How Common is “Common Sense”?

This is a question that has been bugging me for a few years.

I used to take it for granted that “Common Sense” implies it is common, i.e. the largest denominator out there. Any normal people will have it, since we are mostly “common”.

Slowly I start to realize it is something precious, almost hard to come by. Whenever there is a new hire, a new team, some kind of new character popped up at work place, when we attempt to make a first assessment of said person, “he/she makes sense” becomes the most valuable characteristic. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief when anyone is tagged with that pronouncement.

Consider this little episode, needless to say, pseudo names all around.

– Co-worker John and Jack are in the same department.
– Mel is John’s counterpart from a different department that they interact with constantly.
Trigger Event:
– Mel suggested to John in an email that John’s group should do activity A, Jack happened to be on that same email thread.
– Jack thought A is a grand idea, and thought what Mel really asked for was actually A1, A2, and A3, plus there would be more benefit to both groups, such as B, C, D that Mel probably hadn’t thought of . But they need to also consider E, F, G to make activity “A” truly executable and beneficial to all.
– John however went ahead and proposed to Mel that John’s group will do A-, which was essentially the literary translation of A minus all the potential benefit. As a result, it seemed to Jack, people will waste more time doing duplicate work, but achieve nothing more than if they dont’ do A- at all.
– So, not wanting to make John look bad in front of other departmental personal (btw, this might not sound like much, but this is one huge improvement for Jack cuz he was known to be non-tactful.) Jack countered John on a department internal email explaining his thought on A- in a very polite way, proposed his bullet points A1, A2, A3, B, C, D, E, F, G. with short description of each.
– John dug in his heels and insisted A- is all they needed and either avoided commenting on the rest of Jack’s proposal, or his comment didn’t seem to make any sense to Jack (not exactly surprising given how he interpreted Mel’s original proposal A).
– Meanwhile, Mel replied to John’s proposal and pointed out the exact shortcoming of A- just as Jack explained in the internal email, and also expanded her original proposal A to A1, and even made reference to B that was also on Jack’s list.

So now, Jack felt like he was in an “uh-ha” moment. In his mind, Mel totally made sense. And if jack could talk to Mel directly, they could have moved forward already and probably further refined jack’s list of bullet points to some actionable plan.

In other words, to Jack, Mel seems to have “common sense”, but John doesn’t. If Jack gets to work with Mel (i.e. people considered to have common sense) directly, then they will be more efficient. The relationship will be very pleasant. Things will seem very smooth.

or is it?

Maybe our definition of “common sense” is nothing more than “OUR” definition. In essence, each of us considers common might not be exactly common afterall? It will be more efficient if people who think alike get to work together. But it gets harder and harder to keep that “purity” or “homogeneity” as a company/work group grows.

On the other hand, maybe it depends on how you define as “success”. For Jack and people he found to have common sense, success means they get things done, on time and function as expected. For others, such as “John” in this little episode, maybe “success” means to do minimum work possible and not get into trouble and keep everyone above him happy.

So in John’s eyes, maybe jack’s the one who doesn’t have common sense. The fact Jack only countered him in an internal group email might still be considered “non-tactful” cuz there are other people from the department were left on the thread. Maybe in his eyes, the really right way for Jack to counter him is to email him directly. Cuz that seems to be John’s way of working so far, all very secretive or “discrete”, depends on your perspective.

The fact that Mel’s email validated Jack’s concern probably is a moot point in John’s mind, cuz ever since then, that topic seems to have disappeared from any discussion. Maybe John is going through his “discrete” individual emailing campaign that jack is not aware of.

Then came my second question, can “common sense” be taught?

Jack’s boss has been dealing with John(same John in previous example) for a while. He and Jack think alike, which means he is having trouble get his point across to John too. But he approaches it differently than Jack. He exhibited inhuman patience at educating John on every point, and he doesn’t give up when John failed to grasp the meaning over and over again. As a result, things that could be settled in one paragraph with jack, or another that has the same “common sense” as them, would take Jack’s boss a day, a week, even a month to explain to John, and at the end John still only gets like 40% of the full meaning of things.

Jack’s boss’ theory is it is better to teach the other to fish than to get the fish for him. Jack was agreeing with him when he just figured out that theory of his. But now he is not so sure.

Because the reason Jack’s boss is spending the time to educate John, is that he has the assumption that common sense could be taught. For example, if he is spending 40 hours educating John on event 1, John would learn to deal with event 2 in a slightly improved way, by then Jack’s boss only needs to spend 20 hours handholding John on event 2, 10 hours on event 3, etc. etc. and eventually John can be brought into the same camp and things will become easy.

What if that value of time spent hand-holding doesn’t diminish as Jack’s boss has hoped? what if he needs to spend 40 hours to teach John how to fish every single kind of fish?

While it would only take Jack’s boss 5 hours to get the fish for John?

What makes sense in that scenario?

Jack’s ex-boss has an even better strategy. In our fisherman metaphor it could be translated into “let John starve.” At the time when Jack first heard of this strategy, he was disgusted. It seemed cruel and mean. But in hindsight, Jack started to realize the brilliance of that strategy.

We are not trying to promote cruelty to unlucky fisherman. One backstory i haven’t mentioned in our little theater is that John is somehow connected with Jack’s boss’ boss’ boss. So one must be careful around him. Not giving support to John and being seen as opposing to John all the time (too much counter argument against John’s suggestions for example) are equally dangerous.

But i digress.

Back to our Common Sense question. Just like i’m not convinced that Jack could teach his set of “common sense” to people who don’t get it, i’m equally convinced that Jack probably won’t be able to subscribe to John’s own set of “common sense” any time soon. My suggestion to Jack was to mix both his ex-boss and his current boss’ strategy. He should voice his counter argument at least once, state his objection and his rational once. Get it on paper and in front of a group (i.e. a half-baked measure of his boss’s strategy, cuz he shouldn’t waste his time trying to educate John on everything he doesn’t get on Jack’s first try). Then Jack should shut up and watch (here enters Jack ex-boss’ strategy).

We will wait and see.

Meanwhile, i dug out some really good advice list i got from a friend in my first job and shared it with Jack. Re-reading it now still seemed really valuable. He totally makes sense! 🙂 (back story: At the time i was having trouble with one particular reportee who didn’t seem to have “common sense”. So i went to my friend for advice. Gosh! It was almost 10 years ago!!)

Everyone, no matter what position on the team, has to have ownership (or at least feel like they do!) of SOMETHING. People hate feeling like they are not being useful, or that their ideas are being ignored, or that they have no chance to affect the outcome.

Everyone can make a valuable contribution in some way. Sometimes you just have to figure out a person’s unique way of contributing. The answer that you get when everyone has contributed will always, no questions, be better than the answer had you come up with it alone.

No one thinks like me, as much as I hate it. Patience is soooo important. Honesty and immediate direct feedback is always the best, even if it is painful. You have to lay the groundrules for how this guy behaves on the team and interacts with others; if he’s being immature or can’t take criticism or whatever, let him know that his approach is unacceptable and why. Then let him know that if it continues his eval will say so. Then, if he still doesn’t change, blow it off. There’s nothing that you can do so don’t stress about it.

Humor, levity, and a certain lack of seriousness can be helpful in relating to others. At the end of the day, people at work are just that: people at work.

President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

As I was watching President Obama delivering the much anticipated speech on TV, a scene from “The Lord of Rings – Return of the King” kept on flashing through my mind, when Aragon and the soldiers from Rohan and Gondor stood in front of the massive ominous black door of Mordor. “A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight!” It seems fitting. Isn’t it?

FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address
President Barack Obama Delivers Inaugural Address at US Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Jan. 20, 2009

Full transcript as prepared for delivery of President Barack Obama’s inaugural remarks on Jan. 20, 2009, at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.

They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

Holiday Feast!

We’ve been cooking up a storm at home during this holiday season. I got some easy recipe on line for bread baking. So freshly baked bread has been a huge hit, too. I love it when the house if filled with freshly baked bread aroma. heavenly! On New Year’s Eve, Gui and Matthew joined us and Gui and ZM each cooked a bunch of delicious dishes. On New Year’s day, mom made lots of Chinese goodies from scratch, such as meat pie, dumpling and pot-stickers. I’m drooling again as I typed these… Yum!

Happy 2009!

More photos: Holiday 2008 Feast

Life and Death according to George Carlin

Ever since i watched the “Curious Button” (per ZM) movie, i kept remembering fragments of a quote, something to the effect of human’s life cycle is backward, having death at the end is depressing, instead, we should have it the other way around, born old, and die into an orgasm. But i couldn’t remember where i heard/read of it. Nor where it was from, a book? a movie?

So i did a quick search and found the real author behind the quote and the actual quote itself. It was by George Carlin, a stand-up comedian, SNL’s first host.

The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating …and you finish off as an orgasm.

George Carlin