As companies grow, process and procedures become a priority. Rules and regulations can be important ingredients for efficiency and scale, but far too often they cause organizations to become internally oriented and disconnected from their customers, while employees grow increasingly frustrated and disenchanted.
In this episode of The Connection Diaries, Martin Lindstrom, author and globally recognized expert in the domains of brand, consumer behavior and culture transformation, joins Mickey Connolly to share why organizations are in desperate need of a return to common sense.
Offering the wisdom and research featured in his upcoming book, The Ministry of Common Sense, Martin explains how companies around the world have become overrun with bureaucratic nonsense and red tape, at the cost of real business results. Martin says that organizations need to focus more on bringing empathy and humanity to process, and they can do so by creating their own “ministries of common sense.”
Martin will join Mickey again on January 28, 2021 (12pm ET) for a live webinar conversation about his call for a return to common sense. You can learn more about the session and register here.
The Ministry of Common Sense is out on January 19th, 2021. Learn more about Martin and the book at www.martinlindstrom.com.
What questions are you wrestling with? Is there anything you’d love advice from other leaders on how to handle? What have your organizations been doing that’s working well? Comment below or connect with us on LinkedIn! Let’s unleash our collective brilliance.
Mickey: Hello everybody, this is Mickey Connolly from Conversant and we’re happy you’re here with us today. As many of you know, I have a decided preference at this stage of my career, which is to do work I admire with people I admire. I’m happy to say one of those people is here with us today, my friend Martin Lindstrom. Martin, you want to say hello?
Martin: Well, good to meet all of you guys. Mickey, thank you for your kind words. I can only say the same.
Mickey: Martin and I have known each other for some years, and I have admired him from afar and aclose. The afar is the array of extraordinarily researched and valuable books that Martin has released in the whole world of marketing, brand, culture change, and I’m really enamored with your latest effort. And the title itself intrigues me, which is The Ministry of Common Sense. And I know it’s not out yet, but I’d like a little advance insight. What had you write it, and why is it called The Ministry of Common Sense?
Martin: Mickey, it’s very simple. I am sick and tired of bureaucracy, red tape, and b.s. And today, we know from most of the studies conducted—listen to this, it’s crazy, around 45 percent of the time we spend every day is allocated to exactly that. It means that close to 50 percent of our productivity is tied in a way where we basically become more frustrated, or be certainly not very productive, and I would also claim where the company culture is completely diluted. So I decided to write The Ministry of Common Sense, and guess what, on a client you and I worked together on with the Standard Charter Bank, we actually established The Ministry of Common Sense, and it’s still running on its third year, along with a lot of other companies around the world, cleaning up one stupidity at a time, and it’s very, very busy.
Mickey: Cleaning up one stupidity at a time. Ads you know, one of the things that I care about, Martin, is environments where people feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution. You just used the word frustration because I think the vast majority of people come to work wanting to leave things better than they found them, and when the very environment makes that difficult, it is the pinnacle of waste because here you have the desire to do great work thwarted by the stupidities that you’re talking about. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so attracted to this, because I think people largely want to do well in the world and get suppressed, distressed by the things that interfere, that make no sense to them whatsoever.
Martin: Absolutely. I think the key issue is that we increasingly are seeing the world not from outside-in but from inside-out, which basically means that I’m of the belief that my boss is the one paying my salary rather than the customer. We’re more busy pleasing ourselves internally, creating our own little mini ecosystem where we follow KPI’s, which are somewhat disconnected from reality because we need to inform wall street about what’s going on rather than the consumer. What I’ve learned is if you take an outside-in point of view where you place the customer in the middle of the organization in a very clever way, certainly we change that perspective, and guess what happens. Suddenly bureaucracy slowly disappears because the consumers tends to tell the truth.
Mickey: You know that really makes beautiful sense. We’ve often asked people as a thought experiment to consider if the customer was sitting in the room with us, in this meeting, what would change in how we conducted the meeting? We’re actually—
Martin: Yeah—sorry for interrupting you—I want to give you an example exactly on what you’re saying because we have a very large pharma client, and this pharma client, we’re very busy at creating respiratory products, you know when you have asthma, and I said to them, when did you speak to the customer the last time? And they said to me, “Well, we’ve never done it.” I said, “You must be kidding. You’ve been around for a hundred years; you are the largest player in the field.” So I said, “Why?” They said, “Well, because compliance won’t allow us to do it.”
Anyway, I spoke to compliance they agreed to do it for the first time ever in the history of the company. We had employees from the pharma company joining us in the field, interviewing people, and here’s a true story. So I meet up with this young lady, and she has asthma, and I said to her, “How do you feel about it?” She says, “I feel horrible. I feel like I’m excluded from my tribe. I feel I can’t explain it to other people.” So I said, “What do you do?” She said, “I have a trick. I always give people a straw, and I ask people to breathe through that straw, and after 30 seconds they get what I mean because that’s how I feel.” So, to that idea, I asked the board to do the same. And yes, sure enough, half of them spit out the straw they said, “My God, how can you do this?” I said, “That’s how your patient feels every minute of their lives.” And after that, two things happened. First of all, we introduced a sense of empathy. Empathy is the ability to see the world from a patient’s point of view. But the second thing, which is really interesting, and I learned that through this process, is there’s a direct correlation between empathy and common sense. Because if you’re able to see things from another person’s point of view, guess what, then it actually is empathy, but empathy is disappearing in corporations around the world. And slowly, they actually started to adopt a different point of view, which made them become much more patient-focused, but also most importantly, they actually removed nonsense and replaced it with common sense.
Mickey: That’s beautiful, because mostly I hear people talk about empathy like something that we should do, not something that you can practically actually apply to the challenges of our work. That’s a great story, and that experience of breathing through the straw—that goes from theory to reality really fast. So, as you know, we’re going to be doing a webinar we invite people to live so they can actually interact with you in January. For right now I’m interested in, if people really see around them a lot of waste, what do you think—one of the things you said is you have to start thinking from the outside-in, from the customer being there in the room—what’s another thing that you’ve seen in the research that if people adopt that perspective, they naturally start to remove the wasteful bureaucracy from their system?
Martin: Well, let me tell you a story which probably illustrates the situation internally in an organization. Some years ago, there was an experiment conducted with chickens. They’re put into a cage, stuffed into the cage for about half a year. One day, the gates were open to the beautiful green grass, and the sun was shining, and birds were singing, and guess what happened. The chickens went out and after 30 seconds, they went straight back in again. And I call that phenomenon the chicken cage syndrome. What is happening in organizations is this. So let me just try to illustrate on the screen right now how it looks like. Now, right now, I’m just doing a little drawing of four chicken cages, and I’ll be very nice, so I’ll open each of them. And here’s the trick. When you want to get the chickens out of the chicken cage, where would people normally place the corn? And I don’t want to ask you that question, Mickey, because I know you well enough that you will answer the correct answer. But I will tell everyone else they most likely would say in the middle because it’s easy for everyone to see, and they can join it. But one thing I’ve learned is when I’m a chicken here and I’m looking at that corn, it’s very far away. It’s really far away. So what’s the first thing I’m going to do? I’m going to think about, am I actually—is this worth the risk? Will I be rewarded for it? Is my KPI’s around it? Will that person giving that assignment, will he still—or she still—be around? So, the second thing I’ll do is I’ll look at the other chicken. The other chicken will think exactly the same and look at the first chicken and conclude, “My god, this one is not going to move, so I’m not going to move.” And so will the second and third and the fourth chicken. So sadly they’ll all wait, and they’ll go straight back into the cage again. So one of the things I’ve learned is, don’t place the corn in the middle place it straight outside the chicken cage. Why? Because this is your moment to just snap this corn and get a success celebrated within the organization, and after that, place another corn and another corn.
Now Mickey, in your language, you call that 90-day interventions, which is exactly the point of view I have as well, which is, we in corporate America have a tendency right now to think that we want to have a five-year plan or 10-year plan. Well guess what, an average CEO only lasts for five years, so people have no patience whatsoever. So one of the things I’ve learned is we need to have bite sized, small success. We need to celebrate the heck out of it, and most importantly, we need to cement that behavioral change so that they’re not going straight back to the chicken cage. That’s what I’ve learned. Now, if you combine that with empathy, then you’ll see common sense will thrive, and you’ll see a behavioral change will go through the organization very quickly.
Mickey: Well, one of the things I’m excited about for the book coming out and for when we get to do this webinar where people get to interact with you, you have so many specific suggestions of how you improve internal life that have been proven, that people have improved—proven improvements. So I look forward to that, and I think that as we go into the holidays, what’s anything you’ve learned from this common sense that could impact how people engage with one another during the holidays?
Martin: Well I don’t need to tell you that this is the situation we see right now. The sense of belonging is disappearing, and because we can’t be together. And one of the things we’ve seen from a behavioral psychology point of view is that as we are separated from each other, we would be out of balance. Out of balance means—we’re all out of balance in one way or another, but maybe I feel alone, and maybe I feel don’t have friends, maybe I feel I have a midlife crisis. But what we’ve seen happening now is number one out of balance at this moment due to COVID-19 is actually the fact that we’re not touching anything. And we now know today from all sorts of psychology that when we don’t touch things, we’re actually suppressing one of the biggest senses we have on our body. You know, the touch organ is the biggest we have on our body. And we know that’s a direct correlation between that and death. And that’s the reason why you’ll see that the Japanese people are giving, in best Japanese style, they’re giving robot seals to old people and senior homes so they can maintain that tactile sensation. I personally believe that we are, right now, in a huge crisis in terms of touch. That’s the reason why the sales of dogs is going through the roof. In fact, it’s increased with 350 percent over the last four months alone because people want to have a tactile sensation. So, my prediction through the holiday season is that people are going to feel increasingly depressed. They—if they’re sitting alone—not necessarily because they don’t see people, because they will see people through this media, but because they subconsciously feel loneliness in terms of the sense of touch.
Mickey: Wow, that’s extraordinary. And for us to consider how we care for that sense is a creative conversation. Those of you who are listening to us, I invite you to go to martinlindstrom.com and see all the other things that Martin’s written that I admire, as well as getting a little early look into the release of The Ministry of Common Sense, which comes in January. And I am so grateful that we’re doing this. I love that you’ve written the book, and I’m happy to be around for the waste-ectomy that will be performed in organizational life. So, anything you want to say in closing, Martin?
Martin: Listen, I just I want to say thank you, Mickey. You’ve been a huge source of inspiration for me. You’re very special. And I can’t wait to share the word with the The Ministry of Common Sense. Yeah, it’s about the 19th of January and I think it will give a sneak preview to all of your viewers and followers here, just to tell them about how you can open a ministry, or at least how you confuse a little bit of common sense. Do you know what? Common sense is not that common, so let’s make it common again, right?
Mickey: Alright everybody, thanks for being with us. We will let you know the time we will have Martin back and we can all be live together. Alright, bye-bye everybody.