The Eight Principles of Common Sense*

The Eight Principles of Common Sense*

Looking for a new way of solving problems or getting things done?

Use the power you already have.

Try approaching problems and projects using this as a framework for thinking.


1 Many things are simple

You’ve heard the expression. ‘It’s not rocket science.’  Putting a man on the moon, for example, as depicted in the new movie, First Man, is rocket science but most of us aren’t flight controllers at NASA.  Often, we look for complicated solutions where simple ones would be (a) much more appropriate, (b) far easier to find, (c) simpler and more economical to implement.

So – ask, ‘What would be the simplest thing to do here?’


2 Know what you’re trying to do

‘If you don’t know what port you’re sailing to, any wind is a fair wind.’

So – ask yourself, ‘How will I know when I’m done?’


3 There is always a sequence of jobs [tasks]

When anything, large or small, gets done, it gets done because a sequence of jobs is carried out.  Figuring this sequence out as you go along is called firefighting.  Figuring it out after the fact i.e. what the sequence of jobs should have been, is sometimes called ‘a post mortem’.  More often it’s called ‘a disaster’. Figuring out the sequence of jobs before you start is called planning.

So – if these are your three choices – which one would you pick?


4 Things don’t get done if there aren’t people to do them

And yet, all the time, organisations:

  • Undertake projects that are inadequately resourced,
  • Have people multitasking, which is a hugely inefficient way of working,
  • Don’t compare what they’re trying to do with the resources they have to do it (capacity planning);

while individuals take on far more to do than they have time to do it.

Put simply, it’s Demand [how much work you’re trying to do] and Supply [how many people you have to do that work].

So – these two numbers have to be the same.


5 Things rarely turn out as expected

So why do we almost always believe that – this time – they will?

You need to:

  • Have something in reserve for when (inevitably) things go wrong [Contingency],
  • Try to stop bad things from happening [Risk management].

So – build Contingency into your plans (and don’t let anybody take it out) and do risk management.


6 Things either are or they aren’t

Have you ever been told, ‘We’re 90% done’ [which usually means that 90% of the allocated time has gone, not that 90% of the thing has been done]? Or ‘We’re nearly there’?  Or ‘Just another couple of days’ or any similar phrases?  Or seen status reports with ‘percentage complete’ on them?  Forget it – things either are or they aren’t.

So – a task can exist in only one of two states: it’s either done or it’s not done.


7 Look at things from others’ points of view

In general, the things we do affect other people, not just ourselves. How will other people view the action you are going to take, the project you propose to carry out, the thing you intend to say?

So – identify who else is affected by what you propose to do and what the best possible outcome for them would be.


8 Every day is precious

The things we use to get our projects done are people, money, equipment / materials and time – days.

We can hire or contract in or reassign more people.  We can get more budget or more investment or a bank loan.  We can buy more equipment or materials.

But days are different. 

Once a day is gone it’s not coming back.  We can’t get more of it.  It’s gone.

So – spend each precious, irreplaceable day as wisely as possible.  Don’t fritter them away.



* Many of the ideas in this post are taken from Fergus’ book, Simply Brilliant, now in its fourth edition.  There’s much more there.