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Book Review | The Ministry Of Common Sense

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Paperback)
Martin Lindstrom

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Martin Lindstrom ranks high on the list of my favorite marketing authors. I have always enjoyed reading his books. With his latest offering The Ministry of Common Sense, however, he springs a surprise of sorts.

He is no longer the branding expert who wrote such insightful books as Brand Sense (2005), Brandwashed (2011) and Small Data (2016). In fact, Martin Lindstrom of The Ministry of Common Sense is a globe-trotting consultant who consults big companies on business and culture transformation.

In his new book, he turns the spotlight on the lack of commonsense running rampant in organizations. If you are employed, chances are high that you have been a victim of organizational absurdity at some point or other.

The book teems with egregious examples of irrational corporate conduct. You can’t help but chuckle at the pervasiveness of inept decision-making all around. The evidence of great companies trading collective intelligence for insanity could well shock you.

Martin Lindstrom delineates six major factors that he feels are responsible for the suspension of common sense in the business world. He gives elaborate attention to each of these factors and bolts them together with real-life examples:

1. A Broken corporate ecosystem

A Broken corporate ecosystem where accountability is scattered, often leads to poor decision-making or total negligence.

The consequences usually reflect somewhere downstream. Either they manifest as poor customer service or disingenuous sales processes, wiping out whatever commonsense remains in the organization.

“Almost every stupidity and inconvenience we face as consumers can be traced back directly to a broken corporate ecosystem.”

Martin Lindstrom

2. Politics

Nothing stymies common sense in an organization like politics and in-fighting.

Politics, says Martin, is like an invisible straitjacket that stifles sanity. Once it takes roots in an organization, it turns office politics into a game of chess where everyone is wearing a mask.

Anyone who has spent some time in the corporate world would attest to Martin’s assertion that the official organization chart often bears no resemblance to the unofficial organization chart. The latter often manifests the true picture of who calls the shots in an organization.

3. Technology

At the risk of sounding tech-averse, at best or a Luddite, at worst, he explains his perspective of how too much tech engagement is eclipsing commonsense. It’s killing our tendency to empathize with our customers.

If you have had your share of run-ins with Robo-advisors, you’d get the picture. I fail to understand why companies are forfeiting opportunities to deepen empathy with their consumers which only a real human voice can provide.

Nonetheless, as the arrow of time always moves forward, so does the arrow of technology in our lives. While Martin puts forth his case, I doubt if companies would want to disengage themselves from technology.

4. Meetings and Powerpoints

The topic of meetings and powerpoints hits a nerve in Martin. He goes into a full rant mode as he speaks his mind about meetings. He says that nine out of ten meetings do not serve any purpose. A meeting lasting more than 30 minutes transcends into futility.

Monday morning presentations

He also fulminates about the PPT overkill during Covid times. I can attest to his frustration because I have been down this road. While you are presenting your snazzy 100 slide presentation, the other person could be performing naked somersaults in his room.

5. Rules, regulations and policies

Martin really spices it up with a boatload of preposterous, real-life incidents of corporate stupidity. Here he talks about commonsense getting lost while you pay allegiance to rules and compliances.

He cites a particular incident when he had to chop up a 49 MB file into 49 chunks of equal size because his client’s IT system prohibited any attachment larger than 1 MB. Shocking. Such incidents are elaborate exercises in customer disenfranchisement, but, I guess the companies don’t care.

6. Compliance and Legal

The compliance department’s job is to ensure internal checks and balances in an organization. It firewalls employees from nefarious elements. But too much compliance only blockades decision-making and frustrates both clients and employees.

Here’s what Martin Lindstrom has to say on compliance:

“All across the world, compliance has become an excuse to protect the status quo and to ensure organizations remain in place. To not do things.”

Reading the first few chapters of the book gave me a different impression of the author. His previous books were data-rich, hardcore marketing books. With The Ministry of Common Sense, he enters a new arena and it’s a smooth transition I must say. However, I still missed the marketing acumen of the branding expert Martin Lindstrom.

The Ministry of Common Sense is not his best work but reading it is worth your time and attention. A lot of what Martin unearths is well known already, but then, no one else has pursued the subject of corporate lunacy so comprehensively.

The best part is that he keeps you engaged with a flowing narrative, using examples from his experience, and of course, with genius humor and sarcastic wit. His majestic writing skills coupled with his knack for telling captivating stories make The Ministry of Common Sense an entertaining read.

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The Ministry of Common Sense book review

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