the following is the complete first chapter of
Copyright © 1999, 2001 Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger.
We will strive to listen in new ways -- to the voices of
Richard M. Nixon, first inaugural address, 1969
Irony is perhaps the most common mode of Internet communications. The Net didn't create the mentality, but it did come along just in time to give it new expression. Nixon speaking about unheard voices of the heart from the height of the 1960s is a prime example of why most people have despaired of ever being heard at all. And of why they've stopped listening for answers from above -- from Big Government, Big Business, Big Education, Big Media, Big Religion. With few exceptions, the interlocking agendas of these monolithic powers have become utterly divorced from the constituencies they were originally conceived to serve, their interests as remote from our daily lives as the court of King George was to the American colonies in 1776. And you know what happened then.
So are we calling for a revolution? What would be the point? The only revolution that matters is already well underway. And by the way, since it's not being covered by CNN and Fox, we're winning.
You say you didn't notice anything out of the ordinary? Nor were you supposed to. Invisibility and ignorance are powerful weapons.
Ignorance is not a value you often hear extolled. Let's make up for lost time. Here's how it works; it's pretty simple. When you ignore people long enough, they begin to feel invisible. Because your important concerns do not concern them, they begin to figure it's a two-way street. They begin to ignore you back. Pretty soon they're thinking Al Gore is some hockey player from Winnipeg, and Warren Buffet isn't he the guy who does late-nite infomercials for cut-rate country western CDs? Three easy payments and it's yours? Yeah, but who really cares.
Ignorance is power. A maxim often heard online is that the Internet routes around obstacles, meaning it ignores them. In its early phase, the Net ignored business; Internet audiences simply weren't interested. And the feeling was mutual. Business ignored the Net for a long time, not seeing it as what it thought a media market should look like, which is to say television. This mutual ignorance served as the incubator for a global revolution that today threatens the foundations of business-as-usual.
Before any Old Order of Things can be given the final heave-ho coup de grâce, it's necessary to create a parallel infrastructure controlled by people acting in cooperation for their own benefit and mutual support. One thing any such effort requires is an extraordinarily efficient means of communication. We didn't used to have one. Telephones just didn't cut it.
Then, irony of ironies, along comes the Internet. It was as if we'd ordered it from Amazon: "Hello, U.S. Federal Government? Yes, we'd like one totally open, high-speed data backbone. Uh-huh, and charge that to the Department of Defense, why don't you? What's that? What do we want it for? Oh, just chatting about stuff. You know, this and that "
Invisibility is freedom. At first it feels awful that no one can see you, that nobody's paying attention. Darn! But you get used to it. We've had two hundred years to get used to it. Then one day you find yourself on a network, networking, and it dawns on you that it's like walking through walls. Wow! Like some comic-book-mystic Ninja warrior! That's pretty cool. You can get away with saying things you could never say if anyone took you seriously. Dilbert is just a comic strip. Hah-hah. Beavis and Butthead is just a cartoon. Heh-heh. And if anyone comes sniffing around and wonders if this Internet stuff could be maybe dangerous, culturally subversive, it's oh, hey, never mind us. We're just goofing off over here on the Web. No threat. Carry on. As you were.
But we aren't just goofing off. We're organizing: building and extending the Net itself, crafting tools and communities, new ways of speaking, new ways of working, new ways of having fun. And all this is happening, has happened so far, without rules and laws, without managers and managed. It's self-organizing. People by the millions are discovering how to negotiate, cooperate, collaborate -- to create, to explore, to enjoy themselves.
But what's the point, asks business? Business always wants there to be a point, a goal, an objective, a plan. Otherwise, how would we manage?
There never was any grand plan on the Internet, and there isn't one today. The Net is just the Net. But it has provided an extraordinarily efficient means of communication to people so long ignored, so long invisible, that they're only now figuring out what to do with it. Funny thing: lawless, planless, management-free, they're figuring out what to do with the Internet much faster than government agencies, academic institutions, media conglomerates, and Fortune-class corporations.
So what is the Net really good for? Besides chatting, that is. Well, there's the small matter of coordinating distribution. Remember those ancient markets from way back in the first chapter where we talked about trade routes and the cities that grew up where they intersected? Where caravans arrived with exotic merchandise and tried to sell their wares.
"Figs here! Delicious figs!"
"Give me one. Figs want to be free."
"I won't buy from you if I can't have a taste. From where I'm standing, your figs smell like your camel pissed on them."
"My camel is very well behaved. He never urinates."
But enough about early advertising. One thing the Net is good for is organizing markets. Especially if you're invisible and powerless, ignorant of how things are supposed to work, ignorant of business-as-usual. Especially if you're intent on end-running the empire.
Who has the stuff we like? Who makes the stuff we need? Interest, curiosity, craft, and voice combine to create powerful self-organizing marketplaces on the Web: "Figs here, delicious figs!" Or it might be a faster chip, an elegant bit of code, a new idea, a joke, a line of poetry, a job. Stuff, as the digital world has taught us, isn't always stuff. And coordinating how it gets distributed is more like a cocktail party than a strategy session. Stuff gets around the way word gets around. Along the same routes. Around the same obstacles. Though motivated by altogether different principles than those driving business, this is not as chaotic as it may sound, nor as inefficient. It's happening right now, every day. It works. "Follow the money" may still apply, but to find the money in the first place, follow the conversation.
In this book, we have tried to paint a picture of radical changes that are taking place today, aided and abetted by the Internet. But to people who've already lived in the Net for a while, these changes aren't perceived as radical at all. They're second nature. On the Web page we asked people to sign in support of the Cluetrain Manifesto, one comment was repeated over and over:
"It's about time!"
We've talked about the ideas you've just been reading with hundreds and thousands of people online who don't ask for additional explanation. Yeah, they say simply, damn straight. These are people who "get it," as the saying goes. They don't need explanations; they already know how it works.
"But...but..." you may sputter, "those are just disgruntled 'Net-heads' -- I read all about them in Time or TV Guide or Sports Illustrated or somewhere. Those unemployable fringe types who never amount to anything anyway. "
Don't bet on it. Here's a small handful of the radical organizations in which people who signed the manifesto work: Bank of America, Boeing, Cap Gemini, Cisco, Comcast, Compaq, Computer Sciences Corporation, Dow Jones, EDS, Ericsson, FedEx, Fleet Credit Card Services, Herman Miller, IBM, Intergraph, Kaiser Permanente, Kellogg, Kinko's, KPMG, Levi Strauss & Company, Lucent Technologies, Merck, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, New York Life Insurance, Novell, Ogilvy Public Relations, Oracle, PeopleSoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Qualcomm, Saturn, Sears, Sema Group, Siemens, Sun Microsystems, US Interactive, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, US West, USWeb/CKS, Wang, WR Hambrecht + Co., Ziff-Davis.
Stereotyping is a bitch, ain't it? Clichés are so comfortable and easy. Business is fat-cat moguls meeting in posh boardrooms atop steel-and-glass towers high above the jostling masses in the street. Stereotypes usually have some basis in reality, but they're lousy tools with which to frame critical judgments. More often than not, business happens in the streets, not above them. And so do revolutions.
But if you're looking for Molotov cocktails and tear gas, beleaguered cops and firebrand radicals, you're bound to miss what's really happening. Ruth Perkins of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement wrote to us, "Thank you for solidifying the thoughts and mission I've had for so long. I'm a wholehearted signer and practitioner of your manifesto."
Just because you're not seeing a revolution -- or what Hollywood has told you a revolution ought to look like -- doesn't mean there isn't one going down.
The Demonic Paradox
Although a system may cease to exist in the legal sense or
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish journalist, 1991
All talk of revolution notwithstanding, the struggle is already largely over. It's genuinely tough to find anyone who will stand up and defend the standard traditional conventional old-school way in which "everyone knows" business should be conducted. As far as we can determine, not only does everyone not know it, nobody seems to believe it for a second.
This is odd, we think. And critically important to us, personally and professionally. After all, if we're hanging our asses out with this whole Cluetrain tirade, there better be something there to carry on about. Right? Otherwise, wouldn't we look stupid?
So we rack our brains. We search our souls. We ask ourselves: are we making this stuff up? Is it wishful thinking? Are we maybe just having acid flashbacks? Ever uncertain of our findings, but always wishing to be scientifically precise, we're all constantly performing little sanity checks: "Have I slipped the surly bonds of earth, or is it actually possible that nobody left alive today really believes this stuff anymore?"
We meet a lot of people in our day-to-day work. A lot of different kinds of people -- as random a sample as you could ever hope for. Unbeknownst to them, they are being used as subjects -- fodder if you will -- for our ongoing market research. This involves looking for the perfect Suit, that is to say, the business person who fully embraces and embodies the corporate stereotype. So far, the closest we've come is some guy in a Dell TV ad: manly but understanding, firm yet gentle with his underlings. Always ready for a good laugh, but no joking around when it comes to delivering the goods. What he really does is hard to tell, though it seems to have a lot to do with his Inspiron brand notebook computer. Man, he takes that baby everywhere!
But of course, he's a male model. So we're still looking. Most of the people we run across are rather disappointing in this respect:
"So how's the job going?"
"The job? How do you think the job's going? The job sucks."
Or maybe it's someone who just bought a new product online:
"Are you satisfied with your latest purchase?"
"What, are you yankin' my chain? Get away from me, you pervert."
"Yes, sir. Sorry to have disturbed you."
This is hard work. No lie. But we keep at it, relentlessly searching for the canonical business type or the ideal consumer. Neither seems to exist. Isn't that just too weird?
But here's something weirder still. If you take someone you've just been talking to in a normal, non-insane sort of way, and put him or her in trade-show booth, nine times out of ten this person will immediately start talking like a Suit: "...and we are very proud of our preeminent position with respect to our competitors. Dunderhead & Gladhand just ranked our company second in the entire industry and "
...and it makes you want to go out and shoot yourself, or at least take a long hot shower. Then he or she comes offstage and says, "So how did I do?"
You hem and haw. You want to be kind, but how to put it? "That was total bullshit! How could you spout that patent crap? I know you don't believe a word of it."
"Oh, that, of course not. But how did I do?"
Mr. Kapuscinski, our Polish journalist from the quote above, says that although we may have toppled the system, we still carry its genes. He says it's a demonic paradox. Jazzman Rahsaan Roland Kirk has another term for this same phenomenon. He calls it volunteer slavery.
So while business stereotypes are largely empty, or come from another day and have long since lost any real descriptive power, we find ourselves replicating the behaviors they caricature. Why? Well, because we're business people, of course! And that's how business people behave. Welcome to the hall of mirrors. Welcome, as Vonnegut put it, to the monkey house.
We don't believe what we're saying at work. We know no one else believes it either. But we keep saying it because because because because the needle's stuck. The record's broken. Because we just can't stop. Because who would we be if we didn't talk like that?
Maybe we'd be free. Or freer at least.
In most cases, no one is forcing us to replicate these useless obsolete behaviors. We imagine we must, but we never investigate. We posit some organizational bogey man who'd punish us terribly if we were human. Give us a good hard whippin', you betcha.
What if there's nobody there, though? What if it's like Santa Claus, or flying saucers? Like Fox Mulder, we want to believe, we really do. Maybe it's like -- uh-oh -- God!
Not to be disrespectful, but there's a point here. Historically, capitalism depended heavily on the Calvinist notion that news of impending salvation was telegraphed by worldly success. Worker productivity positively skyrocketed under this inspired setup. It wasn't Santa who knew if you were naughty or nice, it was the Big Boss. So better knuckle down.
But, let's get real. A couple of centuries ago, a new invention arrived into the world. It was called "the job." The idea was simple, really. You went to some hellhole of a factory, worked sixteen hours until you were ready to collapse, and you kept on doing that every day until you died. Cool, huh? You can see where Calvinism must have come in handy. Some people wouldn't do that even for stock options.
Among the many casualties of this arrangement was the human spirit. And of its necessary functions, conversation was the first to go. People would talk with each other while doing craft or cottage work. But talk interfered with factory production. And of course, there was Management. Management knew everything. Workers knew nothing. So shut up and get back to yer lathes and looms, ye dirty sods!
Fast-forward a hundred years or so and along comes "knowledge work" -- an even cooler invention that enabled us to have magazines like Fast Company and meant we were allowed to know something all of a sudden. Excuse us, management said, but would you mind letting us in on whatever it is, as we're rather tapped out over here?
And the rest, as they say, is history. A history that brings us right up to today with its rip-snortin' high-speed Internet with broadband everything, hold the mayo. Whoopee! But that's not the point. The point is what this latest technological wonder brings back into the world: the human story. A story that stretches back into our earliest prehistory. A story that's been in remission for two hundred years of industrial "progress." When it breaks out again in the twenty-first century, it's gonna make Ebola look like chicken pox. Catch it if you can.
And next time you wonder what you're allowed to say at work, online, downtown at the public library, 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.
More About Radishes
What do I know of man's destiny?
So whaddya think? Will Cluetrain be the Next Big Thing? Not if we can help it. Deep-six the bumper stickers. Forget the catchy slogans and the funny hats. Let's not write the bylaws and pretend we did. Let's not start another frickin' club. The only decent thing to do with Cluetrain is to bury the sucker now while there's still time, before it begins to smell of management philosophy. Invite the neighbors over, hold a wake. Throw a wild and drunken orgy of a party. Because only death is static. Life moves on.
How do you speak in a human voice? First, you get a life. And corporations just can't do that. Corporations are like Pinocchio. Or Frankenstein. Their noses grow longer at the oddest moments, or they start breaking things for no good reason. They want to be human, but gosh, they're not. They want the Formula for Life -- but they want it so they can institutionalize it. The problem, of course, is that life is anti-formulaic, anti-institutional. The most fundamental quality of life is something the corporation can never capture, never possess. Life can't be shrink-wrapped, caged, dissected, analyzed, or owned. Life is free.
And so, finally, the question we've all been waiting for. In the newly humanized and highly vocal global marketplace the Internet has helped create, can corporations survive at all? Not if they're unable to speak for themselves. Not if they're literally dumbfounded by the changes taking place all around them.
But maybe -- and it's a big maybe -- companies can get out of their own way. Maybe they can become much looser associations of free individuals. Maybe they can cut "their" people enough slack to actually act and sound like people instead of 1950s science-fiction robots. Gort need more sales! Gort need make quota! You not buy now, Gort nuke your planet!
Easy there, Gort. Calm down boy. Here, chew on this kryptonite.
Everybody's laughing. No one gives a rat's ass. So here's another question. Perhaps you even thought of it yourself. How come this book ended up in the business section of your local bookstore instead of under Humor, Horror, or True Crime? Hey, don't look at us.
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 you repeat the following mantra as often as possible until you feel better: "I am not a company. I am a human being."
So, no, at the end of all this we don't have a cogent set of recommendations. We don't have a crystal ball we can use to help business plot its future course. We don't have any magic-bullet cure for Corporate Linguistic Deficit Disorder. Did that much come across? OK, just checking.
However, we do have a vision of what life could be like if we ever make it through the current transition. It's hard for some to imagine the Era of Total Cluelessness coming to a close. But try. Try hard. Because only imagination can finally bring the curtain down.
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, where play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the business 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 from the earth forever.
Yeah. Imagine that.