Perspective and Common Sense

I read an interesting piece on the MIX (link here) about when organizations create change, common sense can often lead them astray because people often act irrationally.  The example used was how people will spend 10 minutes driving around to find the closest parking space when they could have saved half that time by parking in the first open space and walking.  But is this irrational?

The thing about common sense and rationality is that it typically works very well when use it in the realm of the physical world (think physics – equal and opposite reaction, and that kind of stuff), but when we try to apply it to behavioral science, we often find that our so-called “common” sense is not so common.  Grabbing the first available parking space is a perfect example – it is only common sense to do this IF time is the most important preference.  Perhaps it is more important that one parks closer because they will be carrying out a lot of bags, or it is going to rain and they do not have an umbrella, or they sprained their ankle a few days earilier, or some other overriding preference other than time.  We also see this at work when someone turns down the promotion that was a “no brainer” – big office, pay raise, perks, etc. – and we say it was only “common sense” for them to take the job; that them not taking the position was “irrational.”  What we did not factor in was that the job is going to be more hours, more travel, and the person helps coach their daughter’s soccer team and they don’t want to give that up.  We looked at the preference as though career success was more important, where they chose the preference of family time.  How can we say this is irrational behavior?

If we looked at the first example and knew it was going to rain and they did not have an umbrella, then driving a few extra minutes to get closer might seem very rational.

Before we get on someone for not having “Common Sense” or behaving irrationally, we need to make sure what we’re talking about is something we can apply common sense to and not just an opinion in which we are imposing our views based on our perspective without regard for theirs.

Let me know your thoughts!


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