The role of common sense


As human beings, we push ourselves forward every day of our lives. We want better lives, we want to be happier, we want to discover new things. During this endless process, we learn. Every single experience creates new connections in our brains, and we start to see things through a new perspective. Most of the time, we become aware of things that never crossed our minds before. This is one of the reasons why, generally, more experienced people are less “bold” than the younger: they are more aware of the risks.

When we learn something new, it’s like we added a new fancy tool in our toolbox. You begin to see all kinds of applications for it. With your new hammer, now you can put on some nails to hang that beautiful painting… you can use it to straighten that metal thing that’s crooked for years… you can use to soften the meat you bought on the supermarket… you can use it to hammer a screw instead of screwing it… wait… that’s becoming a little weird…

Everyone knows the saying: “just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should“. Your new fancy tool is not the proper tool for ALL things. Actually, it may as well be a very bad tool for some things. But we become so excited with our new toy that we don’t even think about it. And this leads to low quality, headaches and frustration.

Knowledge is like our hammer. It is a tool. When applied improperly, it usually generates more problems that it solves. It takes a little experience to get to know what problems that specific knowledge solves, but we can always rely on something to guide us: our common-sense. The moment you stop questioning yourself “should I use this new thing I learned to solve that problem“, the moment you stop using your common sense and start applying just for the sake of it… well… you’re in real trouble!

We all have seen situations where people wave their fancy diplomas or brag about how intelligent they are to justify making decisions that anyone can see are plain bad. But reality is cruel: it doesn’t care about our PhD, it just takes its toll when those bad decisions are taken.

Never stop learning. Never stop adding new tools to your toolbox. Open up all doors you can, make all connections you are humanly capable of… but never stop using your common-sense. Always ask yourself: why am I doing this? Is this tool the proper way to solve this problem? Never do something just because “you learned it in that very advanced course you took last summer“. Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to fix a nail with a spreadsheet.