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The Ministry of Common Sense

The Ministry of Common Sense: How to eliminate bureaucratic red tape, bad excuses and corporate bullshit. By Martin Lindstrom

For this month’s B+G Book Club, Mark O’Connor, Business Director, cuts through the red tape with Lindstrom’s new book.

A different kind of book than his previous works on branding and data vs intelligence, this book is built on the back of Lindstrom’s evolution from Brand Guru to Consultant on business and culture transformation to large companies. He takes this opportunity to walk us through his view on what is going on within company structures and processes that inhibits the customer experience and overall company success. He isolates 6 major factors responsible for a decline in empathy, and with it, common sense.

What did I think

This book doesn’t necessarily point out anything new to us – and that’s not a bad thing. It is well written, very accessible and full of entertaining tales of common sense gone missing. But it does also give us a guide to think through how we could bring common sense back to our work places, and gives us the tools to analyse our processes and ways of working to understand whether they are actually helping or hindering us.

By breaking down his 6 key factors in the suspension of common sense, we are given a path to reflect on how we experience / see this in both our working lives, and as consumers. For me, the key learning from this book is looking at it less at the ‘corporate’ level, but at how these factors impact our specific teams / projects, helping it feel more tangible and impactful than wholescale corporate-culture overhauls.

1. Broken Corporate Ecosystem

Unclear accountability, lack of decision-making, lack of ownership. This all manifests in customer experience, be it through direct comms with customer care or fractured sales processes. Within a project team, clear roles of approvals and decision-making are essential from the outset, which further enhances meeting efficiencies.

2. Internal Politics

They are everywhere, in every organisation, and can seriously limit the effectiveness of teams. How, as a project team, can we navigate wider politics, and try to minimise its impact within the project?

3. Technology

Lindstrom doesn’t really like technology, and sees companies rely too heavily on data, versus genuine customer knowledge. It serves as a constant reminder to sense-check the role of the data we use, what it is actually telling us, and whether it is evidence of real customer behaviour.

4. Meetings & Presentations

Again, Lindstrom isn’t a fan of meetings, and definitely not presentations. He asserts that 90% of meetings do not serve any purpose. As an agency, we try and be really clear on the objective of every meeting, and to ensure people understand their role in it. Still, our days end up filled with meetings, so always room for improvement.

5. Regulations & Policies

Following the rules, because they are the rules, is a certain road to losing our hold on common sense. Lindstrom uses some crazy examples to land this point, and one that is close to my heart jumped out. Due to the limitations of a clients IT system, they could not receive a document of 49MB through email – instead, the document had to be divided up and shared in equal chunks through 49 separate emails. Apply this same logic to not being able to access file-sharing platforms. I’ve personally encountered this hurdle more than three times this year….

6. Compliance / Legal

Lindstrom sees Compliance & Legal as a company’s way of not doing things, of limiting any change. Hours can be spent on both client and agency sides in navigating a Compliance conversation, often resulting in less impactful work, or in limiting the ability of comms to seize a time-sensitive moment or opportunity. Again, we know that Compliance / Legal is a requirement of much of our work, but how do we best reduce the potential challenges they may have, and build it in to the project / work earlier to avoid limiting effectiveness in the closing stages?

Overall, Lindstrom is lamenting the fact that corporate structures and processes have distracted people from doing their real jobs – they are focussed on navigating red tape, or office politics, or getting a campaign through compliance – instead of being focussed on offering their consumers a better product, experience and being more attuned to their needs.


Who should read it

  • Anyone who works. While Lindstrom has focussed on the corporate levels that led to such errors as a TV remote with two ‘On’ buttons, the factors and thinking can be applied to teams and project levels to make our working time more effective, and closer to what our jobs are supposed to be about.

Star Rating (Out of 5)