The Cluetrain Manifesto – Still Reading it, but WOW.

I’m still working my way through The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual (also available on and I’m finding it an extremely exciting text to read.

The book does a really great job of explaining what the web means to business culture as a whole. Unfortunately, as I look at it I see that while its first publication was in 2000, companies are obviously still stuck in their ruts as to how they think they should be run.

Last night while dinner was cooking I was reading the chapter by David Weinberger entitled The Hyperlinked Organization. In it, David outlines ten bullet points in which the “Company” does in order to accomplish certain things while the reality is that the company produces the exact opposite result. This section hit me really hard, because it strikes me as absolutely true. I’m hoping that my reproducing these isn’t a problem, because I think that the text deserves the additional exposure.

Here are the ten bullets outlined in The Hyperlinked Organization:

  • The company communicates with me through a newsletter and company meetings meant to lift up my morale. In fact, I know from my e-mail pen pals that it’s telling me happy-talk lies, and I find that quite depressing.
  • The company org chart shows me who does what so I know how to get things done. In fact, the org chart is an expression of a power structure. It is red tape. It is a map of whom to avoid.
  • The company manages my work to make sure that all tasks are coordinated and the company is operating efficiently. In fact, the inflexible goals imposed from on high keep me from following what my craft expertise tells me I really ought to be doing.
  • The company provides me with a career path so I’ll see a productive future in the business. In fact, I’ve figured out that because the org chart narrows at the top, most career paths necessarily have to be dead ends.
  • The company provides me with all the information I need to make good decisions. In fact, this information is selected to support a decision (or worldview) in which I have no investment. Statistics and industry surveys are lobbed like anti-aircraft fire to disguise the fact that while we have lots of data, we have no understanding.
  • The company is goal-oriented so that the path from here to there is broken into small, well-marked steps that can be tracked and managed. In fact, if I keep my head down and accomplish my goals, I won’t add the type of value I’m capable of. I need to browse. I even need to play. Without play, only Shit Happens. With play, Serendipity Happens.
  • The company gives me deadlines so that we ship product on time, maintaining our integrity. In fact, working to arbitrary deadlines makes me ship poor-quality content. My management doesn’t have to use a club to get me to do my job. Where’s the trust, baby?
  • The company looks at customers as adversaries who must be won over. In fact, the ones I’ve been exchanging e-mail with are very cool and enthusiastic about exactly the same thing that got me into this company. You know, I’d rather talk with them than with my manager.
  • The company works in an office building in order to bring together all of the things I need to get my job done and to avoid distracting me. In fact, more and more of what I need is outside the corporate walls. And when I really want to get something done, I go home.
  • The company rewards me for being a professional who acts and behaves in a, well, professional manner, following certain unwritten rules about the coefficient of permitted variation in dress, politics, shoe style, expression of religion, and the relating of humorous stories. In fact, I learn who to trust — whom I can work with creatively and productively — only by getting past the professional act.

This very accurately describes the corporate environment as I have experienced it, and its a sad, sad thing. As a matter of fact, I still remember the look of puzzlement I received at one company when I had asserted in a meeting that for development teams to be productive they have to have space to “play and make mistakes” without consequences. I received a look like I was from another planet. This was in response to a request to begin measuring defects on work in progress (pre-integration or QA) in order to measure developer productivity. Yes, that’s right, measuring defects on work that is still in major development. I never put this into action.

I’ve worked for some companies that I hated, due to their “factory” mentality of software development. One company that I despised working for I have a new respect for nowadays, because they actually had a newsgroup on UUNET (back in the 90’s) in which the development and technical support staff were allowed to contribute freely to. The lowly development staff were actually allowed to interact freely with customers. I always thought that that was a really cool thing for a customer – to have a problem with a piece of software that I had written and get answered by the guy who wrote it to either receive a way to work around it or be notified as soon as a patch made it to the tech support area of the web site. I haven’t worked for a company that understood the importance of this concept since then.

So what am I getting out of this book? I am getting confirmation, first and foremost, that I am not some nut with unrealistic ideas about the effects that the internet has on business and customers reactions to them. I am getting affirmation of the belief that if you just think about the experience you want on the internet as a customer, you can completely change the way your customers think about you.

And I’m learning that its the little things that create revenue opportunity, many of which you don’t make money with, but because they are base expectations. They are a barrier to entry for customers if you do not have them. One of these, I believe, is the conversations with real people rather than a corporate entity.

One thing this book obviously does is make you think — at least enough to brain dump some very disconnected but long dwelled upon concepts into your Labor Day Sunday blog entry.