Interview with an Innovator: Michael Brenner on why Mean People Suck

October 24, 2019

Many of the best innovators I know don’t carry an “innovation” title on their business card. They are people who understand that new ideas can happen anytime and anywhere.

But that’s not how most of the world looks at innovation. “Innovators” are the design thinkers, the data scientists and the engineers. They’re the ones who have a special kind of office, standup  desks and dress differently from everyone else.

It turns out, that’s not the case.

Which is why I’m launching a video series called Interview with an Innovator – so that everyone can see that people who have  great ideas come from all walks of life, areas of business and types of backgrounds.

In this first episode, I talk to author, speaker and marketing consultant Michael Brenner about his new book, Mean People Suck, and why empathy in business is the key to success.

Michael’s dug into the idea of empathy over the last couple of years, and he’s hit the nail on the head with the title of his book. We all know mean people, and it’s a “duh” moment to point out that they suck. But that’s as far as it goes.

In this interview with Michael, we cover things that matter to you – it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, where you’re located or how senior your position. 

Here are two big questions we talk about…

How do you explain empathy to executives that don’t have any?  

Go the Jerry McGuire route and show them the money. Executives can grow their business, and CMOs can have better marketing results by showing more empathy for customers and employees. Trying to promote and create propaganda and lie to people about how awesome your company is doesn’t work. It’s actually the opposite that works. When you open up and say, “Hey, what are your problems and how can I help you?” there’s a much better outcome for everyone.”

This sounds good, but how do people actually get the ball rolling?

I’ve found that in all different kinds of industries there are what I call champions, people who champion the customer and empathy for their situation. These people end up creating massive success. And, none of them are the CEO. They’re low level marketers. They’re individuals in HR. They’re people in sales who started asking ‘what’s in it for the customer?’ to create a new brochure, sponsor an event or whatever typical marketing we might do. These are the ones who create amazing success. My advice is to go home, think about empathy, and come back ready to start challenging what you’re doing and how it’s serving your customers.

Watch the rest of our interview and find  out…

The one question that can lead to overnight culture change.

What the “f-you to good morning factor” is and how it affects the work you do.

The impact that the digital world has on empathy.

Visit Mean People Suck and learn how empathy, kindness and self-reflection can save us all.

About Carla Johnson


Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.

In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds -  Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. 

Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.