Time Magazine named Martin Lindstrom one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People” in 2009. Thinkers50, a ranking of the top business thinkers, has selected Lindstrom three times.
Martin has written seven New York Times best-selling books, and The Wall Street Journal called his book Brand Sense, “one of the five best marketing books ever published.”
His latest book is The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate Bullshit. His clients include McDonald’s, Burger King, Swiss Air, Swiss Post, The Beverly Hills Hotel, and Lowes Foods.
In this episode we cover:
- Why politicians should live near each other in Washington DC,
- How breathing through a straw or wearing a burka can help your marketing,
- How to get chickens, and companies, out of their cage.
Be inspired by Martin Lindstrom on Remarkable People:
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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Martin Lindstrom
Guy Kawasaki: I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. This episode’s guest is the remarkable, Martin Lindstrom. I must admit for the second week in a row, last week being Rich Benoit, there is so much laughter in this episode, and at times we’re talking over each other and laughing over each other. I guess I have a good time podcasting.
Anyway, where was I? Martin Lindstrom. Time Magazine named Martin one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People” in 2009. Thinkers 50, a ranking of the top business thinkers, has selected Martin three times.
Martin has written seven New York Times bestselling books, and The Wall Street Journal called his book, Brand Sense, one of the five best marketing books ever published. His latest book is The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate Bullshit.
His clients include McDonalds, Burger King, Swiss Air, Swiss Post, The Beverly Hills Hotel, and Lowe’s Foods.
In this episode, we cover why politicians should live near each other in Washington, DC; how breathing through a straw or wearing a burka can help your marketing; and how to get chickens and companies out of their cages.
I’m Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. And now, here’s the remarkable Martin Lindstrom.
Guy Kawasaki: Has the pandemic killed empathy?
Martin Lindstrom: There’s no doubt that the pandemic has killed empathy. And the reason why is because we’re all stuck behind our screens, and as we’re stuck behind the screens, what happens is that we increasingly become addicted to technology.
We are in a situation where we right now are spoon-fed with information, but we don’t have a pause anymore. And it’s the pause that was helping us to be creative, to have new affections, new thoughts.
So what happens is that we are almost, like, spoon-fed, and we’re following someone else’s leads. And as that happens, we forget about picking up the signals from everyone around us. That skill set is something you have to maintain.
I remember when I some years ago started to travel a lot, I spent a whole time in consumer homes across the world– more than 3,000 different consumer homes across–close to one hundred countries. And I remember me being introverted–suddenly I became an extrovert.
I started to be able to connect with people in a different way. So my empathy muscle started to grow. But what I notice is as I am now stuck behind a screen, I lose that empathy skillset. And then of course it’s amplified through social media and social media is the self-enforcing bubble which is telling us all this stuff we want to hear, and, “I’m the best in the world” type of scenario. Twitter with 280 characters; how can you be emotional in 280 characters? You can’t.
So all of those factors are almost like peeling one layer after another of empathy and then we end up in a pretty bad situation, and that’s where I think we are right now.
Guy Kawasaki: Short of the pandemic ending and we’re all back together in person, what can one do?
Martin Lindstrom: The first thing you can do is that you can do an inventory check. It’s a little bit like when you do defragmentation on a computer. You do it because you want to make it faster. You put memory into the different compartments.
And as you do that, what happens is that you certainly are seeing the world slightly different. What is your defragmentation? Here’s the issue: We have applied all the bad habits we had before COVID-19 to our current way of working. Most people are working back-to-back, one Zoom call after another and we’re exhausted in the end of the day.
We don’t have toilet breaks anymore. We don’t have reflection breaks anymore. That tour we had to the meeting room where we would talk to our colleagues or the water cooler moments are gone, which perhaps in the past was seen as unproductive by the CFO, but actually now it’s shown to be that social glue, connecting people. It’s gone.
So what I would do is to do a check of your day. And I did that the other day, I created a little map where you on the vertical side would have “Do” on the top and “Don’t” on the bottom. And on the left, on the horizontal, you would have “Shouldn’t,” and on the right side you would have “Should.”
And then I said, “What stuff do I do every day which is falling onto ‘Shouldn’t’ and ‘Don’t?’” That is, remove it. Guess what? Forty-five percent of what I do every day fell onto that bucket. It was stupid things! I just did, which did not make sense. And so I went through this little model: What should I remove? What should I pack? What should I improve? And what should I keep?
And what I realized was that I only had a to-do list. But I actually had to create an un-to-do list, get rid of stuff because I think there’s no such thing as going back to work when this stuff is happening all over. I call it “going forward” to work. And by that you need to almost do a reset of what we do.
So before we jump into the new reality, use this as an opportunity to look yourself in the eyes and say, “what am I doing right and what I’m doing wrong?” instead of raising into another reality where we just add another layer of complexity. If you start that process by the way already now, that by default will bring back empathy.
Why is that? Because you will remove a lot of that stuff which are occupying the time where you just a passenger in the back seat. And as you do that, all the common sense will start to come back because there’s a direct correlation between common sense and empathy. The more empathy, the more common sense, and that again will make you connect better with people.
So it’s a very simple due diligence. You have to do an inventory check.
Guy Kawasaki: I’m just very curious. So unless it’s confidential, what kind of things were on your not-to-do list?
Martin Lindstrom: Okay. Well, hang on a second. Let me just take the non-sensitive part where there’s nothing. I’m sorry. There’s nothing on the list.
Let’s do the clean version here. YouTube! YouTube. Oh, my gosh, YouTube. I this is interesting, Guy. I think you will love this. I started to try to find out when am I creative and when am I not creative. And I mapped it down every hour as much as I could for a month. Here’s what I realized: I was much less creative in the evening than I normally was in the past.
And I couldn’t understand why. And then I started to say, “what am I using my time on?” And it was YouTube videos. I was sitting there forty-five minutes, one and a half hours, looking at a bunch of crap. And I can’t even remember what it was. So I had all these things.
I had another thing where I said, “that has to be improved.” When I went to work, which really is just in the neighboring room, I did not have a transition. I think a transition is a way to reset your mind, and I call it “enclothed cognition.”
Back in the day, scientists were doing a–an experiment in New York City where they had the opportunity to wear a lab coats, and there’s three different lab coats. There was one lab coat where it said “doctor” above the lab coat, one lab coat where it said “dentist,” and the third one which said nothing.
When people put on the lab coat where it said “doctor,” they actually became more intelligent, faster at answering questions and more self-confident. Go figure. Dentist: A little bit higher, but not as high as the doctor.
And then the one without a sign, nothing changed, and we call that “enclothed cognition.” It’s a little bit of what you try when you go to the theater with your wife, as she puts on the high heels, you put on the tux, where you kind of feel different, you transform. We did that in the past when we were sitting in the car to work. We don’t do that anymore.
So one of the things I realized was the way I went to work was wrong. I actually had to go around my house first. And I did that. I do that today. I actually go out of my house and then I’ll go back into the office.
Guy Kawasaki: What?! You go outside and come back in?
Martin Lindstrom: I do, I do, because I transition my mind. It’s what you tried when you’re running. Or if you sit in a car and listening to music on the way to work. It’s where you are defragmenting all of your information. And then what I do is I see every call as a door, which is opening and closing. I open the door and I go into that world.
When I close the door, just before I do that, when we’ve done our call, I’ll take my note pad, right, and I start to take notes about what I learned, and I’ll do that for ten minutes to reflect, almost, like, to close that door.
And when I’m done by the day, I don’t rush out to my family. No. I sit in my office and I fall down again. I synchronize to another mood because I actually do think we have different, metaphorically speaking, time zones in our body.
When you are at work, it’s goes fast, hard, routine. And then you come home, it’s a different routine, and you can have a clash between those two different worlds. So I decompress basically before I go back around to a building and go up again
I know I sound like a nutcase and I didn’t even say what’s on that list, right? So then wait until you hear that, then you sort of… “Martin, stop this.”
Guy Kawasaki: I think that was enough. When you say quote, unquote, YouTube, are you watching people using lathes to make wooden bowls, or are you watching teenagers getting drunk, or are you watching TEDx?
Martin Lindstrom: Of course, it’s not the TEDx thing, but it is stupid things where you go on Ellen DeGeneres and you watch, I don’t know, what about some idiot coming on, talking about something you can’t even remember two seconds after you watch. You know what I mean. It is things which I in the old days would have called a “smoking break,” right?
It is things where you kind of just reset your mind, but I just realized recently the mind doesn’t take one and a half hour. And here’s another thing. This is important. I’m sorry.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s a lot of defragmentation!
Martin Lindstrom: Here’s what’s so interesting. So some years ago, four years ago, I remember I was spending time with Malcolm Gladwell in Zambia, and we talked a lot about…
Guy Kawasaki: Excuse me, “I was spending time with Gladwell in Zambia!” That was right after you left Barack Obama with Richard Branson?
No, not at all. No, I remember this conversation we had about creativity, and I realized after this conversation that I lost my creativity a lot, and I had it because of the smartphone.
Martin Lindstrom: And I know you had your days in Apple, but here’s what I realized: That the phone was sucking up my creativity. So one of the things I started to do was to say, “what can I do to get my creativity back again?” So I got rid of the phone. I don’t have a phone today.
Guy Kawasaki: You got rid of the phone?
Martin Lindstrom: Totally. I don’t have a phone.
Guy Kawasaki: No…Really?
Martin Lindstrom: Four years ago. Yeah, that’s it.
Guy Kawasaki: You must not have kids.
Martin Lindstrom: I can give you the entire excuse lists. There’s a lot of excuses for it but here’s the three things I learned. I learned, first of all–this is fascinating–I learned that when I had a phone, I was never present. I would be standing in a bar waiting for someone, and the person wouldn’t show up. And what’s the first thing I’ll do? I’ll grab the phone and do anything with the phone so I don’t look like a complete loser, right?
The second thing I would do was I would not see anything. I would not see details because everything would be through a lens.
But the third thing was the worst thing: I learned that I never got bored, and boredom is the foundation for creativity.
Guy Kawasaki: Boredom is the foundation for creativity? How so?
Martin Lindstrom: It’s that portion of your life where you allow your mind to wander away. Where you’re allowed to combine two ordinary things in a new way. Where you allow yourself to be inspired by what you see rather than what you dictated to see, and then combine it with your mind. And I realized that side was gone.
I was never bored. I would be sitting in a taxi from the JFK, and I hammer through 250 emails on that trip into Manhattan and I would feel so productive, and then guess what? I’ll get 250 emails back later on. And there was all wasted, right? The reality was I was never bored. I was self-entertained, right? So I got rid of the phone.
And what happened was that, suddenly, my creativity came back, and then I started to, again, map down, when am I most creative and I realized I was most creative in the water.
Guy Kawasaki: I don’t know how you could not know this, but the Remarkable People podcast is sponsored by the Remarkable Tablet Company. And in the next section, Martin describes how he does his best and deepest thinking. It’s while swimming!
So maybe we need a Remarkable Tablet that’s at least waterproof. Maybe even better, you can use it under water. So Martin can take notes in the middle of the pool and not wait until he gets to the end. But I digress…
The Remarkable People podcast sponsored by the Remarkable Tablet Company. Martin on swimming
Guy Kawasaki: In the water?
Martin Lindstrom: The water moment, yeah, the water. It’s funny. If you ask a lot of Pisces in particular—I’m a Pisces– and you say a lot of them would probably say they’re creative in the shower or when they’re swimming.
And I realized I was really creative there. So I started to write my books. Think about an odd case and it’s not even on that list. I didn’t want to tell you about it.
But I would literally have, I still, do a notepad in each end of the pool and then I’ll take notes, and it would be free-floating. It’s amazing how creative I could be. And I think all of us have spaces where we can be creative.
We just haven’t discovered where they are. And we haven’t been allowed to discover where they are because we’re so fast-paced in what we do. We never pause. We never do that defragmentation and therefore we end up kind of being slaves as ourselves somehow. I don’t even know what your question was. I’m just rambling on.
Guy Kawasaki: It doesn’t matter. The answer was so good. That’s the mark of a good answer. It doesn’t matter what the question was. All the guests on Remarkable People get a Remarkable Tablet from Norway. You’re going to love this if you love to take notes.
I have to ask you, what camera are you using? Because your setup is really good.
Martin Lindstrom: Oh, thank you. I’m using a Sony camera with a very fancy lens. I have a two-camera set up right now.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, excuse me. Well, from the country that makes great watches, you know, I would expect you to have…
Martin Lindstrom: Thank you.
Guy Kawasaki: So yeah, I use a Sony too, but I only have one camera. I’m going to have to step up my game.
Martin Lindstrom: Show me the length of your camera lens. Okay. And we can talk
Guy Kawasaki: Size matters
Martin Lindstrom: Certainly, does in lens industry.
Guy Kawasaki: We’re only 15 minutes into this and I only have to one question. So next question. Is it common sense to get vaccinated?
Martin Lindstrom: Yeah, it is, but here’s the reality. That’s my point of view and common sense consist of two words and one is “common” and one is “sense.” And common means you see it from multiple points of views.
So my logic here would be that if you believe that human mankind should continue operating without closing down the entire world and having a breakout happening in Miami, Florida with people going into panic, then I think that it’s common to say, “you have to take care of others,” right?
So yes, it’s common sense. Then we can discuss if it’s the way it’s been rolled out in various places of the world has been common sense. That’s probably less of a “yes” answer and more of a “no “answer, but yes, I believe it’s common sense to get a vaccine.
Guy Kawasaki: And what has not been sensible about how it’s been rolled out?
Martin Lindstrom: I think there’s some fundamental issues which have been going on here. It’s almost like it came as a surprise. There was a vaccine coming out, so where a lot of countries in particular, the US are really good at scale rollouts.
One never really practiced the rollout before it happens. You certainly saw that and see that in Europe right now. So as a consequence of that, “Oh my gosh, we have a vaccine now, how do we roll it out?”
And I think one of the things I’ve learned, that’s back to creativity, combine two things in a new way, and you will get some break out of stuff out of it. One of the suggestions I had back in the days when I wrote an update in the New York Times about this topic was, I said, “Why don’t you team up with Amazon and have them do it because they’re really good. Why don’t you team up with all those airports, which back then were empty? A lot of them are closed down.” They can handle thousands, if not millions of passengers.
“Why don’t you use that infrastructure to do it? Why don’t you team up with retired nurses?” All that stuff, all those fundamental, simple questions drowned in bureaucracy and BS because you had set rules based on a machinery which were designed for not having a virus.
The problem with a bureaucracy is it’s designed around one fixed status. It’s not designed around changing the foundation of it. But when you go through this machine, people are tried to squeeze something into a machine which was already not operating well, and then it’s broken. So we had to rebuild the machine.
And I think that realization of that is that it’s okay to throw old rules out of the window. It’s okay to have different reporting lines would work. So one of the things I’ve suggested to the new administration is to set up a ministry of common sense, and that would be really busy, I’d tell you.
Guy Kawasaki: Did you apply for the cabinet, and can you take the pay cut?
Martin Lindstrom: Oh yeah. But the reality with this stuff is bureaucracy is so extreme. I’ll give you an example. I was jumping on a plane the other day. And as I was sitting in my seat, there was this announcement going on:
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board of this plane. I regret to inform you that all cabin service has been completely suspended on the entire flight. And by the way, the lavatories in the front of the cabin has been exclusively reserved for the cabin crew only.”
So here we were 131 passengers which had to walk down the aisle, like a TSA lane, and then we had to end up breathing in the freshly brewed smell of toilet now mixed out with a faint whiff of COVID-19 in the end.
And So you’re sitting down in the seat, okay? Have you heard about the new entertainment system they have on modern planes? It’s the latest. It’s called a contact tracing form. It’s wonderful. It’s really entertaining. So I sat with this contact tracing form.
And the first question was, “Have you been in close proximity with anyone you don’t know where the last twelve hours?” So the only thing I had to do was to look at my right and get her name and phone number for the contact tracing form. And then the second question was–as you know, you don’t have pens anymore, all right, because people like you developed these smartphone devices so people don’t have a pen.
So of course, this brilliant passenger decides to borrow a pen from the purser. And now this pen is walking down the whole plane; 131 passengers, end up with me, okay? And the second question is, “Have you touched anything anyone else has touched over the last twelve hours?”
Guy Kawasaki: You can’t make this up.
Martin Lindstrom: Where did common sense go? And this is bureaucracy at play. It actually has a term.
There was a study done in Australia called “safety clutter,” and it shows that sixty five percent of all safety rules implemented in the Western world are due to bureaucracy just to please the person inventing the rule to get a promotion in the company.
Guy Kawasaki: But at a personal level when someone personally doesn’t believe in getting vaccinated, that’s not compliance, that’s not legal, that’s not corporate hierarchy. That’s a person made that decision. Why would they make such a–what I think—common, nonsensical decision?
Martin Lindstrom: I think the best way to get people on board if you’re sitting on my side of the chair, okay? Because I’m not saying necessarily everything I’m saying is right to you, but the best way to get other people on board is to use a secret weapon which is called empathy.
And let me tell you a story. So one of my clients is one of the larger pharma companies in the world and they are the leader in respiratory field. And they reached about two years ago and said, “Hey, we want to get closer to the patients.” So they asked me to so if they could get closer to the patient, and I said to them, “You’re a one hundred-year-old company. Tell me, when did you last spend time with the patients?”
And they looked at me and they said, “never,” just, like, that was okay. I said, “W-w-w…” and they said, “Well, that’s compliance.” I said, “BS,” I said, so I went to compliance. We changed compliance. They agreed. We went to the home of the consumer. And we end up in a home of a twenty-eight-year-old lady, and she had asthma her whole life.
And I asked one of these profound questions, I said to her, “How did it feel like to have asthma as a child?” And she starts to cry. And she tells me about how she was teased in schools. She had no friends. She was a disgrace for human mankind–that’s me quoting her at parties.
So I said to her, “It looks like you have a lot of confidence today. What changed?” And she said, “I’ll show you.” She pulls out her handbag, and out of a handbag she takes a straw. She said, “This one is my magic.” “What do you mean?”
She said, “I always give this straw to people I meet; friends and colleagues, new friends and colleagues and ask them to breathe through the straw while holding themselves from the nose. And what it does is that they immediately feel how I feel as an asthma patient.” And that created a sense of empathy.
So I took that idea and I went to the board and we had the whole board shutting off the lights, putting a straw into a mouth. I had this heavy briefing going through the speaker as a patient, right?
And then I had everyone holding themselves in the nose and breathing through the straw. And after thirty seconds, one executive spits out the straw and he says, “This is ridiculous. Why do we do this? No one can live like this.” And I said to him, “That’s how your patient feel every minute of their entire life, and they’re paying your salary.”
And if you could hear a penny drop on the floor, you would have noticed that it was almost like the company was hit by a magic wand. We started to develop empathy kits—kits where people had to breathe through a straw before getting a job in the company. R and D started to feel it so they could develop products and services around asthma.
But one of the concepts we came up with was: “Why don’t we find out what the air quality control is outside before you go out as an asthma patient?” It’s such a simple insight, but we learned that through the straw technique, and the whole company changed.
And the reason why, Guy, I’m telling you this story is because if you want to convince people of another opinion, there’s two things you have to do. Bill Birnbach, the great advertising guy for many years, he always said that when he had a conflict with people, when he disagreed with people, they had different opinions, he would grab a little note he had in his pocket with four words on it. And on that paper note, it would say, “what if he’s right?”
That’s the first thing you have to do. You have to go through your own sanity check and see if you’re seeing the world and experiencing the world from that person’s point of view.
The second thing, if you think I’m right, you should do is to go one step further and make them feel what people which have, through COVID-19, lost family members, people were to go from the homes. Make them feel the same thing through experiencing those people and their pain and suffering.
And what you probably will notice in nine out of ten cases, they’ll say, “Do you know what? It may be I don’t trust this chemical I’m putting into my veins. It may be this is not the perfect vaccine, but it may be we’re doing it as a greater good as a population on planet earth to survive and have a lot of other people as well.”
I think that’s my answer. Is a perfect, no, but maybe worth the go.
Guy Kawasaki: Conceptually. The straw story, also your Telecom story about making people wait in the 95-degree room, those are where you forced company executives to gain empathy by actually going through the experience. But do you think that people can mentally imagine being in another person’s place and that being effective enough or do you literally have to breathe through the straw?
Martin Lindstrom: It’s a very good question. I think that you probably would have a sliding scale, and let’s say the breathing through this straw is probably the ten out of ten or the nine out of ten experience.
Let me give you the ten out of ten experience because we actually talked about that internally. That would be that I do a ‘ice bucket’ moment where I have people lying in a bathtub with water and they have to breathe through the straw while lying under the water. That probably will be a ten out of ten because then you have to–then we really feel it. And then you can start it down to a nine out of ten where you do it without the water piece.
And then of course you can look at people having a lot of pain and suffering. I’ll give you an example from a real example, from an asthma patient. There was a patient with a respiratory disease issue and when I asked the executives, “How do people with respiratory diseases live,” they had no idea.
So we went into the homes, and I realized that for those with severe problems, they literally would place all the chairs in a round circle. And they would sit in the very middle and then they would throw themselves from chair to chair. So they would crawl to wash the toilet or to the bed because they couldn’t walk very far.
So they would basically be in distance of throwing their own body. And the rooms would be very dark and very messy, and it would not be very pleasant experience. I think a lot of executives on one hand would look at it and say, “Gosh, is that how our patients live?” Some of them would say, “This is disgusting.”
And I think some of them would really feel the pain because they could see the tears in their eyes. So I think there’s different degrees. One thing I’ve learned through all this process is probably comes back to neuroscience. When I wrote a book many years ago called Buyology– B U Y-ology, that there is an area in our brain called a “somatic marker.”
It’s a term invented by Antonio Damascus, and what he discovered was that when something so profound happens in our brain, we’ll never forget it. It’s called a somatic marker. That could be a negative, or positive. A negative would be 9/11. You remember where you were. Where were you on 9/11, Guy?
Guy Kawasaki: London Business School.
Martin Lindstrom: And who did you call that day?
Guy Kawasaki: My wife.
Martin Lindstrom: So can I just ask another question, what did you have for dinner at your last birthday?
Guy Kawasaki: I have no idea.
Martin Lindstrom: And that’s the difference between a somatic marker and not. Somatic marker is an emotional bookmark–it’s so profound. You’ll never forget it.
When you create strong empathy experiences like the straw or that stuff, it creates a very profound empathy bookmark in your brain–a somatic marker, and it stays with you for years. It’s almost like a mini-trauma. If you just do it superficially by reading a spreadsheet from a research company, and 2.6% is feeling like that, it’s almost like zero out of ten in terms of impact.
I think a lot of companies increasingly are looking at data through a screen, but they don’t feel what’s in between the numbers. And when you want to do R and D or amazing communication or creating amazing cultures, you have to feel it yourself. And the end of the day, I strongly believe in being in homes, living with people, and briefing with people because that’s where you have transfer of empathy taking place.
Guy Kawasaki: Let me ask you a real-world situation. So right now I have had maybe five people who were deaf, so they cannot listen to my podcast and they’re asking me, “Can I have a transcription?” And I have had transcriptions done. It takes about five hours. If one of us does it, or if we do it using machine learning and then somebody cleans it up, it still takes five hours.
Probably that means it costs $250. And So five people have asked for something that costs $250 and tens of thousands of people have not asked for it. So using your tests, if I were a deaf person, I couldn’t listen to my own podcast. That would be a, I don’t know if it’s a marker, but it would be like the straw. But I, doing the math, I say to myself, “Should I spend $250 per episode for a handful of people?”
Martin Lindstrom: I’ll give you my opinion about it, but I’ll tell you a story first. So I have both been a woman and have also been blind.
In Sydney, Australia, I decided to be blind for a week. I basically shut down my eyes and I followed a blind person around for a whole week to understand and feel what they’re feeling, and what was so remarkable throughout this experience was, suddenly, I saw the world clearer, meaning I heard it clearer; I smelled it; I touched it and it tasted differently. My senses were suddenly tuned up. It was remarkable. It was almost like addictive to try it.
In Saudi Arabia, I was asked by the government to understand the psychological effect of women driving. As you know, women until recently were not allowed, sadly, to drive in KSA– the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
And when it finally was introduced, it was very strange because not a lot of women signed up for it and I couldn’t understand the why, so I dressed up as a woman with a burka and I was a woman for a week. And what I felt through that experience was how women were teased, bullied, looked down at because they were sitting in a car or even talking about the topic because I was there with them and I saw the stares.
I felt the whole– the vibrations. That helped me to understand an entire new mindset– a new segment. So what I’m trying to see here is there’s two benefits of you doing it. The first benefit is it probably will open up the eyes for an entire new segment that you never have understood before because you never been like that before.
And through that, you’ll see something through their eyes which would be– that will be the ethical side and also the creative side I’m talking about here.
From a financial side, I will ask myself, “There’s a lot of organizations out there supporting deaf people, but I don’t think a lot of companies are equally supporting them.”
If you teamed up with them and you became the first podcast which actually is appealing to people who are deaf and actually going full-on for it, I think you’ll get the entire community with you.
That community, if you team up with their associations, because they will say, “That guy, he believes in us.” So I think as you have a lot of supporters with as much more supporters than the one you have already because you’re tapping into a community feeling where they feel a sense of belonging with you.
Guy Kawasaki: I guess I know my action item. I’m a victim of the kind of thinking that your book is written to help or cure. I had my rule and I did it for financial reasons, so I would like to know for an anti-vaxxer, what is the “edge of the chicken cage?”
Martin Lindstrom: First of all, let me tell you the story about the Chicken Cage Syndrome. So an experiment was done with chickens some years ago, and they were put into a cage; stuck there for half a year, and one day they were let out in the beautiful green grass. The sun was shining and the birds were singing and the chickens went out. And after thirty seconds, they went straight back in again.
And I call that the “Chicken Cage Syndrome.” And Chicken Cage Syndrome is a fear of the unknown in the end of the day. It’s what you’re experiencing in companies when there’s a new creative idea coming out of a meeting and people are saying “That’s…interesting,” which basically means it’s shit, right? I’ll give you an example.
Guy Kawasaki: When a VC tells you your company is an interesting idea, that means they’re not interested.
Martin Lindstrom: This is true. Charlie Bell, the late Charlie Bell, former, former, former CEO of McDonald’s reached out to me some years ago, many years ago, and he asked me if I could help him redesign the Happy Meal. And I said to him, “Yes, I’d love to if I can make it healthy.”
Talk about challenges here, right? So the goal was to make a six-year-old eat broccoli–That was my goal. So using narrative, we created a narrative where the broccoli was the bushes in the forest, and the cucumber was the murder weapon, and the blood was the tomatoes. It was–we had this amazing narrative, and we launched the pilot in Germany, and the kids loved it.
And the French loved it, and the parents loved it. For the first time ever, little Peter was eating broccoli. So I went to Oakbrook which back then was the headquarters of McDonald’s outside of Chicago, and I showed it to them and they said, “…It’s interesting.”
And it’s not like “Interesting,” it is, “Interesting.” I had to be dragged out. So I went back to Oakbrook and said, “Yes, they loved it!” It’s interesting. And then there was a silence for two years, and then the new Happy Meal came out. And there was a cardboard house, a little burger, a little fry, a little juice now with an apple.
And that’s where I learned the concept of the immune system, the defense mechanism for change, the Chicken Cage Syndrome we talked about, the fear of the unknown, because just around that time, Morgan Spurlock came up with Supersize Me. The writing was kind of on the wall, but the organization was petrified of change.
They had the largest toy manufacturing process in China. They produced so many cardboard houses. It was not even funny. How can we change things? So the Chicken Cage Syndrome is about removing fear. Amy Edmondson developed a term called “psychological safety,” and it is to infuse safety into your mindset into the organization.
When you come back to your vaccine question, as AstraZeneca coming out with their vaccine, and in Europe, they’re first approving it and then they’re not approving it and then they’re approving again, that’s the best way to say to consumers, “Stay away. Don’t get anything at all.” You need to work with two manuscripts.
When Alfred Hitchcock was producing his movies, he always worked with two manuscripts. He worked with modern manuscript which is the blue script. That’s the rational stuff: the props, the stage light, whatever it was, but then he had the green script. The green screen was him mapping down how you should feel throughout the entire movie.
He should feel empathy. The next minute you feel scared, and then you should feel fear. Then you feel love. And minute by minute, he’ll map down the entire movie He’d have a green script, blue script. That’s the reason why he was so successful. He really looked into the feeling of his emotions of the audience.
I don’t think we’ve done that today with the rollout of the vaccine. I think we’ve done the blue script somewhat, but we never said, “What is the emotional curve people are on considering moving to the place, getting it, talking to people?” “What are they going to say?” “What’s the justification?” “What’s the argument they should have to recruit others?” “What’s the peer pressure you want to work with or not work with?”
That whole green script is almost non-existent. It’s like, “Well, here’s the vaccine! Go and enjoy, right? So I do think we need to understand the green script, and that’s not just for the vaccine, that’s for every company launching a product or service or for us in life as a whole.
There’s always two scripts, not one.
Guy Kawasaki: This is my last question about politics and vaccines. So let’s say Joe Biden calls you up and says, “Martin, I need help. How do I influence, persuade, create empathy, in Congress? What can I do? Can I give them all a straw?”
Martin Lindstrom: I think if you go back in history to Washington DC, you will notice there was a rule which were implemented and removed around twenty years ago. And the rule was that everyone working in the Senate had to live in close proximity to the Senate or nearby each other, which is not the case today.
When you live nearby and you go to the pub in the night, you meet each other at the restaurant, you’re standing on the train on the way to work together, you synchronize emotionally. I think that synchronization has disappeared because it’s remote.
It’s two different camps. You’re seeing the world from two different points of views, but when your kids are playing together at the schoolyard, they don’t care about if you’re green and black or white or whatever view you have of the world, then it’s kind of really difficult to become really angry at the person having that kid which your son is really good friends with.
And I think that’s what we saw with the Bushes and the Obamas teaming up, that they had differences in the views, but the can still on a human scale work and talk together. What I’m seeing here is we need to synchronize the folks on the green script in Washington, DC.
You need to find activities where they’re not sharing politics, but where they share, everything else but politics. And I think that will probably will be my first step, that is to require people to live around Washington DC. And it probably would be to create programs where they are forced to see and experience the views for each other’s point of view because then you get a human connection, and it’s the human connection which has gone right now.
Now it’s become more of a game about, “I’m right and you’re always wrong.” It’s more about, “How much air time do I get,” or “Did I win that discussion on TV?” It’s nothing to do with, “Did I hurt his feelings? Actually, our wives are really good friends. I shouldn’t be that harsh. Why don’t I listen to him? Because my wife told me that is not existing.”
So that would be a very simple way of doing something which actually could have a profound impact. Now, of course, I can give you 700 other arguments around what you also can do, but I think that could be a pretty good step of just implementing a law was disappeared twenty years ago.
Guy Kawasaki: Completely switching off politics and vaccination, what would your common-sense advice be to apply, to increase the effectiveness of Zoom meetings?
Martin Lindstrom: I think that Zoom meetings are right now appealing to our sense of sight in particular, but they do not pick up the small data as I call it– the seemingly insignificant observations you make in a meeting.
Let me explain. I’m pretty sure that if you, Guy, are going to pitch the big new program for an executive at a TV station in LA, that if I asked you, after you went out of that meeting room, “How did it go?” You would say first, “Well, he said this and that,” and then you’ll say, “but I looked him in his eyes and, do you know what? I think there’s something there. I look at his body language, he had his arms like that.” You will explain that.
We know today that sixty plus percent of the communication we have between each other is not through the verbal voice. It’s through the signals we pick up, and that, more-or-less I would claim, is gone on Zoom.
So what I would do is to analyze and find out what are these subconscious clues we’re sending to each other through a body language, through the eye contact, and start to map this down. The first step you could work with is to constantly measure people’s attention span. It’s fair to say that even though I say to people, “Don’t multitask when you are on a ZOOM call after five minutes.” “But it’s so boring!” You do it anyway.
“It’s just that email. It’s so irresistible.” So you check it out, right? When that is happening, you’re not there. You’d better just leave, right? And So we know for a fact, at least men can’t multitask. That’s scientifically proven–women is a different story, but certainly men, they’re out of the game.
So the issue here is I would constantly monitor how pressured people are, and I’m not doing it through a robotic type of artificial intelligence format. I would have a check-in every fifteen minutes where I would say, “Do you feel this is a waste of time right now?” The discussion: Is it relevant?” And if the average curve is going on, kind of, no, thirty percent think this is relevant. The seventy percent thing is not relevant anymore.
Then you better stop the whole conversation or split the group or whatever. So that would create a way to find out a temperature check, first of all.
Second, I probably would find out a way to make voices which are not heard, heard. When you do your voting or whatever, that you do it in a way where people actually can express concerns where it also is flushed out rather than black and white.
Where you actually give opinions which are nuanced, these nuances don’t exist because it’s like, “I have talking time for thirty-five seconds now, and then I’m out of the game.” I can’t come with long-winded things. So that would be a second thing.
The third thing is I’ll build in breaks, not break outs, but breaks. When I’m on, the first thing I do when I meet you is–I don’t say hello anymore, I say, “You’re on mute.”
Hello is gone, okay? So pauses and silence on Zoom are banned because it either means you’re frozen or it means that you are not doing what you should do. You are multitasking something else and it’s a bit embarrassing. I can’t see anything. So I would actually allow pauses where people actually can think rather than just hammer away answers.
And I’d find a mechanism to allow those pauses where people are not multitasking where they’re reflecting. So these would be some of the tools I would work on. And then I’ll make the sound quality much better because right now it’s a tinny, irritating sound you have. If it’s a beautiful podcast sound, it’s much more engaging, but we don’t care about sound.
We care much about seeing ourselves all the time. So that would be some of the small things I would change.
Guy Kawasaki: I’ve done seventy or so of these interviews but you have the best setup of anybody I’ve interviewed so far.
Martin Lindstrom: Oh, thank you.
Guy Kawasaki: Really. And I hope you can see that I have a good setup too, because I’m using a Sony and I’m using a mic, and that helps. I mean, it helps.
Martin Lindstrom: It does help because you want to rest your eyes. You know how it is when sometimes you just go daydreaming for a second. We can’t have one hundred percent attention, but if, at least if I can look at something and is visually somewhat okay to look at rather than blurring and, “what is happening there?”
So I do think we need to optimize every signal that we send when we are on Zoom or teams. I said to an executive the other day, “You have a dog. You love it, right?”
“And he’s standing there in the corner all the time.”
“Put it behind you in the baskets so people can see it.” And he did that. And immediately it was crazy.
His staff said, “He’s more human.” It’s such a simple thing because then we could talk about the dog and we have something to connect around. It’s not this clinical thing. I do think we should be aware of every signal we send, not just what we say, but what we see, what we taste, touch, and then hear tells a story.
And I think a lot of people forget about that. Every brand tells a story. And what I learned from a huge neuroscience study we did around it was that the most important sense we have is a sense of smell, and then sense of sound, and then sense of touch, and then sense of sight.
But most brands would just appeal to the sense of sight, but it’s almost like a tape recorder. If you can record five tracks, you record it basically into your brain on five tracks and you record it and remember it five times better. Typically, our neuroscience work showed what today, for some reason, if you can cut a channel, just let’s cut it, right? And I don’t believe in that.
Guy Kawasaki: So you make a lot of keynote speeches and I was wondering. What do you think the ideal virtual keynote speech length is?
Martin Lindstrom: Well, thank you for the question. I’ll give you two answers. It probably is at the end of the day, twenty-five minutes. But, I would also claim that if you have a way of seeing the audience or having someone seeing the audience and getting a sense for their attention span, then have the length which fits to their reaction rather than a fixed length.
And I’d done that a couple of times where I said to the conference organizer that gave me a slot of an hour, and they said, “How long is your speech?”
I said, “I don’t know. Let’s play by ear.” And I played it by ear. And what was interesting was the first part of my speech was actually only twenty-one minutes, and then I felt the energy disappeared.
And then there was one question from a guy and it was such an interesting question. And it took me eighteen minutes to answer that question, and everyone was so taken by the depth of the answer that they thought, “This is not a canned speech. It’s real.”
So they asked questions and suddenly it was an hour. It was a keynote speech for twenty minutes, but in reality, it was one big keynote speech. It was just engaging the audience right.
Guy Kawasaki: I’m glad because whenever people tell me, “Okay, your slot is an hour,” I just, like, I am not—I don’t know if any human is capable of keeping somebody virtually for an hour keynote talking by himself or herself.
Martin Lindstrom: No, well, I have some tricks. I have two tricks in fact, and I can show them to you, which I don’t know if the listener at all–do to the listeners have the access to the video feed here as well.
Guy Kawasaki: No, this is purely audio.
Martin Lindstrom: So what I’m going to show at right now is that I can do drawings on the screen.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh!
Martin Lindstrom: Yeah, this is super important because sometimes I actually do a lot of drawings while I’m talking to people.
And that helps to engage people, particularly when they ask really interesting questions. And the other thing I also do quite often is that I use a lot of B-roll for my speeches. So I have a whole B-roll archive, and the B-roll archive really allows me to amplify know what my message is.
So right now, if you were to watch my screen, you will notice I’m running B-roll now, and that means that whatever I’m saying is supported by a visual effect.
Guy Kawasaki: How are you drawing on screen?
Martin Lindstrom: I’m drawing on screen because I’m using a green screen right now. So I’m using it from the iPad here, and then it’s going through the ATM and then I am green screen-teeing it out through a software and then it goes on to the screen.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, my God, Martin.
Martin Lindstrom: But I don’t have a phone.
Guy Kawasaki: That is quite the juxtaposition there, Martin. So let’s say you’re the CEO and you listened to this podcast. You read your book and you say, “Okay. Hell, man, I’ve got to fix this.” What do I do?
Martin Lindstrom: It depends on what the fixing means, but I think if, I assume, that the fixing is that you’re stuck in the past, you have a huge organization that which can’t move and adopt to change. And then when its adapting to change is too slow and too late, perhaps your culture is not very good. In fact, it’s really bad.
If that’s the starting scenario, then the first thing I’ve learned is to go back to the chickens. So let me tell you part two of my chicken story. Everyone listening by now, you must think I’m mad. I apologize for everything I’ve said!
So how do you get the chickens out of that chicken cage? Well, imagine that you have four chicken cages. And I’m not going to illustrate this out now because it would be sad for everyone.
Guy Kawasaki: No, I want to see! Show me how you would do this.
Martin Lindstrom: Okay. I’m going to do a show-and-tell at the same time here, right? So imagine that you have four chicken cages standing around a square, and you have a square in the middle.
You’re seeing them from a top, right? Now, if I open the doors to these chicken cages and I have these chickens, they want to get out of the chicken cage, how do I get them out of the cage? My question to you is, Guy, if I had a piece of corn and you want to place that corn somewhere to get the chicken to out of the chicken cage, where would you place the corn?
Guy Kawasaki: Well at the edge, you told me.
Martin Lindstrom: You will not place them in the center because the center is too far away. You were right. Just outside the chicken cage, and I’ll explain that for a second. If you placed the corn in the very center of the square.
Guy Kawasaki: Wait, why did you put that away? Put that back!
Martin Lindstrom: So here’s the issue: If I placed the corn in the very center of the square, the chicken, let’s say chicken A here, standing here…
Guy Kawasaki: Let’s say that’s Mitch McConnell.
Martin Lindstrom: Exactly. Let’s say that’s Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell is looking out at that piece of corn and saying, “Heck, that’s far away. I’m not paying for it. My KPIs are not supporting it and I’ll not have enough support.” So what is he going to do? Mitch McConnell will look to chicken B which will be all his colleagues in parliament and Senate.
And he will say, “What is chicken B doing?”
Chicken B will say, “My gosh, this is far away.”
So we look at chicken C, and chicken D, and all of them conclude this is too far away. They’ll go straight back into the cage and you have not made a single chain in the organization. So what is it you’re going to do?
What I’ve learned is you place a corn straight outside the chicken cage. Why is that? Well, I call that a ninety- day intervention. It’s a short, little activity you do, which will have a profound impact on the organization but it happens in only ninety days.
When you, for example, have a customer and the customer is really angry about a certain thing, then try to remove that little friction and celebrate that within the organization. That is the trick. Or internally, if there’s so much friction going on internally, try to fix that internally first and then give people the breathing space to actually move out.
And what I’m saying here is that a ninety-day intervention is a short little thing. I’ll give you an example. So we work for one of the largest banks in the world, and I had this workshop with around 800 executives in the meeting. And one guy said to me, “I’m so frustrated as working as a banker.”
I said, “What frustrates you the most?”
He said, “What frustrates the most is emails. I get 800 emails every day.”
I said, “Would you like to change that?”
And he said, “Absolutely. I like to get rid of it.”
So I said, “Are you aware of that there’s a direct correlation between the number of emails you send and the normal emails you receive? So here’s my idea: Why don’t we get rid of the CC button and the reply all button in Outlook?”
And of course, the folks in compliance said, “Oh, you can’t do it. No, we will always see the CCs,” and all this stuff.
I said, “Frankly, all you guys in this room, how many of you actually ever read those CCs?” And not a single hand was raised.
I’m not kidding. Not a single hand. So we did it for three months–ninety days. After ninety days, the number of emails had dropped from 800 to 362 emails per person on average. This is a true number, and it has zero complaints. And that became almost the first piece of evidence within the organization, that change is possible.
And then once we did that, we did another ninety day and another ninety day. And slowly the chicken went out of the chicken cage–Ate one corn at the time. And it created a sense of agreement, subconscious agreement, between all the–I’m using the word as a metaphor in our chickens because all folks in the organization said, “You know what? Change is possible.
My colleagues, even the guy that was so stubborn, so conservative, he actually is willing to change, so I can make change happen.” And that is the transformation of a culture because in the end of the day, just like McDonald’s, it’s a culture was, just making it tricky, right?
Guy Kawasaki: I’m going to end right there because that’s just–that is a great story and a great way to end this podcast.
So let’s say someday you’re at a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton, and you’re hanging out by the swimming pool and you see somebody swimming. And he has a notebook or a Remarkable Tablet at each end. He stops. He writes down a few notes. And then he continues swimming.
You can be pretty sure that that is Martin Lindstrom.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and you learned about breathing through straws, why politicians should live closer to each other, and how to get chickens and people out of their cages. The remarkable, Martin Lindstrom.
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick, who jumped through all kinds of hoops to make this episode, this episode. You don’t even want to know. Until next time, mahalo and aloha.