Back in April 1999 (eons ago by weblog standards, I know), a list of 95 theorems written by three techno-leaders caused quite a stir. The Cluetrain Manifesto was an attempt to define the new model for business-consumer interaction, given the invasive, conversational style of the Internet.
In the forward to the inevitable book based on the manifesto (available for free on-line), The Wall Street Journal‘s Thomas Petzinger, Jr., described his first reaction to the work:
I was dumbstruck. There, in a few pages, I read a startlingly concise summary of everything I’d seen in twenty-one years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, and columnist for my newspaper. The idea that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human. That engineering remains second-rate without aesthetics. That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce. That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.
All hype and hyperbole aside, there are some great mini-messages within the 95 points for the nonprofit (dare I say ‘corporate’) arts. Following are a few choice bits:
1. Markets are conversations. 2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. 3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice. 4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived. 11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products. 12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone. 13. What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called ‘The Company’ is the only thing standing between the two. 15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized ‘voice’ of business — the sound of mission statements and brochures — will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court. 21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. 22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. 23. Companies attempting to ‘position’ themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about. 74. We are immune to advertising. Just forget it. 75. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change. 84. We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play? 85. When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on ‘your people’ maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to. 94. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down. 95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.
For a present-day example of the power of conversation, the boundary-busting between corporation, staff, and public, and the truth that there really are ‘no secrets’ anymore, just take a look at Tyler Green’s current thread in his weblog about the Getty and its current personnel/morale troubles.
Arts organizations should be about open, honest, engaging, and transparent conversations. What are we, if not champions of the human voice, present and past? And how could so many of us have fallen into the same traps that the Cluetrain Manifesto rails against?