The key to survival? Think…

Common sense. We hear that phrase all the time. Actually, I hear it all the time. And I shudder every time I do.

Why does it make me shudder when a friend or co-worker says to me, “well, that’s just common sense.”? I get the heebee jeebees when people say that because it means that as I, or someone else, was trying to impart important knowledge to them they weren’t listening. What they heard made sense to them, and so they immediately discounted it as stuff they already knew. Worse yet, they discounted it as something that everyone knows.

Not good.

I recently sat for a day-long exam in order to get certified in my profession. Prior to taking the exam I attended a two-day test-prep course. In the prep course I was surrounded by my professional peers. This particular certification exam is restricted to those who already have serveral years of experience in the field. So, I was amongst people who were about to take a test to prove to the world they know what they’re doing because they’ve learned it in the field. The number of times that my fellow prep class participants responded to a bit of wisdom imparted to us by the instructor with, “well, that’s just common sense,” was astounding. The instructor repeatedly admonished these people not to think what we were talking about was as simple as all that. Most failed to pay attention to him. How do I know? Because we’ve kept in touch and the folks who thought they were going to be faced with a test of their “common sense” knowledge did not pass the exam.

In today’s Wired News is an article that talks about why some people survived the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/01 and others didn’t. 911 operators told people in the building who called to stay in place and await either further instructions or a rescue. Those who followed those instructions died. Those who looked around, paid attention to exactly how fucked up things seemed to be and sought out more information from outside via their cell phones, blackberries and whatnot found out that they needed to get the hell out and did so.

Now, one would think that exiting a building that a jumbo jet has plowed into resulting in a massive fire would be obvious. You know, common sense. Apparently not. One of the lessons there is that we human beings really aren’t all that clever. When we’re under stress we’re especially dim. I see this in my work all the time. The more stress you put someone under the less likely they are to see what’s right in front of their faces. That’s why we need to listen to the advice of others. And hopefully we choose to seek advice from people who know what they’re talking about.

In the case of the 9/11/01 attack the folks in the WTC who sought advice from emergency dispatchers got a pat answer to their queries from dispatch personnel who didn’t have enough information to be giving advice in the first place. One call to a loved one near a TV or radio was enough to tell people to get moving.

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