Martin Lindstrom: How to Eliminate Bureaucracy

At Oslo Business Forum, Martin talked about how leaders can eliminate bureaucracy and complexity with one common sense tool: empathy.

Martin Lindström is one of the world’s leading business, branding, and culture transformation experts. His cutting-edge research in behavioral psychology and his New York Times bestselling books are reshaping how organizations approach innovation. He is the founder and chairman of Lindstrom Company, the world’s leading brand and culture transformation group, operating across five continents and more than 30 countries.

Business in transition

Facing change is difficult. It can feel like a threat, like a risk, like upending everything we thought we knew. But it’s also necessary. It’s the driving force behind innovation, improvement, and, ultimately, success.

One of the most crucial changes Martin perceives in today’s business environment is perhaps not as frightening as it seems. In fact, Martin believes organizations can conquer it with common sense.

"Transition in business is necessary"

“In the good old days, we talked about business-to-business, B2B, and business-to-consumer, B2C,” he said. “Now, it’s something I like to call H2H. Human-to-human.”

This idea of humanity—and the back-to-basics simplicity that accompanies it—underlies Martin’s work with some of the world’s leading businesses in their efforts to untangle themselves from complexity and achieve new levels of success. He is opening leaders’ eyes to the indisputable truth that we are faced with a new market that has new needs and requires a new playbook.

Kopi av MaxEmanuelson_OsloBusinessForum_MAX02164 (1)

Empathy and common sense

The insights Martin has gleaned from his work with companies and—most importantly—with their customers is that empathy is an absolutely necessary component of a successful business.

He defined empathy for the audience at Oslo Business Forum. “This is the concept of empathy,” he said. “Putting yourself in the shoes of another person and feeling what they’re feeling.”

Martin firmly believes that empathy is common sense and should drive every organization’s vision and strategy to help them transform and unlock previously untapped potential.

Kopi av MaxEmanuelson_OsloBusinessForum_MAX02043 (1)

Working backwards

To demonstrate empathy in practice, Martin pointed to the lessons leaders can learn from a “crazy inventor” and one of the most notable leaders of our time, Steve Jobs.

Jobs once said, “I’ve always found that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” He believed the hardest thing about innovating and improving was how to fit your vision into a larger, cohesive picture.

Martin urged leaders to take a page from Jobs’ book. As Apple established its vision and strategy, they began by defining the benefits they’d provide to customers—not how to market their technology.

“Here’s the issue,” said Martin. “We’ve increasingly come to the idea that it’s possible to control the consumer through a remote control.” That idea is backwards, he claims. We need to understand how the consumer is going to control the remote.

Small data

“What we’re talking about is a concept I call small data,” said Martin. He described small data as seemingly insignificant behavioral observations that point towards one or more unmet customer needs. These small observations—sometimes just two or three customer voices—can be the foundation for breakthrough ideas and transformative ways of turning companies around.

Martin offered examples of small data at work and the unique experiences he has used to open leaders’ eyes to the customer experience. He shared anecdotes of working with asthma patients and creating exercises that allowed board members to experience—to feel—what it’s like to live with the patient’s condition by holding their noses and breathing through a straw. In each case, the exercise completely shifted a company’s understanding, perspective, and approach.

Albert_Oslo Business Forum-06803 (1)

Changing the point of view

Martin is certain that by practicing empathy and gaining a new understanding of the customer experience, a leader’s point of view will change from the outside in to the inside out. The difference, he believes, is common sense versus nonsense.

He offered leaders at Oslo Business Forum a formula to help them change their point of view by asking these four questions:

  1. Which of our products or services are truly frustrating? Which would our customers like to improve or kill?
  2. What are the assumptions justifying the current approach?
  3. If we scrapped this approach, what would change?
  4. If we had just 90 days to succeed, what changes could we make that require the least effort and generate the biggest impact?

Infusing empathy into your company

Martin has worked with some of the world’s most successful organizations, coaching them through significant transitions. In each case, the common denominator in their transformation was infusing empathy in their organizations. 

“It’s about what we feel,” he said. “It’s about reconnecting with customers.”

"If you want to get ahead of the leaders, don’t follow their tracks in the snow"

Of course, infusing empathy is a tall order for any leader hoping to shift their organization’s point of view, approach, and strategy. In an effort to simplify it, Martin left leaders at Oslo Business Forum with this bit of advice: “Act your way into new ways of thinking, rather than think your way into a new way of acting. It is that simple and that difficult.”

Key Points

  • Facing change is difficult, but transition in business is necessary.
  • We are faced with a new market that has new needs and requires a new playbook.
  • Empathy is a necessary component of a successful business.
  • Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person and feeling what they’re feeling.
  • Leaders who adopt this perspective to shift their organizations’ strategies can transform and unlock previously untapped potential.
  • Leaders can infuse empathy in their organizations by acting their way into new ways of thinking rather than thinking their way into new ways of acting.

Questions to Consider

  • What type of changes is your business faced with today? How prepared are you to make the necessary transition?
  • Was your strategy developed from the outside in or the inside out? Is it driven by customer needs or by inside forces?
  • How are you working to understand new needs in our new market and adapt your playbook to meet them?

Sketchnote_DayTwo_Mainstage_MartinLindstrom copy

Want to be a part of the OBF community? Join Oslo Business Forum 2023: Thriving in Chaos now!