It’s Just Common Sense

May 08, 2019

By Michael Feuer

Each of us experiences hundreds of interactions and face many decisions every day. While we often base our responses on our years of accumulated knowledge, we often make decisions based on our experience and good old common sense. Unfortunately, as it is widely recognized in business, “common sense is not so common.”

Most of us don’t want to admit it, but much like gold or diamonds, common sense is a rare commodity. This sentiment has been echoed throughout corporate boardrooms and in the halls of businesses with from five to 5,000 employees. Yet, as any experienced businessperson knows, there’s no shortcut or substitute for developing the kind of practical horse-sense that can help you avoid problems such as angering an investor, mistreating a customer, or making an ill-advised decision.

The main reason to develop your own common sense—and to make sure those who work with you do the same—is that it compels you to think before you act—something all too few people have learned to do.

The following five common sense tips may seem simple, but I guarantee that if you embrace them you’ll immediately become more effective in your work:

  1. Count to 10 before hitting “send.” Today’s executive receives on average more than 100 daily e-mails and spends more than eight hours a week on electronic communications. Some of these e-mails are bound to invite a nasty response, to an employee, vendor, or customer who has upset you. My advice: take a breather before pressing “send.” E-mails, unlike your momentary anger, are permanent. Wait until you’ve cooled down and can send a measured, carefully worded e-mail. Or, have a face-to-face conversation with the person. This tip may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people let their hot heads get the better of them. Don’t be the person who hits the send button in haste and ends up regretting it.
  2. Know what the deal is with your deals. Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and salespeople got into their careers because they love the thrill of beating out the competition. Unfortunately, while highly motivating, this characteristic can sometimes be blinding, making it impossible for a person to make a business decision based on common sense. Before every sale, new hire, big investment, or any other important business decision, consider all of the facts. Make sure you’re going after the best business opportunity and not just getting carried away with excitement of the chase.
  3. Zip it. Age-old advice lasts for a reason—it’s good advice! That’s why “think before you speak” still holds up today. Again, the same boldness and exuberance that drives successful businesspeople to achieve big wins can also drive them to say some pretty ill-advised things before they stop to think of the ramifications. You might be well on your way to closing a great business deal only to talk your way into trouble with an inappropriate remark or other TMI-influenced comment. Stay focused on business and say only what needs to be said. Zip it before you talk yourself into trouble.
  4. Don’t invest in fantasies. Bernie Madoff delivered seemingly impossible gains to his clients, and they proved to be exactly that—impossible. He’s joined by all of the bad hires who promised big results but never delivered and by the seemingly profitable business partnerships that ended in court battles or failure. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Adopt a “trust, but verify” mindset. Research, research, research when you’re about to make an important decision, whether you’re taking on a big customer, making a new hire, or forming a partnership. And remember, anyone who is truly worthy of your trust will understand the need for due diligence.
  5. Always have a fallback plan. While you shouldn’t let Fear of Failure (FOF) dictate your every move, you can and should channel it to help you stay one step ahead of potential problems. A healthy respect for failure leads to having myriad contingency plans—A, B, C, and, sometimes, D—for when things don’t play out as expected.

The trick is to figure out how to minimize the pain during difficult periods, and then maximize the opportunity that the problem presents. Here’s an example: I first looked into starting up my company Max-Wellness in September 2008, just when the economy started to tank. Worldwide real estate values collapsed and corporations began dropping like flies. Availability of capital almost instantly dried up. To make matters worse, the supply chain began to splinter as suppliers from big to small experienced a sudden cash crunch. Panic and uncertainty became the currency of the moment.

In October 2008, I called a time-out on my plans for Max-Wellness, but I wasn’t ready to shelve the idea altogether. My admittedly sometimes skeptical team, and I got to work on developing ideas on how to create a funding vehicle that would allow us to forge ahead with our plans. It took a willingness to move from Plan B to Plan C and so on, but we got there, and so did Max-Wellness.

Although these days you can download an “app” for almost anything, from real-time traffic reports to a game involving some very angry birds, unfortunately, there’s still no app for good old-fashioned common sense. The good news is that common sense isn’t something you must be born with; it’s a skill that definitely can be learned and developed. True, there’s no “app” for it on your iPhone or BlackBerry, but you can learn from the experience of others, and that’s a resource that’s free. Read up on success stories and cautionary tales, talk to lots of businesspeople whom you respect, and simply practice the art of slowing down and thinking things through before you act. You’ll start reaping the benefits of common sense and clear thinking before you know it.

About the Author(s)

Michael Feuer cofounded OfficeMax in 1988 with one store, $20,000 of his own money, a partner, and a small group of investors. As CEO he grew it to more than 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales topping $5 billion. He is also CEO of Max-Ventures, a venture capital and retail consulting firm, and founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a comprehensive health and wellness retail chain that launched in 2010. He is author of The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition, edited by contributor Dustin S. Klein (Wiley, 2011,