Marketing Book Worth a Look: Mean People Suck, by Michael Brenner

October 25, 2019

The title of Michael Brenner’s new book states a truth that we’ve all learned in our lives. One need not work 50 different jobs to recognize that mean people suck. But through his diverse professional journey, which has taken him from early-morning newspaper delivery boy to CEO, global keynote speaker, and best-selling author, Michael has developed a unique viewpoint on the specific value of empathy in business environments.

His latest work confronts this pervasive deficit head-on, and explores how we can fix it.

Take a Look: Mean People Suck: How Empathy Leads to Bigger Profits and a Better Life, by Michael Brenner

When we chatted with Michael earlier this year as part of our Sophisticated Marketer’s Perspective series, he explained his motivation in writing Mean People Suck: “I want to help anyone who is miserable in their job (or life) to stop blaming the meanness, see the value in empathy, and find a way to apply their true talents to make an impact on the world.”

His book sets out to approach this lofty aspiration in practical terms, with concrete advice and examples drawn from Michael’s past. This excerpt from the intro, I think, best summarizes the driving philosophy behind Mean People Suck:

I believe that if companies valued empathy, even stated it publicly and documented it as a core value, we could start to turn the tide. If companies were to treat employees with a little more respect and managers gave employees a little more room to serve customers' needs, then we could create better, more positive experiences for customers. Those customers would spend more money with our companies and customers stay longer. Then our company would grow and hire more happy employees, and the virtuous cycle could begin again.

To help us unlock this virtuous cycle, the author identifies three problematic sources of lacking empathy — our jobs, our companies, our managers — and how they all manifest negatively in the customer experience. 

  • Our Jobs: When we fail to connect with the purpose, function, or responsibilities in a role, it often leads to the misery Michael referenced. In this chapter he discusses The Great Idea Cycle of Death, breaks down The Illusion Point, and charts a path to escape the scourge of wasted efforts that help no one.

  • Our Companies: Traditional org charts create a rigid hierarchy that can lead to cutthroat culture and unproductive internal competition, Michael writes. They also leave out the single most important person in any business: the customer. He offers a new model: The Bullseye Org Chart, with your customer at the center. “What a company does is not as important as why they do it and who they do it for.”

  • Our Managers: Michael is a champion for employee activation, and believes it to be essential for creating stronger relationships between employees and their companies and managers. It creates an environment where employees are empowered, their ideas are valued, and innovation can thrive. This is at the heart of his blueprint for overcoming managerial apathy through empathy.

Restoring Customer Trust and Affinity

The biggest issue from Michael’s view — more concerning than the disconnect between employees and their jobs, their companies, their managers — is the disconnect between brands and the customers they serve. This occurs as a byproduct of the three areas mentioned above, as well as a variety of other factors. Mostly, it comes down to a lack of empathy and true understanding.

In the latter portion of Mean People Suck, Michael provides guidance for reconnecting with customers at a deeper level. The bottom line: If we want people to care about our companies, we need to genuinely care about them. That means admitting to ourselves what we don’t know, and putting our collective effort as organizations into answering the questions they are asking. It means placing them ahead of ourselves (the Bullseye Org Chart). It means driving value through ambitious storytelling. 

It means… not being mean. When we lose sight of our empathy, we can stray from this seemingly self-evident focus in our lives and careers. Getting back to the basics and following the golden rule — treat others the way you want to be treated — can assist in overcoming a wide range of difficulties, helping you to become a better employee, boss, marketer, and person. 

Make sure to grab a copy of Mean People Suck for the full scoop. It’s a brisk, entertaining, anecdote-filled exploration of a topic we could all stand to spend more time thinking about. 

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