The Dangers of Lowest Common Denominator Thinking

I think that much of the mire our world has fallen into is the result of lowest common denominator thinking.

For example, as an urban designer, I was disheartened by the watered down design plans we created in the name of community process.

All too often we allowed people’s fears, doubts, misapprehensions, and lack of knowledge to dictate the final outcome for the design of what could have otherwise been a gloriously beautiful urban space.

It was like each fear and each doubt pulled out a piece of what made it beautiful, section by section, until there was hardly anything left.

Yes, it’s true that it’s much easier to find a parking space in front of a strip mall than it is to find one on a small-scale street with lots of shops and overfull parallel parking. But which experience feeds your soul? Which one makes you want to stop the car and check out what everyone is looking at or try that cute little ice cream shop with the big line in front of it?

The Conversation

Similarly, when we plan our own lives, we allow our dreams to be watered down before we even give them the chance to be named. We don’t think, “Ooh, that’s interesting, I wonder how I could do that?” Or, “I wonder how can I take that idea to its highest level of expression?”

Instead we think, “There’s no way that will work. It’ll never happen. I won’t be able to make a living doing that.” That’s the default refrain we hear.

Take The Limiters Out of the Equation

It’s like we’re looking for the lowest common denominator solution first. We bring in the limiting criteria or dismiss alternatives way too early in the process, rather than giving ourselves the chance to Dream Big and imagine what’s possible.

And we do this in so many areas of our lives. We allow fear to dictate the way we birth babies, raise children, run our organizations, deal with politics, grow our food, take care of our planet, choose our careers, and so much more. Are we really only here to cover our butts, pay our bills, live in urban jungles, and just “get by”?

I don’t think so.

Each one of us, EVERY one of us, has a higher calling to fulfill. We have a purpose, a passion, a raison d’être. We simply have to allow ourselves the time and space to find our way to what it is that we were put here to do, and to design — in its full, glorious potential — what that is going to look like.



If you aren’t clear on your life purpose — what you were put here to do — I hope you’ll consider joining me for my upcoming Claim Your Calling life purpose and essential self workshop intensive coming up on March 4th. Early registration (save 25%) 797ends February 11th (this Friday). Details.



Big Dream Actioneering

I’ll be posting about my Big Dream action steps this Friday, and I hope you’ll join me to celebrate your progress as well.



What’s Jenna Up To?

~> NEW DATE: March 4, 2011. Virtual Workshop: Claim Your Calling: 5 Steps To Get You Back On Track With What You Were Put Here To Do. Details. Early registration ends February 11th — Save 25% when you register by this Friday.


  1. Hi Jenna,

    I completely agree with you. I do think you have to do battle when dealing with people if you are trying to create something expansive, beautiful and wonderful as people will challenge your vision due to their own fears. I was on holiday in Tenerife last week (unfortunately it rained for most of the time!) but I met a very interesting massage therapist who told me about a method called the Grinberg Method. Your article made me think of what she told me about this method where the healing was based upon getting clients to open their minds to new things, ie health was synonymous with having new, interesting thoughts and ideas, and if you don’t allow yourself these thoughts you become trapped in monotony and negative thinking, which actually makes you unwell. I found this idea very fascinating and kept me busy with my thoughts as the raindrops fell!

    I also think that as you say, if towns could be beautifully designed places it would do the world of good for people’s morale. It always comes down to budget these days which is so very limiting.

    • Becky, Thanks for your note and the intriguing information about the Grinberg Method. Fascinating!

      I totally agree with you about beautifully designed places doing a world of good for people’s morale. Budget does make a big impact but so does liability. Especially in the US we are so concerned with being sued (fear) that we don’t allow ourselves to do creative, low cost, but still beautiful things with design. Maintenance is often a concern cited as well. So many people don’t want to plant deciduous trees, for instance, because the lose their leaves and then someone has to sweep them up, BUT, deciduous trees often have beautiful fall color and when they are bare allow more sunlight through to the sidewalks when it is colder outside. :)

  2. Hi Jenna,

    Excellent point. I see this LCDT everywhere I go. It’s gotten to the point where people feel so beholden to that reverse-ideal that they’ve lost their capacity to imagine. It all starts in school or what passes for school and continues on through adulthood until you’ve become thoroughly zombified. It’s pretty clear that whoever is running the world (a good sci fi novel?) wants folks to be obedient and dumbed down. Otherwise, we would not have this problem.

    Great think piece … G.

    • Giulietta, Yes, we have lost our capacity to imagine, particularly collectively. We are so entrenched in protecting ourselves from fear (see above comment too) that we don’t allow ourselves to dream big, whether it’s from a global perspective or a personal one.

      Funny, on another note, my shaman and friend and I were just talking about how “crying it out” as a sleep training method makes us into “good” citizens because we are so easy to manipulate emotionally as a result of the soul loss that occurs when we are left to fend for ourselves at such an early age.

  3. No big surprise that we’re on the same wavelength yet again! I love reading your perspectives on the subject.

    I’ve actually been spending the bulk of this past week thinking about people’s propensity for shooting low, or what you’re calling Lowest Common Denominator Thinking here. In my larger life’s view, I’d witnessed this as something I’ve called epitomal mediocrity, thinking it was mostly about people’s fear of standing out, settling for the mundane and often feeling as if that’s really the only option for them or actually believing that that’s where they’re most comfortable. I’ve grown to understand that it’s way bigger than a preference to settle for the lesser, albeit boring, yet probably safer route. It’s actually about knowing that there’s so much more you’re “supposed” to be doing in this life and freezing at the thought of living that way. …you know how I feel about what I’m about to say… THE WORLD NEEDS US TO GET OUT THERE AND MAKE THE DIFFERENCE WE’RE EACH MEANT TO MAKE!!

    It’s about developing an impetus for change for people at this stage, I think and the felt sense of having an important purpose in life that must be fulfilled is at the core. There’s a tremendous sadness that I feel on a global level for those who are not quite yet ready to stretch themselves toward moving in the direction of those things that excite (and probably scare) them most. I’m sending loving warrior courage to each of them (as well as those that are beginning to step up) that they may believe themselves worthy and step into those experiences that feed their souls!<3

    • Lydia, LOVE this. Thank you for sharing it. You are so right about purpose being the foundation for the impetus for change. I honestly could not have put that into words the way you have and I am grateful for it. Don’t be surprised if I quote you later. The good news is that SO MANY people are waking up to realize there is more than the mundane, less than, etc., so we will have more company. :)

  4. WOW Jenna! Way to NOT hold back anything. Love this post.

    In my personal and professional life I can see I have don’t this. It is a hard habit to break. I use to see this happen all the time while I was working in the A/E fields, projects ended up taking too long and costing too much because the “experts” wouldn’t listen and understand the clients fears. In turn, they also wouldn’t teach the client the knowledge because they thought they wouldn’t understand.

    What would the world look like if we all just learned a little bit more about things outside of our own experiences?

    • Thanks, Christine, I appreciate that very much. Love your perspective about learning just a little bit more about things outside of our own experiences. Yes! What would that be like? Great question. I think it would look a whole lot more like getting along better, enjoying ourselves more, feeling more relaxed, and actually having our world work better — better systems, political decisions, etc.

  5. I’m so glad I read this today. I’ve just finished uploading my second book to a new printer and I was beginning to have doubts about my ability to live my dream. Thanks for boosting my thoughts out of the “lowest common denominator” thinking. As always, you’ve inspired me.

  6. Jenna,

    Thank you for this article! It’s perfectly relevant to an opportunity I was racking my brain and feeling guilty about- and had just become aware of- moments before your article landed in my inbox. Perfect synchronicity :)

    I also think there’s a spectrum of lowest common denominator thinking, such as: “Maybe this isn’t for me because…” or “I don’t think I can afford this” or “Maybe this and that bad thing will happen” or “I don’t want to do such and such because this or that thing could go wrong”. Though these apprehensions are ‘lighter’ than believing flat out “This will not work”, it seems the thought can still contribute to the ‘watering down effect’ you mentioned.

    • Brandi, LOVE that synchronicity. You’re totally right about those gradations of lowest common denominator thinking — thanks for pointing them out. They are lighter, true, but they stop us all the same.

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