books - business 2008

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The End of Business as Usual

by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searis, David Weinberger

from the intro…. A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies. …. Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.

If you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get… we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings – and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.

To read the 95 Theses: (you can also read the entire book for free)

my flags…

pg 2 … The wicked witch won’t really push you into the oven, honey, but watch out for AK-47s at recess. Amazingly, we learn to live with it. Human beings are incredibly resilient. We know it’s all temporary, that we can’t freeze the good times or hold back the bad. We roll with the punches, regroup, rebuild, pick up the pieces, take another shot. We come to understand that life is just like that. And this seemingly simple understanding is the see of a profound wisdom.

It is also the source of a deep hunger that pervades modern life – a longing for something entirely different from the reality reinforced by everyday experience. We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that’s more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.

And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.

But companies don’t like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends. If we feel inadequate, there’s a product that will fill the the hole, a bit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete. Perhaps a new car would do the trick. Maybe a trip to the Caribbean or that new CD or a nice shiny set of Ginsu steak knives. Anything, everything, just to get more stuff. Our role is to consume.

pg 16 While collaboration has been paid much lip service within corporations, few have attempted it beyond their own boundaries. Ironically, companies that remain “secure” within those boundaries will be cut off from the global marketplace with which they must engage in order to survive and prosper.

pg 17 Instead, the future business of businesses that have a future will be about subtle differences, not wholesale conformity; about diversity, not homogeneity; about breaking rules, not enforcing them; about pushing the envelope, not punching the clock; about invitation, not protection; about doing it first, not doing it “right”; about making it better, not making it perfect; about telling the truth, not spinning bigger lies; about turning people on, not “packaging” them; and perhaps above all, about building convivial communities and knowledge ecologies, not leveraging demographic sectors.

pg 23 The long history of distrust between workers and management didn’t start with the likes of Karl Marx or the AFLCIO. It’s based more on fallout from the ideas of people like Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford, ideas like “scientific management” and Theory X. Underlying these questionable principles that have done so much to shape the assumptions of business-as-usual is the premise that workers are lazy, unwilling, even stupid. Today, this premise translates into the near-certainty that employees are pilfering company time, collecting a paycheck while hanging out on the web all day. They probably are. But that’s a symptom, not a cause.

pg 23 And unless your industry is very “mature” – which really means ready for the bone yard – your market isn’t wearing pinstripe suits anymore, either. … was anybody ever this straight or this stupid? Are they now? If not, what does this say about current approaches to online marketing? In many cases, your workers are your market. Come out of the bunker once in a while, see what they’re up to – it could be your future.

pg 35 Dig deeper. Down to the sites that never entertained the hope of Buck One. They owe nobody anything. Not advertisers, not VC producers, not you. Put your ear to those tracks and listen to what’s coming like a freight train. What you’ll hear is the sound of passion unhinged, people who have had it up to here with white-bread culture, hooking up to form the biggest goddam garage band the world has ever seen. … What are these underbelly sites about? What’s a rock concert about? How about creation, exploring a visceral and shared collective memory we’ve been brainwashed into believing never existed?

pg 37 So the bottom line is: you can play int he Internet headspace as well as anyone. There are just three conditions: 1) you have to let your people play for you, since there’s really nobody else at home; 2) you have to play, not something more serious and goal orientated; and 3) related to the previous, you have to have at least some tenuous notion of what “headspace” might mean. It’s not in the dictionary. But you can ask around. Get the general hang of the thing. If you figure it out, we’ll think you’re cool and consume mass quantities of all your wonderful products. See how easy life can be when you loosen up a little?

pg 44 … I have seen ten years of young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find how deaf the world is, they think they must save their strength and wait. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little eminence from which they can make themselves heard. “In a few years,” reasons one of them, “I shall have gained a standing, and then I will use my powers for good.” Next year comes and with it a strange discovery. His ambition has evaporated; he has nothing to say. I give you this one rule of conduct. Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time. – John Jay Chapman, Commencement address to the graduating class Hobart College, 1900

pg 49 Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, discusses bricolage as the opportunism of those who work with their hands, creating stuff out of whatever is lying about. The Web is group bricolage. Individuals build it without working from a master plan. They take pieces of that work – stealing gifs, formats, links – and create new pages. This makes the Web unpredictable, creative, and always the result of human hands.

pg 50 Rick may believe he’s good at multitasking, but I don’t believe it. Humans can’t multitask – we can’t pay attention to two things simultaneously. You can multitask? Fine. Then read a book and write one at the same time. No, multitasking is really just rapid attention-switching. And that’d be a useful skill, except it takes us a second or two to engage in the new situation we’ve graced with our focus. So, the sum total of attention is actually decreased as we multitask. Slicing your attention, in other words, is less like slicing potatoes than like slicing plums: you always lose some of the juice.

pg 59 The Saturn mechanic was speaking for his company in a new way: honestly, openly, probably without his boss’s explicit sanction. He gave away secrets, took a risk, was humanized – and he greatly served the interests of Saturn. He and others like him are changing the way Saturn supports its customers. And Saturn corporate might not even know it’s happening. This puts a completely different spin on “talk is cheap”. The mechanic’s e-mail didn’t cost Saturn a nickel. He wrote it on his own time. Companies need to harness this sort of caring and let its viral enthusiasm be communicated in employee’s own voices. Pay a little, get a lot. Talk is cheap.

pg 65 Hart Scientific, Inc. posted a convenient comparison of conversational writing versus traditional writing on their Website. They have two versions of the Y2K compliance page. You can tell them apart:

Noncompliance issues could arise if Hart Scientific manufactured products are combined with other manufacturer’s products. Hart cannot test all possible system configurations in which Hart manufactured products could be incorporated. Our products currently test as being compliant and will continue to operate correctly after January 1, 2000. However, customers must test integrated systems to see if components work with Hart Scientific manufactured products. Hart makes no representation or warranty concerning non-Hart manufactured products.


If you’re using our equipment with someone else’s gear, who the hell knows what’s going to happen. We sure don’t, so how can we promise you something specific, or even vague for that matter? We can’t, so we won’t. However, we love our customers and like always we’ll do whatever is reasonable to solve whatever problems come up, if there are any.

We seem to know, intuitively, when something spoken, written, or recorded is sincere and honest – when it comes from another person’s heart, rather than being a synthesis of corporatespeak filtered by myriad iterations of editing, trimming, and targeting. There’s an inherent pomposity in much of what passes for corporate communication today. Missing are the voice, humor, and simple sense of worth and honesty that characterize person-to-person conversation.

pg 67 There is no longer a single source for “The Truth”. You can no longer download the corporate PR campaign as reality and go from there. You are now hearing many voices, many “truths”, and will have to pick and choose and integrate. A company’s fear is that a lone voice with an axe to grind will make up a “truth” as plausible as anything the Marketing department has come up with, but harmful to the company, and it’ll be adopted as the “truth” irrespective of the facts.

The reality is that when malicious propaganda happens (and it will happen), the truth will out. That is the glorious thing about the markets of opinion; no opinion remains unchallenged. This is the real fear many corporations have of the markets of opinion, that their white propaganda – they are the Galahads of the industry, pure and good and perfect – will also not survive the challenges of the market of opinions. They’re right, they won’t. Cope. The corporations will be revealed to be made up of fallible human beings. Just like us. – Brian Hurt, email to

pg 68 A critical aspect of success with large numbers of customers lies in listening to them. It’s not enough for employees to talk to customers. There must be a way for the fruits of employee conversations to trickle back into an organization’s plans. When Sun started to address the problem of providing technical support to the Java developer community, we made a glaring error. We assumed our answers to technical questions were more valuable than answers from sources outside our group, than answers from our customers.

pg 96 Everyone who knows how to point and click can gather tracks from their favourite musicians and assemble their own albums. Production and distribution are so cheap and easy that the market can do it for itself. That leaves the recording industry with almost nothing but the role of marketing, a task they generally haven’t grasped very well when it comes to the Web because they’re too busy trying to squelch what they rightly see as a threat to their hegemony. Recording companies thought they were originators but instead found they were intermediaries. And the most efficient markets tend to have the fewest intermediaries.

pg 97 It doesn’t take a genius to see that what the MP3 is doing to the music business, the widespread availability of reading matter on the web will do to the publishing industry. It’s already happening. And it will take off like wildfire the moment truly readable, portable computer displays enter the mainstream. (Amanda’s note: fastforward to 2008 and Amazon’s Kindle).

pg 106 So what’s a business to do? People aren’t going to simply repeat messages. You can’t shut them up – at least not for long – and you can’t make them mouth words they don’t believe any more than you could get your teenaged children, your spouse, your friends, or anyone to. Save your discipline for the few renegades who, through malice or ignorance, spill beans that need to be kept in the can. Expend your efforts instead on building a company that stands for something worthwhile, so that you can’t wait to unleash every single one of your voices into the wilds of the new global conversation.

pg 114 What’s happening to the market is precisely what should – and will – happen to marketing. Marketing needs to become a craft. Recall that craftworkers listen to the material they’re forming, shaping the pot to the feel of the clay, designing the house to fit with and even reveal the landscape. The stuff of marketing is the market itself. Marketing can’t become a craft until it can hear the new – the old – sound of its markets. By listening, marketing will re-learn how to talk.

pg 123 To have a conversation, you have to be comfortable being human – acknowledging you don’t have all the answers, being eager to learn from someone else and to build new ideas together. You can only have a conversation if you’re not afraid to be wrong. Otherwise, you’re not conversing, you’re just declaiming, speechifying, or reading what’s on the PowerPoints. To converse, you have to be willing to be wrong in front of another person. Conversations occur only between equals. The time your boss’s boss asked you at a meeting about your project’s deadline was not a conversation. The time you sat with your boss’s boss for an hour in the Polynesian-themed bar while on a business trip and you really talked, got past the corporate bullshit, told each other the truth about the dangers ahead, and ended up talking about your kids – maybe that was a conversation.

pg 132 There’s a dark side to self-reliance. It can encourage a type of arrogant cynicism that reacts to anything that the business tries to do for you with: “I can do it better than than that.” In this view of the world, there’s what I can do with my own two hands and then there’s red tape. To the Web cult of self-reliance, the business is not only an obstacle, it’s them, the other.

Yet if we know that routing a customer comment through the standard structures of the Fort will result in a content-free form letter being sent out six weeks later, we will sit down and bang out an email immediately that actually addresses the customer’s concern. Self-reliance breeds disengagement with the business but more direct engagement with the real work of business.

We are seeing, then, a realignment of loyalties, from resting comfortably in the assumed paternalism of Fort Business to an aggressive devotion to making life better for customers. The business isn’t a machine anymore, it’s a resource I alone and we together can use to make a customer happy.

pg 134 A couple weeks after arriving, he called me into his office to bond with me and also, not incidentally, to find out when the next wave of marketing materials would be ready. I said I didn’t know. Why not? he demanded. I replied that I had a really well-motivated team of professionals who were moving heaven and earth to get it all done; it would be done at the earliest possible moment.

He looked at me in amazement. And gave up on me.

Now, I will admit that as COO, he needed to have some sense of the timing of events. For example, he might have needed to know when the materials would be ready because of an upcoming sales meeting. And in such a case I would have told him what I thought would be ready. And if he wanted it sooner, I would have warned him that some of it would be of poor quality. But, in fact, there was no upcoming event. He managed by holding people to deadlines. I managed by holding people to people.

pg 135 … If not living by deadlines is unrealistic, it’s just as unrealistic to think that a motivated group of people, working hard, will get things done by a particular moment just because you set that moment as the endpoint. …. Instead, let’s leave open the possibility that deadlines are frequently a weapon used by managers who assume that workers are basically slackers. In fact, hyperlinked teams – ruled by the laws of connection – are motivated by a genuine desire to turn out a product or help a customer. They will work as hard as they can to do right by their customers and their coworkers. They know better than anyone, in many instances, when the work can realistically be finished. Managing them simply means asking them.

pg 140 What’s gone wrong here is time. Because we are so geared towards heroic presentations, we keep our work under wraps until we go public with it (that is, publish it) at the big meeting. Until that moment, no one is allowed to look at it without our permission. It is secret. But the Web is changing this…

So, you’ll be given an assignment, and, just as before, you’ll retire to your cubicle, but only for about half an hour. You’ll write up some initial ideas, post them to the intranet, this feels like saving them to a shared folder – and you’ll send out mail to the poeple you think can help you with this. (Here’s how much attention you’ll pay to where these people are located in the org chart: zero.) Your email will say, and I quote:

Old Man Withers wants me to solve the Parchesi problem in Tahiti. By next month! Yikes! So, I posted a couple of ideas at I also put in some links to Donkeyballs’ (oops, I mean Donerby’s) bogus report from last year, the one that didn’t see the crisis coming. You can always count on Donkeyballs. 😉 There are also some links to a couple of sites I found when I did a search at the usual-suspect search sites. Let me know what you think. And remember, the doc I posted is just a bunch of BS. Kick it around, and let’s get this thing going…

pg 142 Of course, majority vote isn’t the only way to make decisions. There’s consensus, compromises, negotiations of every stripe, even counting eeny meeny. Yet for all this richness, in business we default to autocratic rulings. It seems a shame.

So, two outcomes are likely as the work of business increasingly moves online. First, we’ll see more ways of deciding because we’re seeing more ways of associating. Second, an important part of every project will be how you are going to decide. (Amanda’s note: this speaks to Ram Charan’s messages about the importance of decision making as leaders, as well as Crucial Conversations’ info on decision making in dialogue).

pg 151 We live in stories. We breathe stories. Most of our best conversatons are about stories. Stories are a big step sidewise and up from information. … So, stories are not a lot like information. But they are they way we understand. How to apply this to your workaday world? You already have. When you are telling someone how you won this account or lost that one, when you are explaining why the competitor’s trade-show booth was a disaster, or when you are telling a financial analyst how the market got to be as wacky as it is, you’re already telling stories. You can’t help it. You’re human. Stories are how we make sense of things. Anything else is just information.

pg 152 Seven Ways to Tell Stories
1. Ban the opening joke. Begin your next PowerPoint presentation by saying, “Let me tell you a story…” and then recount what made the market the way it is, what got your company to come up with such an incredible product, and what obstacles particular customers faced and overcame by using your product.
2. Make sure the forms you use to “collect knowledge” have big empty boxes in them so the story can be told.
3. Every meeting with a potential partner, every exciting sales meeting, every important encounter with customers can best be told as a story. Do so.
4. Turn your next white paper into a narrative.
5. Collect the stories of your business and publish them on an intranet site.
6. Reward the tellers of good stories. They’re the people everyone’s listening to anyway.
7. Rewrite your mission statement as a corporate story. In fact, wouldn’t a narrative version of an annual report help the company more than the usual hearty prose and canned snaps of happy employees?

pg 171 The Web got built by people who chose to build it. The lesson is: don’t wait for somone to show you how. Learn from your spontaneous mistakes, not from safe prescriptions and cautiously analyzed procedures. Don’t try to keep people from going wrong by repeating the mantra of how to get it right.

pg 177 Although a system may cease to exist in the legal sense or as a structure of power, its values (or anti-values), its philosophy, its teachings remain in us. They rule our thinking, our conduct, our attitude to others. The situation is a demonic paradox: we have toppled the system but we still carry its genes. – Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish journalist, 1991

pg 181 And next time you wonder what you’re allowed to day at work, online, downtown at the public libary, just say whatever the hell you feel like saying. Anyone asks you, tell ’em it’s OK. Tell ’em you read about it in a book. Put that in your demonic paradox and smoke it.

pg 182 Fact is, we don’t care about business – per se, per diem, au gratin. Given half a chance , we’d burn the whole constellation of obsolete business concepts to the waterline. Cost of sales and bottom lines and profit margins – if you’re a company, that’s your problem. But if you think of yourself as a company, you’ve got much bigger worries. We strongly suggest that you repeat the following mantra as often as possible until you feel better: “I am not a company. I am a human being.”

pg 183 Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning , a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you held back, where joy was not a dirty word, whre play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the busines of business was to imagine worlds people might actually want to live in someday. Imagine a world created by the people, for the people not perishing form the earth forever. Yeah. Imagine that.

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