The Electronic Connection

I just want to make clear up front that I can’t take any credit for the ideas contained in today’s column. But damn I wish I could!

First, a pop quiz. When do you most feel like you’re communicating with your clients:

  1. On the phone or through voice mail?
  2. In meetings?
  3. During presentations?
  4. Through informal emails?
  5. During a long stretch at the 19th hole?

Chances are, you probably answered 4 or 5. For our purposes now, we’ll discount number 5 (as Homer Simpson once said, “Alcohol [is] the cause and the solution for so many of life’s problems!”) and concentrate on number 4.

Why is it that we often seem to connect more via email than any of the more structured activities? Why is it that we often can accomplish more informally than could be agreed upon in hours of meetings and PowerPoint presentations? The answer is that email, with its informality and immediacy, allows us to move out of our corporate shells and back into what we are humans. And that’s what the Cluetrain Manifesto is all about.

Brought to you by Chris Locke (of Entropy Gradient Reversals fame) and un-indicted co-conspirators Rick Levine (Sun Microsystems), Doc Searls (Linux Journal), and David Weinberger (Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, the Cluetrain Manifesto asks for us and the corporate world to shut up and start acting like human beings. And people are starting to listen to their thoughts about how the world (and business) is changing.

Since its first posting about three weeks ago, the Manifesto has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, InfoWorld, and the Compuserve Business Channel. Signatories include top execs from Adobe, Ogilvy, Comcast Online, US Interactive, UserLand, and, in the interests of full journalistic disclosure, yours truly. A thought virus in the best sense, the Cluetrain manifesto has been sweeping across the web in record time, and the list of signatories and contributors has been growing every day.

So why has the Cluetrain Manifesto struck such a nerve? Mainly because it speaks to a feeling that many of us have had for a long time — the Internet is changing the way people interact with business it’s just that many businesses haven’t caught on yet.

Though the Manifesto is made up of 95 theses, as far as I’m concerned, the breakthrough thought is the realization that “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” (thesis #7), that the ever-growing network of people talking to people through electronic media is where the real action takes place, not at the sanitized corporate marcom level.

Think about our first example and try to examine how email — direct, person-to-person communication — has changed the way you do business. Instead of drafting formal “business letters” for most of our correspondence with clients these days, most of us probably just dash off a quick, informal email. Instead of fancy binders and collateral materials, many of us submit proposals and plans as attachments via email.

The result is faster, smarter, more interactive communication that subverts the organizational boundaries. The Cluetrain Manifesto takes the concept of direct, human-to-human communication one step farther, asserting that most e-business is taking place through these direct connections. And these connection are not forged from PowerPoint presentations, formal proposals, endless meetings, and “corp speak” but rather from people talking to people in a natural human way.

It’s a powerful vision and one that I think resonates with a lot of us whether we immediately “get it” or not. The web and the Internet revolution hasn’t been a loud, noisy one. Instead, it’s been a gradual process of many of us figuring out how to best use these new tools we’ve been gifted with. Even though our corporate parents haven’t figured it out yet, we’ve all begun to figure it out. The Cluetrain Manifesto’s the first time its been put into organized sentences.

Check it out. Get on the Cluetrain.

Cluetrain Manifesto

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.