|a conversation with the
cluetrain manifesto authors
the end of
business as usual
interlude: we interrupt
this conversation for a conversation
Mr. Petzinger: There is a kind of vulgar word in consulting—I
guess vulgar words are okay tonight—called "operationalize."
Let's operationalize The Cluetrain Manifesto. Let's say that
you are in an organization, a clueless organization. How does one
person . . .
Mr. Locke: Are those two different statements?
Mr. Petzinger: They may be. How does one person, however
hyperlinked, however clue-ful, however emailed, begin to turn the
giant ship of the organization?
Mr. Weinberger: It's a network, so this is not a Joan of Arc
sort of thing, although it may work out that way for some people,
unfortunately. It may be a price that you pay. There is not a clear,
fine answer to this question, but it's a network, so you make friends,
you talk, you tell the truth and you hope that, eventually, either you
and your friends spin out of the dastardly organization or it begins
to come to its senses. Is that big enough for you?
Mr. Locke: I think I would venture a couple of answers. One is
that large organizations . . . I read something in The
Economist in February . . . I think it was February of this
year, but . . .
Mr. Weinberger: That would have been like last week, Chris.
Mr. Locke: Then I think it was November, okay? Anyway, it had
Jack Welch of General
Electric on the cover dressed as Che Guevara with a black beret.
There is an image for you, but he was evidently doing this thing
called Destroy Your Business. I think it's relevant to your question
because very large organizations are really not one organization, they
are concatenated with lots and lots of little organizations. The
pyramidal control is actually getting in the way of those little
organizations functioning. I remember in 1992, Welch wrote in the
annual report about the Schenectady turbine plant. He said that for 90
years they had been specifying equipment purchases to this group, but
if they lived another 90 years they wouldn't really know what they
were doing, so they decided to get out of the way. The group started
turning in performance that was blowing their minds at corporate, so
he thought they should do more of that getting-out-of-the-way thing.
That's part of the answer. Another part of it is that some
organizations that are more monolithic today may not survive this
Mr. Petzinger: Yes, there is kind of a selection process going
on, isn't there? Can I tell you something? In the last six weeks, I'll
say, six or seven people at roughly my experience level, that is to
say two decades, left the news department of the Wall Street
Journal. Walked out. They didn't all go out to jobs like I did.
I'm doing a startup, but here is a great news organization and these
are people who picked a profession because they had a passion for it;
it was all they ever wanted to do. All of a sudden, being inside an
organization and not being able to create willy-nilly or experiment
willy-nilly . . . we can't do that with the reader; we can't do that
with stock prices. I don't want to say it becomes dehumanizing, but it
Mr. Locke: Well, there are two parts to that, too. One is that
it's always felt limiting; it's always felt constraining to
creativity. With the Web, however, there is an option now. People have
always been turned off by that, and now they are being turned on by
something else. There is a sort of magnetism going both ways—they
are being pushed out and they are being pulled into the Net
opportunity that is beckoning.
Mr. Petzinger: You talk in the book about the idea of craft,
that craft became debased in the industrial era. There is this
wonderful philosopher of business named Fernando Flores who talks
about how in pre-industrial times everything was craft. The farmer
worked with the plow animal, he didn't turn it on, right?
Mr. Locke: Plug in your cow. Let's see what this baby can do.
Mr. Petzinger: What did a sailor do? He worked with the wind,
right? You governed the things you were involved with, you
didn't just click—in the mechanical sense, not the electronic sense.
What about this idea of craft? Is it bringing back personal work?
Mr. Locke: This was an insight that came late in the book. The
way the book happened was that a bunch of conversations started in
December of 1998. We had big phone bills and big email bills for about
three months that were almost nonstop, the four of us just vibing on
this whole thing. It's an old thing to know that the Industrial
Revolution was de-skilling, that it destroyed holistic craft
knowledge, that the assembly line broke it down and the division of
labor got finer, and finer, and finer. What we flashed on, however,
having written all this stuff about the importance of voice and how
the Net brings that back, we started realizing that voice and craft
were not two separate things. You see this in common language when
people "talk shop." There are all of these jokes about
talking shop, but the reason people talk shop is that we talk about
what we love and what we know—skill and craft. When the industrial
age de-skilled people, it silenced them at the same moment.
Mr. Petzinger: You know, I wish I could give the citation off
the top of my head, but there is a book, actually a spate of books on
the topic of evolutionary psychology. It's all the rage, and the
origins of language is also all the rage. There is all of this
research that suggests that language emerged only after the hand.
Mr. Locke: Eve Spoke. You turned me on to that book.
Mr. Petzinger: Eve Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution
by Philip Lieberman, that's right. Only after the hand had evolved to
the point where it could engage with some small sophistication in
tool-making and tool handling, then comes language. I also know that
the earliest forms of written language were essentially business
records, right? How many quarts of . . . I guess they didn't call them
"quarts" then, did they?
Mr. Locke: How many sheep. They learned to count the legs and
divide by four.
Mr. Petzinger: They didn't call it division, though.
Mr. Locke: I got a million of them.
Mr. Petzinger: It only involves the hand kind of tendentiously,
and not in a really wonderful way, but it is an extension of being
human, isn't it? It's a way to project the voice. As Marshall McLuhan
said, media are extensions of man, and our tools are our extensions,
rather than us being extensions of them.
Mr. Weinberger: This is an industrial society and will continue
to be so.
Mr. Petzinger: Or still an agricultural society, right?
Mr. Weinberger: Right. Just about everything in this room was
made in a factory in a de-skilled manner. These are not craft works,
well, this name tag actually may be hand lettered, probably it isn't,
though, but this table, this glass, these chairs, they are not craft
Mr. Petzinger: No offense to our hosts.
Mr. Weinberger: It would be sort of depressing to think that
every one of these things was handmade actually. We see this all over
the Web—small businesses that are doing hand work, maybe mental
handwork, but they are crafting individual products. I think that's
very encouraging. It's a nice thing to see, but we are still going to
have stuff rolling off the production line.
One of the reasons why de-skilling and the end of craft work
brought this enormous silence was that it also killed off the passion.
You don't care about what you make; you are a replaceable worker
making replaceable products. You actually don't care what the
replaceable product is. It's not simply the creativity of craft; it's
the passion of craft. It will be interesting to see if companies can
get some of the passion back without restoring the individual
creativity that would kill the economies of scale that has let our
economy boom, and let us sit on these chairs for example.
Mr. Locke: A quicker way to hit this point, for me, is that we
spend our time in cube farms watching the clock. That's what this
comes down to, not an intellectual thing about where language came
from or the Industrial Revolution. The perceived impact of working in
companies or trying to manage companies is what you just said, there
is no joy in it. I think that one of the things the Web brings back is
joy. What I'm interested in is, how do you make a living at joy?
That's what I want to do. That's what I'm doing right now. You are
seeing it happen on stage.
Mr. Petzinger: Speaking of joy, you mentioned how the
Industrial Age cleaved family and work. Have you ever read The
Mr. Weinberger: I pretend to.
Mr. Petzinger: It's like Ulysses; everybody says they've
read it. I mean, it's an unbelievably haunting classic by William H.
Whyte written in 1956, and 99% with a straight face, showing how it is
in business. Reading that book, it's clear to see how we were brought
up in an age to think that family life and work life shall never meet.
In fact, it was a statement of pride, "I never let my family life
interfere with my work life." Right, and I never let my work life
interfere with my family life, and, of course, they were both
Mr. Locke: For that reason, too, they are separate.
Mr. Petzinger: Exactly. Well, we have a theme this evening
about ancient bazaars and Neolithic times. Where does business come
from? It comes from the family. It was called the "family
farm," right? The kids were involved, and husband and wife were
like equal partners. What a concept! Then, in early industrial times,
craft times, it was a merchant or a little shopkeeper with junior
running around. You can just hear him say, "Don't touch that
anvil, it's hot." You mentioned "Take Your Kid To Work
Day." Every day is take your daughter to work day at my house,
and I'm saying, "Please don't touch daddy's computer right now. I
haven't saved that." Not only am I less zany because I know that
when a crisis erupts I'm available, but my kids get to see work
Mr. Locke: Do you know, A Pattern Language by
Mr. Petzinger: He is an architect from Berkeley.
Mr. Locke: The book is really worth looking at. It's about
architecture and city planning, but from a very human and very
enlightened perspective. He talks about how terrible suburban zoning
is because you have all of these houses, and what you need instead are
houses interspersed with cottage industry so kids, as they are growing
up, see people actually doing things. We go off someplace and we might
as well be going to prison as far as they know. Little do they know.
Then we come back at night, but they never see that.
Linked to that is something David said in an article: the biggest
secret business is trying to hide from the market is that we are
human. We are fallible. We make mistakes. We are not perfect. The
whole business front is to come on like Superman, and there is
something wrong with that. We know there is something wrong
with it. Yet even startups, which have the opportunity to do those
cottage industries again on the Web—it's not the family farm, but
it's the family Web site or something—still try to emulate them. You
get your first VC money and start talking like General Motors. Stop
that! You have the opportunity not to do that.
Mr. Petzinger: Let me ask you about open
source development. This is something that couldn't happen before
everybody could talk to everybody. What we have now, with open source,
essentially, is global debugging. I wrote a business plan recently—business
plans are supposed to be confidential with numbered copies and a
signed nondisclosure agreements, right? I emailed mine to everybody I
knew. I know I emailed it to you, David.
Mr. Weinberger: End of story.
Mr. Petzinger: That's right, but thanks for all those great
insights. I had people debugging my business plan. It's a killer
business plan, though I don't mean to advertise. What else, besides
Linux, is going to get smarter as a result of the whole world having a
piece of it?
Mr. Locke: Many things that we haven't even created categories
for. There are all these discussions on the Net, sometimes it sounds
bogus even to me—aren't the conversations wonderful. You go
out there and it's total freaking chaos. What's wonderful about this?
But people do tend to gravitate towards channels of conversation that
interest them. All of those flows of conversation, whether it's
whatever, all those streams are getting smarter as a result of that
interchange. Even if it's not a category you can put a box around,
like Linux or Perl.
Mr. Petzinger: You mean a shrink-wrapped box?
Mr. Locke: Kind of, yes, more of a categorical label. We are
just generally getting smarter. The whole thing looks like chaos—it
doesn't look like anybody is getting smarter—but when you
focus down at that micro-market or micro-community level that's
emerging . . . well, television never made us smart there. Broadcast
never made us smart. It made us know the same vanilla stuff that
everybody else knew. This is filled with all kinds of delta points and
spikes and stupidity and brilliance, but you start getting smart
because you start learning the trick of telling stupidity from
brilliance, and that makes you smart.
Mr. Weinberger: If only there was a trick, I would like to
Mr. Locke: Like he is stupid, for instance?
Mr. Weinberger: And he is brilliant, so we have a case
right here. It's actually hard to think of many industries that
wouldn't benefit from some type of open source development. I mean
that. The radical version of it where GM says, "Okay, let's
design a car together," is one extreme. GM doesn't have to do
that, although it would be pretty darn interesting. However, GM
letting people know what they are thinking about doing in a public or
even semipublic environment so that they can respond to it and say,
"No, that's really stupid" or "Here is a better way of
doing it" or "I wouldn't buy that," companies that do
that have a couple of competitive advantages. If they do it, other
people will follow. That's what a competitive advantage means. Maybe
biotech needs to maintain strict secrecy about the molecules they are
making, that's one example of the other side, and the military—maybe
they don't want to have open source strategy.
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