Nurturing Common Sense in A Time of Crisis

The 2020 election will be all about common sense.

That is important because of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to as the Brits put it, Keep Calm and Carry On.” But it’s also important because one candidate embodies sound, prudent action and the other has no vision and suffers from dementia, simply wanting to return to misplaced multilateralism, multiculturalism, and rule by multinational-transnational corporations and their globalist financiers.

Since common sense is an innate ability, found in all persons to varying degrees, it can be nurtured and developed. The American public knows this. Common sense is inborn in everyone. But it can also be honed, shaped, and learned when it has been usurped by bad habits.

As a form of native intelligence, common sense is then akin to a skill that can be perfected over time and habituated. Like all exercise, it must be practiced in order to perfect and to maintain its qualities. If you don’t employ common sense it can dwindle over time and become ever more elusive. Nurturing common sense in business, but also in politics, is therefore paramount. Common sense equates with prudence—a core tenet of conservative values.

Perhaps we need to take a much more radical approach to common sense—considering the role of life experience, surviving tough conditions, problem-solving that lasts a lifetime, and no-nonsense realism. We are learning this the hard way. After all, this is the kind of intelligence found in people who are put into situations where they need to solve problems.

People who practice common sense also seek social connectivity. Knowing who to leverage and from whom one can learn—and intuitively knowing who is good at what they do—matters. Business leaders and political leaders both have this knack but too rarely use it. Those who do excel. Our president has uncommon, common sense.

As we approach the 2020 election, perhaps we need to assess the options based more on characteristics of common sense than on questions surrounding ideology, identity politics, or party. What would this mean in times of crisis?

Thoughtfulness is a core part of common sense—always asking questions such as “what if?” “is that really true?” and “how do you know that?” are critical. Common sense is the ability to see a complex world in simple terms and then communicate what you see to others to get them convinced of a defined vision or a sound solution.

There are, I think, 15 elements that go into common sense, as we have defined it. Working on all of the elements is necessary and, in some sense, also is never fully complete. Common sense should be considered a work in progress, as well as a skill set. President Trump surely is trying to base his notion of governing around such an understanding of common sense. What works is styled as “practical realism.” It is not overtly ideological but rooted in reality—a conservative understanding of practice and performance, yielding results.

A program to develop each element and then combine them together will make any leader, indeed, any person, more commonsensical in business, politics, or in any other domain. We define each element below and give an example that will help you refine your own common sense.

Combined, the whole list of elements makes for consistent and comprehensive common sense acumen. These elements are brought together in organizations, implemented, trained, and practiced by leaders at every level. In government the same is true. When we vote this year, we should think about common sense as a guiding set of principles informed by these abilities.

They include:


Sensemaking gives us a cognitive edge to deal with the ambiguity that surrounds us. This entails a process of creating awareness and understanding in situations of complexity and uncertainty in order to make sound decisions that transcend time and space and last beyond the specific moment. An example would be futures thinking, proximity, and theories or strategies that anticipate and plan around hard decisions and crises.


Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment—in other words – of being wise. It leads to an optimism that believes problems can be solved and to a sense of calm in hard circumstances. By seeing the big picture, a wise person or leader can get a sense of proportion and introspection. Examples include challenging the status quo, balancing self-interest and the common good, and trying to understand without judging. Wisdom focuses on purpose not immediate gratification or pleasure.


Observation is the action and process of closely viewing or monitoring a thing or person(s). This involves an active acquisition of information and can employ all the senses. Collected data in science is the basis for discovery. An example would be the astronomer gazing for a lifetime into interstellar galaxies to decipher the new, novel, and unique patterns of recognition.


Memorization is simply to learn something so well that you can remember it (perfectly). Some examples are a poem, an actor’s lines, a political speech, or a verse from scripture.


Curiosity means an eagerness to know and learn. It arouses the area of the brain that is excitable, speculative, and centers on the unusual, odd, or inexplicable. The scientists landing the Mars Rover were especially curious about the surface they knew little about.


Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. It can be a physical object or an intangible idea. Innovation through such insights allows us to move ahead. Creativity has been associated with conducive environments, collaboration, serendipity, and even spiritual muses. An example would be the genius of artistic expression, mathematical breakthroughs, and the development of new life or energy-saving devices.


Focus is a cognitive process selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment, while ignoring all others. In science, focus has to do with computing. In optics, it is the image point where light rays originate. An example of focus would be narrowing studying to a defined subject or fixing the mind in order to solve a single problem.


Verbalization is the act of saying something out loud. As the spoken expression of thoughts and ideas in words, it allows other human beings to emote feelings about thoughts, while communicating with others. By developing content imagery, we can create an image from language to promote higher-level thinking. This verbal ability improves reading, listening, memory, vocabulary, writing and critical thinking. An example is giving a speech to a small or large audience that forces the speaker to communicate by verbalizing his or her most cogent thoughts and ideas.

Spatial alignment

Spatial ability is the awareness of oneself in space. This organizational knowledge of objects in relation to self in a given space provides for alignment and positioning. This makes understanding the relationship of and between objects knowable in changing circumstances and placements. Context, geography, and ubiquity in cartography constitute such awareness. An example would be to know where in the world you find yourself, culturally, economically, and geographically, so that you can position yourself, your firm, or your country.

Social skill

Social skills are any skills that facilitate interaction and communication with others. These rules and relations are communicated in both verbal and nonverbal forms. The process of learning this set of skills is called socialization. Think by way of example, of the constant messages, thoughts, and feelings that we send to others. Connecting with others involves empathy, listening, rapport, self-disclosure, and contact.


Cleverness is an ability to understand and know quickly and easily. This intelligence by design is characterized by brightness and mental agility. By exhibiting ingenuity or imagination in an artful way one is found to be clever or even shrewd. As an example, his peers called Darwin most clever for his findings on evolutionary dynamics.


Organization is an entity or practice of bringing multiple people, institutions, associations, or groups together to achieve a common goal. Organization comes in many sizes, types, structures, and ecologies—both formal and informal. Leadership is the authority position in an organization.  An example is a governmental or nongovernmental authority or agency set out to perform a given task or service on a mission.

Complexity reduction

Complexity reduction helps people and organizations simplify strategy, products, processes, and information technology. More complication negatively affects operating models, leading to slow growth, bureaucratization, higher costs, and poorer returns. Streamlining, for example, allows for more direct decision making to serve core customers or citizens better.


Intuition is the ability to understand a thing instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning. Such insight, inkling, or hunches allow for direct perception of truth or fact, independent of verification processes or immediate apprehension. Born out of past experiences, these “gut feelings” are not magic but based in past deep knowledge and memory. An example is the perception of a person or a thing giving value or ascribing risk on first premonition.


Inspiration is a thing or feeling that makes someone want to do something or creates a force or influence that inspires action. People, places, experiences all can inspire. As illustration, religion, art, film, literature, music, and dramatic speeches, are all potential sources of true inspiration.

Uniting all these elements is the essence of common sense—something leaders learn and exhibit over a lifetime. We urgently need this common sense in our corporations, in Congress, and in the White House if we are to succeed as a nation, particularly in this time of crisis.

About Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group. He is the author of 18 books, including The Plot to Destroy Trump and appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world. 

Photo: Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images

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