How Common Sense Works

I read this in an article on Medium about Elon Musk’s six rules for management.

“If you have thirteen heavy boxes on the ground floor of a building and you have to get them up to the twentieth floor. Because the boxes are so heavy, you can only lift two at a time. You take twenty minutes to carry two boxes up twenty flights of stairs, but only nine minutes to carry one box up twenty flights of stairs.

What do you do?

The common-sense answer is: take the elevator.”

You can see the article here. Six Productivity Hacks Elon Musk Sent to Staff

The six hacks are themselves common sense.

#1. Leave a meeting if you are not contributing.

#2 Avoid large meetings.

#3 Communicate directly, irrespective of hierarchy.

#4 Quit using nonsense words and technical jargon.

#5 Ditch frequent meetings.

#6 Always pick common sense as your guide.

You will notice three of them are directed at meetings. Meetings are a pox on productivity. I have seen a boardroom with a 36-foot table but no chairs. The usual power games and preening disappear in the interest of communicating and deciding.

Two more are about communicating. Direct, clear speech seems to be a common-sense idea for Musk. How often does the speaking part come second to the part about positioning and arcane knowledge? Today, business communication is not so different from communication in the court of Louis XV.

It took thousands of years for people to learn to use language effectively.  Poor communication skills will set you back to stone age solutions.

Media communication is even less helpful.

What is common sense?

Notice the difference between street smart and intelligent. Commons sense is the ability to get things done efficiently and effectively. It addresses what works rather than what shows well.

Common sense is neither common in the sense that it ordinarily appears nor in the sense that we each share the pieces. Common sense is a thing we each have based on our knowledge, skill, and experience. It is more a way of behaving. Of finding the workable shortest distance between a problem and a solution.

It often involves applying information and skills that seem outside the problem definition. Sometimes we call it thinking outside the box. Often it means not recognizing the box at all. Some of the best solutions involve finding a set of data not usually connected to a particular problem.

Creativity is applied common sense. Sometimes shaking the box leads you to a better arrangement of pieces so you can see something differently.

Urgency usually defeats common sense. It doesn’t let your mind wander in search of a better solution.

The bits to take away

Never let a problem confine the variables you must use to solve it.

Communicate what you mean to the person who should hear it.

Avoid time-wasting activities

Learn new things in new areas of study

Help me, please. Please subscribe. If you have found this article helpful, forward it to others.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

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