. Halyna can be contacted at hsem@softserveinc.com.

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