Reading response – The Cluetrain Manifesto

I will interrupt my stream of thought from the last post and talk a little bit about a reading. Next post I’ll finish up my thoughts about “what is going on now.”

 Actually this reading fits into the theme very nicely – and I’ll certainly reference my own historical view as I comment on it. It might have been better to have it after the other post, but I have to get this response in by Tuesday evening.

 If you haven’t read The Cluetrain Manifesto yet, you might not – well – have a clue. At least some of the authors seem to believe, deep within their souls, that if you are not super-connected, totally transparent and gushingly bare online, your business or institution is invalid.  The work does seem to have a particular nose-in-the-air high-mindedness about it that sort of reminds me of the writings of some of the French radicals on the eve of their revolution – brotherhood, equality and liberty at last! Somehow they did not see the guillotine too clearly in those early visions of paradise-on-earth.

 Having said that, and looking beyond the triumphalism that comes across in some particular sections (in a few places it smacks of something like Revenge of the Nerds), I still have to say it is a powerful and prophetic piece of writing. I don’t mean prophetic in the sense of foretelling the future – for 1999 was pretty late in the game (remember my 1983 research? – last post) – but prophetic in the sense of voice and upheaval-of-society import. (Do try to look past their “…People of Earth” direct audience address in the introduction).

I hope you heard that – I think it IS extremely valuable thinking and does point the way to some tremendous truths about ‘what is going on.’

Before I get into how I think all of this is related to ‘The Business of Life’ and my own view of things, let me take one more cheap shot.

 Being sort of a literary person, I puzzled over the title a while. My first thought was – (gulp) – “Gluetrain Manifesto” – you know, like the train that takes the worn out horses to the glue factory? Hmmm… a swipe at the institutionalism of the modern era?  Maybe. But more likely my own twisted mind, being as I am in the somewhat-outdated newspaper business.

Actually, the work includes a quote The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery purportedly from an employee of a company then declining in its fortunes.

But the idea : HERE ARE SOME CLUES  does come across loudly. In all fairness, let’s look at the clues themselves.

“Markets are conversations – markets consist of human beings… – conversations among human beings sound human – ..the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived…” (parts of the first 3 of the 95 theses – they must have been Lutheran prophets).

I could not agree more. In fact I would go one step more  – we have met the markets and they are us! (with apologies to Pogo who certainly made prior apologies to Commodore Perry).

That is my point with this whole blog. You cannot separate business and personal life. We are all in business. We are all markets ourselves and we are all marketers. We have to market ourselves and sell our ideas, our thoughts and our dreams to others in order to reach them ourselves.

Those who pretend this is not so, and denigrate businesspeople, the marketplace, and the idea of commerce in general, have not really looked honestly at human history, nature, or, I submit, even themselves.

Cluetrain does accept this as fact, and I give them a great deal of credit for that. As the document begins to speak about a return to more primitive marketplaces, where the voice of the individual starts to matter more than the voice of some monolithic institution of some kind (be it a business, a government, the media, whatever) I start cheering.

At this point I reach a convergence in what I have seen coming and what they see.  Incredible opportunity.

We differ in that they see it as people of the marketplace now demanding transparency and ‘humanness’ while I see it as opportunities for me and millions of others to reach individual dreams that our parents and grandparents did not have. The essential, human, voice of the individual not only matters again, it can actually support itself financially. Or it least there is a clear path as to how to do it.

The convergence means this to me: Dare now to dream! Dare to do it! The tools are here to reach your niche, your market (other ‘you’s), your world in a hundred languages. It IS freedom. In many ways the primitive marketplace is also the free marketplace. Free for the little guy, the beginning entrepreneur, the try-er. And millions are succeeding.

The danger of it all – one still has to be wise. Not all ‘human conversations’ are benign. Not all global villages are unwarlike (even McLuhan himself used the term ‘global village‘ in a somewhat fearful way – he did not totally trust the unformatted masses). It is not just big, mean corporations that will do you in. Those small, human conversations can do it even faster and better.

All that being said, I still celebrate the openness that Cluetrain trumpets so loudly.

More in my next post (and the rest of ‘my take’).

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