Court, celebrate and keep common sense

Written by Liz Willis on 27 January 2016

I’m a huge fan of common sense. That’s possibly because I tend to find that, contrary to its name, it’s far from common and often tragically missing, disregarded or undervalued. Sometimes it seems that the more powerful or influential the people involved, the less common sense seems to be in evidence!

The same applies in the training world. I’ve often noticed that, generally, when running courses, people tend to value things in direct relation to their complexity or inaccessibility.  

Of course, it will depend a lot on your preferred way of learning but it often seems that the more complicated a concept is to understand and the more time we have to spend getting our heads around it the better it must be.

Maybe it’s because, having invested our time and effort to understand a complex idea, we’ve already made a commitment to make it work. To do otherwise would be to admit that we made a mistake and no one likes to do that.

Course participants occasionally come up to me during our ‘Springboard’ workshops and say, in a rather superior way: “This is all common sense.” It’s clearly not intended as a compliment! 

“Yes, it is,” I agree, “So, are you doing it?”

Whatever ‘it’ happens to be, the answer has always been “No, I’m not.”  So it’s not that common after all! Or maybe the person is disappointed that the ‘answer’ has been staring them in the face. They were really looking for an excuse for why they weren’t doing ‘it’ to get them off the hook.

So, we need courses, books, stories and examples to remind ourselves of the common sense answers because common sense is what works. But because it can be so obvious, it’s often disregarded.

This is essential for us trainers to remember. Yes, we need to keep up-to-date, know about the latest research, ideas and concepts, and some of us have to use complex technical terms in our work, but we also need to use our common sense.

It takes skill and creativity to translate complex concepts into everyday language, to make our training accessible and relevant. Above all else, we’re communicators and we’re the bridges between the material and our participants.

It’s easy to make things complicated and obscure. It’s easy to parade our intellectual knowledge and experience. It’s easy to get stale or sloppy and forget that these people, on this day, are hearing it for the first time and it’s our job to make it as easy as possible to understand.

When we wrote our ‘Springboard Women’s Development Workbook’, we wanted to be generous. We wanted people to feel they were getting really good value, so we crammed in as many personal/work development concepts and ideas as we could.

We then spent a long time going through the drafts – many times - simplifying the language, simplifying the structure and layout, simplifying the illustrations, putting everything into everyday language, taking out jargon or anything else that presented a barrier to understanding. If it couldn’t be explained in ordinary language, it was out. If it wasn’t immediately clear, it was out.

We did the same when designing and writing the accompanying workshops - so they were fully accessible, practical, and do-able. I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons for the programme’s huge success.

Of course, you’re an expert in your field and, of course, you run and/or commission good courses. After all, you’re a professional – but, if you want to polish your material, your course design and your delivery as well as your way of thinking, use your common sense.

Don’t be too proud to do the obvious. It’s probably staring you in the face.

About the author 

Liz Willis OBE, Joint CEO of The Springboard Consultancy.

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