New Clues about The Cluetrain



The Obvious?

For those of you who aren’t aware of it yet The Cluetrain Manifesto was 95 theses, and later a book, written over ten years ago by four very smart guys about what the internet was really about and how it was going to impact our lives. It was hugely successful and influenced many of us who care passionately about these new tools we have been given.

When Stephen Waddington very kindly described having a pizza with me as one of the highlights of his year last year, he described me as “the embodiment of The Cluetrain”. This was about as big a compliment as I get! I often describe myself as a Cluetrain missionary as the ideas in the manifesto and the book lie behind all of my work, and still get me excited as to their potential to really impact people’s lives and make the world a better place.
However there is still much to be done! We have only scratched the surface of what we can do with the internet to make a real difference. We have allowed it to be hijacked by those interested in maintaining the status quo. We have mostly remained passive consumers rather than active participants. This has prompted two of the original writers of The Cluetrain, now friends of mine, David Weinbergererger and Doc Searls, to offer New Clues.

In the spirit of the original Cluetrain Manifesto this is a list of theses and thought provoking insights that address the issues we face now and what we can do about them. I was lucky enough to get an early peak and have been bursting to use the very quotable insights in the new list. And now I can and so can you!

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We need more rubbish on the internet.

The Obvious?

I was listening to a Jim Rohn tape the other day in which he talks about giving presentations and knowing that only some of the audience will respond well to what he says. Most of the audience will be mildly interested and some will be what he calls “the perplexed”. He says that he loves doing the talks even if only a small group are what he calls “believers” because much of the reason for speaking in public is to aid his own learning. To say things clearly, to say them in public, to say them over and over again.

This is even more true online, some people will respond positively to what you write, many will wonder what the hell you are on about, but lastly, unlike usual face to face etiquette, online there are likely to be some who feel entitled to have a go at you. We all know that disapproving, censorious tone that people adopt when they are ranting about the amount of trivia on the internet and the iconic “I am having a coffee” tweet. The problem with this holier than though attitude is that it makes people nervous of being trivial. The fear not being “important enough” to say what they think in public. They worry that people will think them arrogant for expressing themselves and sharing their thoughts. They opt for the safe option and keep quiet.

This dynamic is even more true in the workplace where the risk of having views and sharing them feels all the more extreme. The problem is that if none of us are brave enough to share none of us get to learn. If that aha moment you have just had about a safety valve on an oil rig seems too trivial to mention the rest of us don’t find out. If your gut feeling that sub prime mortgages are a bad idea seems too contrary to the “smart” people around you you keep it to yourself.

Our tendency to judge and to silence weak signals in our systems is one of their greatest weaknesses. Judgement and disapproval come too easy to too many of us. We need to encourage more noise to make sure we don’t bury the signal. We need more of us being brave enough to think out loud and to do it over and over again – even if some think it is rubbish. We need more rubbish on the internet. We need more rubbish at work

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Who needs a smart arse management consultant?

The Obvious?

While I can get excited as the next person about new ways of working and thinking about our organisations I am aware that for many such considerations seem impossibly abstract and self indulgent. Work for a lot of people, maybe most, is an unremitting grind of unrealistic expectations and diminishing resources. Their organisations are still dominated by a management culture that hasn’t changed in decades. Straying from predictable and safe behaviours seems like sheer lunacy.

This can be frustrating both for them and for those who can see a better way.

However there is no point getting frustrated with people for not being where you think they should be. They are where they are and you have to go to where they are to help them. Genuine, tactical attempts to help them are the only way forward. Small steps within the grasp of the individual is the only real possibility – whoever that individual is and whatever their position.

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What a wunch of bankers

The Obvious?

Ten days ago I contacted Bank Of Scotland, at least I think it is them – their web site says Lloyds Banking in the header, about a payment into my business account that had no identifying info. Bizarrely they said they couldn’t tell me who had paid me the money but said they would get back to me in four days and that it had to be in writing rather than email.

Today I got a letter from the Halifax, which I nearly put in the bin as I don’t have a Halifax account, but this turned out to in fact be from Bank Of Scotland – only apparent from the small text at the bottom of the letter. I called the number on the letter to spend the first five minutes of the call trying to get the lady on the other end to understand my name despite the fact that she had the details on her screen.

To describe Bank Of Scotland as confused is being charitable.

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Writing "to" people not "at" them.

The Obvious?

The difference may be subtle but I think it is significant. So much of the “content” on the internet is written at people. Reading it feels like you are being bludgeoned into submission, your role is passive, you are a consumer. Most marketing and business writing is like this. In fact it seems to go with the role of “professional communicator”.

Good writing is more like letter writing. It is written to you not at you. It draws you closer, is offered to you deferentially, like two people who know and trust each other having a conversation, taking turns, listening as much as talking. It is our natural way of writing. Shame we have it beaten out of us.

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Always on

The Obvious?

The ability to maintain contact with people all around the world as they face life’s challenges and discover its joys is a wonderful thing. Those who sneer at us using our social tools to rub shoulders virtually don’t understand the sense of being connected that it gives us.

The desire to feel connected is a powerful human need. But there is a downside. We can be overloaded and overwhelmed with all of these connections and sucked into dramas that are not our own. We need to learn our limits and learn to protect ourselves. We need to remember how to walk away and switch off.

As we head towards Christmas, with all the “real world” connections it affords, it will be interesting to see the balance that you all strike! Whatever it is – I hope it makes you happy.

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Collaboration

The Obvious?

It’s one of those words isn’t it, that we all bandy around, slap on software, and feel superior if we think we do it. But what does it really mean? What does it look like? What does it take to make it happen?

I have always said that the first step to real collaboration, as opposed to just having a shared space to stick your unreadable documents, is having the self awareness, the humility, and the courage to admit that you need help.

How you ask for that help mattera too. I am currently reading Amanda Palmer’s excellent book The Art Of Asking in which she writes:

Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.

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Management Bollocks

The Obvious?

There is something chilling about conventional business culture. The suits, the glass and metal offices, the constraint, the competitiveness, the loneliness. Even when you walk through staff canteens where there is a buzz of chattering it somehow doesn’t feel real. The constraint is palpable.

You know that feeling when you are talking to someone and although they maintain eye contact, smile, and appear to be talking directly to you there is a feeling that there is no one there. The words come easily and smoothly but they don’t mean anything. There is a deadness to the eyes. There is a lack of connection.

It is all too easy to slip into this world, to fit in, to conform. Standing out feels risky. Saying what you think feels uncalled for. Using plain words that mean something feels childish. We want to fit in, we want to talk like the grownups, we want to be accepted. We start to talk management bollocks. We start to look down on those who don’t, we sneer inwardly at their naivety. We ostracise them for not playing the game.

It’s a dangerous game and one we all lose if we get too good at playing it.

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The System

The Obvious?

I am currently going through an endless process of form filling and nit-picking questions in order to get paid by a large organisation. Those asking the questions clearly have no discretionary authority and the questions are equally clearly the result of trying to cover years worth of different eventualities. All of this for a one hour gig.

I also recently took on the challenge of arranging car insurance for my daughter as she has just got her provisional licence. A painless conversation with a pleasant salesman turned into another bureaucratic nightmare when “the system” decided that the wrong boxes had been ticked in the wrong way and started sending me paperwork reflecting charges 3 TIMES what I was expecting. Now resolved but another battle I could have done without.

Everyone in both cases was very nice, and very apologetic. It’s not them, it’s “the system”. They are constrained by the system and have minimal ability to intervene. It’s a bit like airline pilots in modern planes, they are there just to make me the passenger/customer feel reassured that there is someone in charge.

With whole new levels of increasingly sophisticated automation becoming available to “the system” things are unlikely to get better. I fear for our sanity.

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Non aspirational staff

The Obvious?

I heard this wonderful phrase last week at an event. It says it all doesn’t it. The sweeping generalisation. The arrogant condemnation. The chilling managerial tone.

But is it any different from those who say to me that it is unreasonable to expect people to think, especially at work? That not everyone wants to think about their lives and certainly not to express their thoughts in public.

Are either true? Or are we just making excuses for ourselves and others. Allowing ourselves to stay asleep in the half life of safety and compliance enculturated from an early age?

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