Provision #816: Uncommon Sense

Laser Provision

Albert Einstein famously quipped: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.” Now that’s a thought worth pondering, especially coming from someone as smart as Einstein. What kind of sense do you have? I propose that the world would be a lot better off if we were to develop and live with uncommon sense. Intrigued? Read on.

LifeTrek Provision

Einstein was onto something when he saw the connection between prejudice and common sense. More than once, as I was growing up, my mother suggested that I would do better if I just had a little more common sense. What that usually meant, of course, is that I would do better if I saw or did things her way or the way most people saw or did things. But that’s not the only way to go.

I am famous for finding my own way, or even making up my own way (much to the chagrin of my daughter-in-law). That has not changed in the wake of my recent illness. It’s pretty uncommon to have a disease with which hardly anyone has been officially diagnosed. But that’s my situation and that’s the way my world is right now. So I am learning to navigate in, around, and through this disorder, to the best of my ability, from the standpoint of what’s possible and what I can do at this point in time.

Navigating in such a tentative and curious way uncovers continuously surprising and refreshingly new dimensions of truth. The key for me, and for all of us, is to look for the cutting edge of possibility. That edge is always there, at least up until we die, and whether or not we see that edge depends upon the glasses through which we look at things. Most of the time, we think that change and improvement happen when we see problems and try to fix them. I would call that common sense.

And there are certainly times when common sense is called for. When a drain is clogged up I want a plumber to find the blockage and to clear it out. But treating all of life as a plumbing problem is, in itself, a problem. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to look for problems in the human experience. The more problems we look for, the more problems we find and the more discouraged we become.

Human relationships and organizations work better when we look for strengths. Strengths are always there to be found; we just have to believe they are there and to look for them. That’s the hard part. Problems have a way of jumping up, smacking us upside the head, and grabbing our attention; the more serious the problems the higher they tend to jump, the harder they tend to smack, and the more they tend to grab. I know. I’ve been there, big time.

It’s takes intentional and courageous effort to stop looking at problems and to start looking at strengths. People often don’t think that we have much to learn from strengths. If things are working, and working well, then great! Leave well enough alone! Why bother to look there?

Common sense tells us to apply grease to the squeaky wheels not to the wheels that are turning smoothly. But we can grease those squeaky wheels all day long and, although the decibel level of the squeak may go down, we won’t necessarily get to our destination any more swiftly or certainly. Applying all that grease can just get our wheels spinning round and round, ever faster and faster, without our going anywhere.

To make significant progress requires a different, more appreciative, and more innovative approach. That approach, developed initially by David Cooperrider at Case-Western Reserve University and known as Appreciative Inquiry, is far more positive, uplifting, and transformative than the common-sense approach of traditional problem-solving. It may be uncommon sense to focus on and to explore strengths, but that’s unfortunate – since learning from strengths is a far more enjoyable and effective way to go.

That is certainly one of the hallmarks of LifeTrek Coaching which was, in turn, incorporated into theEvocative Coaching model developed by the Center for School Transformation. I explored that all the way back in May 2007, in my AI Practitioner article titled Five-Principled Coaching. The concept is really quite simple: we keep digging deeper by repeatedly asking the question, “How do we get that?”.

As you will see if you click on the link to download and read the AI Practitioner article, I diagram the question on a pyramid. We start, at the top of the pyramid, with what everyone wants in life and work: positive actions and outcomes. Well, “How do we get that?”

The positive principle of Appreciative Inquiry recognizes that positive actions and outcomes flow from positive energy and emotion (Positive Principle). Well, how do we get that? From positive conversations and interactions (Constructionist Principle). And how do we get that? From positive questions and reflections (Simultaneity Principle). How do we get those? From having positive anticipation of the future (Anticipatory Principle). And how do we get that? From paying positive attention in the present (Poetic Principle). I diagram the principles this way:

ai_principles

Now that may be uncommon sense in terms of how the world usually works, but it is common sense in terms of how transformation works. If you are struggling with a problem it may be time to take a different tack. It may be time to ask different questions. It may be time for uncommon sense.

Coaching Inquiries: How are you approaching the challenges and problems of life? Are you going at them head on, with a sledge hammer? Or are you ready for some uncommon sense? What can you find that is working? How can you build on that to generate greatness in life and work?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Sending healing wishes and prayers in hopes that you find yourself in that 20% who experiences a cure. In any case – I hope your story will continue to be written with beauty, grace, humour and adventure. You are an inspiration to many.


Sunday’s provision will be joyfully read many times over by me: Life is a story. It is awfully hard to see it that way when we are actors involved in the play. Your story has been one of continuous giving. You and Megan have been a positive central characters in so many of our lives.

You were born with gifts that seizures and loss of memory cannot erase. While you may not be able to remember, you have an entire community who will remember for you. Your Provisions are so sincerely written, and address such crucial components of our lives, I am often under the perception (and I believe many others may share this impression) that you are writing to my heart directly.


Congratulations on the award for your School Transformation website! It looks fantastic and the content of the training you offer is changing educational leadership. I am so grateful for having participated in evocative coaching. Best wishes for the team and your work!! So glad to hear that you continue to feel better!


I just read of your seizure struggles post coma. In my mind, I am transported back to my first days after my own trauma… how disruptive (understatement) it was in so many ways to so many people. (I was training for my first ironman triathlon. While riding my bicycle at an organized “t-shirt/charity ride”, I was hit by a driver under the influence of scheduled narcotics). Your writing is as eloquent as it ever was. Your thoughts are as provocative as they have been since I first heard you speak. We are so blessed to still have you around.


Your Provisions on Sunday are really powerful in the openness you model for us. Mary Oliver is an almost daily read for me. Her poetry helps me be grounded and to ponder really important parts of life. Thanks for lifting her up.


Glad to hear you are on the mend and on the upswing. Thanks for your kind words and for spending time with me. Getting old is wonderful. I do not know how God manages it.


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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