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a conversation with the cluetrain manifesto authors
the end of business as usual
page four of seven | previous page

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 change.

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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 becomes limiting.

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.

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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 work.

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.

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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 Organization Man?

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 dysfunctional.

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 happening.

Mr. Locke: Do you know, A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander?

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.

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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 complexity theory or cat breeding or Javascript development or 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 master it.

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.

[continued]

Page four of seven | Next page

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