Cluetrain evolved

Nearly sixteen years ago, a manifesto was published that has had a profound influence on many people’s thinking and, indeed, behaviours when it comes to business communication and marketing.

That publication was The Cluetrain Manifesto, a collection of 95 separate theses written by Christopher Locke, David Weinberger, Doc Searls and Rick Levine, and published online in April 1999 (a book followed in 2000).

The manifesto’s strapline – The End of Business As Usual – provides the powerful clue that this was no ordinary business publication. Its core premise that “markets are conversations” and the informality that such a phrase suggests flew in the face of much conventional thinking about how the individual and corporate person should behave.

I first read Cluetrain in 2001, and wasn’t impressed with half of it at the time, quite frankly, reflecting my own welded-ness then to the conventional corporate persona. But the other half was like a breath of rocket fuel vapour as it showed me the informed path to disruption of the status quo that, I guess, I was looking for.

I recall it was this particular text in the manifesto’s foreword that was my lightbulb moment:

The idea [is] 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.

That illumination eventually opened my eyes to what all of Cluetrain laid on the table to consider and maybe do something about as I read and re-read those 95 theses.

A lot has happened in the intervening sixteen years as people and organizations have evolved how they do business as more and more people embraced many of the principles first set out in Cluetrain. I’d summarize all that in one more-or-less snappy sentence:

The innate humanity in business can break free of restraint with the understanding and willingness of individuals to shed their cloaks of opacity when it comes to engaging with their fellow human beings, and embrace the freedoms of transparency, authenticity and openness.

Which stems directly from “The idea [is] that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human” as noted above.

1999 seems a long time ago now and almost antiquated when compared to our broad landscape today of billions of inter-connected people and the massive behaviour shifts, personally and in business, that have resulted partly due to that ubiquitous global inter-connectivity.

And so it is good to see that Cluetrain has shifted, too, with the first significant update (addition, actually) since that original version sixteen years ago (and the 10-year anniversary update published in 2009) to bring Cluetrain firmly into this early part of the 21st century.

Two of the authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, have created New Clues, a collection of 121 “clues” published on January 8, divided into fifteen core topic areas. I especially like the marketing sub-section.

As I tweeted yesterday…

66: And, by the way, how about calling “native ads” by any of their real names: “product placement,” “advertorial,” or “fake fucking news”?

Searls and Weinberger present their new clues not as finished texts but as stimuli for discussion and debate, published under a Creative Commons 0 license, meaning: in the public domain with no copyright claim.

These New Clues are designed to be shared and re-used without our permission. Use them however you want. Make them your own. […] We intend these clues to be an example of open source publishing so that people can build their own sets of clues, format them the way they like, and build applications that provide new ways of accessing them.

In that spirit, I’ve grabbed the text from the site and created a simple Word document from it, embedded via Scribd, below.

New Clues by Neville Hobson

I can think of quite a few people who might be interested in this but would prefer to read it in a familiar offline form than purely online, and probably print it out, too. Go ahead!

The authors have set up a discussion group on Facebook. And of course, there’s a Twitter handle: @Cluetrain.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Adam Tinworth

    I’ve been surprised by how many intensely hostile reactions I’ve seen to #newclues. Yes, they’re designed to provoke – and people seemed to have missed that intention, and thus the value of having their own assumptions challenged. It’ll be interesting to see how those waves of conversation ripple out.

    • Neville Hobson

      Inevitable I suppose, Adam. But I haven’t seen any negativity on looking for comment related to the hashtags. Still, informed negativity is good, adds to the conversation. Uninformed, well, no!

      • Adam Tinworth

        You’re probably right that it was inevitable – but it’s still eyebrow-raising to see words like “cluetards” bandied about by fairly prominent people. (The comments I’ve seen have largely been in members-only Facebook groups, so I’m not going into further detail.)

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