My experience setting up a Ministry of Common Sense

Written by
Martin Lindstrom, author

09 Feb 2021

09 Feb 2021 • by Martin Lindstrom, author

Seeing things as they are, and doing things how they ought to be done. Martin Lindstrom explores common sense thinking and its links to EQ.

HR has evolved a lot since the early 20th century, when Frederick Winslow Taylor, seeking to improve efficiency in manufacturing, invented the concept of “scientific management.” What was originally intended as a mediator between bosses and assembly-line workers has gradually assumed a policing role, detached from the sense of empathy that once defined it.

This is ironic, as corporate culture has never been as vital as it is right now. With the working world stuck at home, millennials questioning why they should work for a corporation, and physical presence defined by the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot, the need for HR to embrace the culture territory has never been more needed and timely.

Common sense and sensitivity

Rules, regulations, guidelines, compliance, and red tape have come to dominate decision-making processes, shifting the focus away from what really matters. I think the issue comes down to common sense (or the lack of it). I define common sense as seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.

Common sense incorporates another dimension, rarely discussed yet directly linked: empathy, the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing.

When did HR last place themselves “in the shoes” of an employee? Some years ago, in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, we decided to do exactly that. One of their HR staff coined the phrase “the Ministry of Common Sense.” In this way was created a real ministry within the bank, designed to detect and replace one stupidity at a time. And believe me, there were a lot, often falling at HR’s doorstep. The financial industry struggles with compliance and an extreme degree of control. For the first time, we attached concrete solutions to these issues.

Standard Chartered expected a few complaints on the dedicated Ministry of Common Sense website. Instead, we received the most extraordinary insights, stories, and friction points — often beyond HR’s sight. To everyone’s surprise, the person submitting the problem almost always proposed a simple, concrete solution. We’d given birth to a self-fulfilling function, running on its own fuel, vacuuming stupidities out of the system and fixing them. Even more surprisingly, these solutions often generated a profit.

Self-fulfilling, profit-generating solutions

A long line of corporations across the world have followed on Standard Charter Bank’s heels, setting up their own ministries. It turns out, there is a desperate need to address the corporate world’s lack of common sense.

Almost every solution launched by the ministries has one thing in common. Problems are detected and evaluated, and a solution is implemented, within 90 days. The celebration of a first success sets a new standard for common sense. The essence of what I’ve learned is this: Don’t make this effort into another bureaucratic move.

The foundation of the ministry is right there in its name: common sense. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “Common sense is something that everyone needs, few have, and no one thinks they lack.” The simplicity of the ministry format has caused it to thrive everywhere it’s been tried.

Martin Lindstrom is the author of several New York Times bestselling books that have sold millions of copies and been translated into 60 languages. Lindstrom’s latest book, The Ministry of Common Sense: How to eliminate bureaucratic red tape, bad excuses, and corporate BS, was released on 21st January.

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