Page count: 220 pages
Category: from English
Take a pot of water that's just above the freezing mark. Now, crank up the heat and wait. Temperature rises. Wait some more. Go all the way to 211 degrees Fahrenheit and nothing looks much different. But then, turn it up one more tiny degree, and wham! The pot becomes a roiling, steamy cauldron.
Don't look now, but you're holding such a catalyst in your hands. The Cluetrain Manifesto is about to drive business to a full boil.
Let me tell you how it took me to the tipping point. Not long ago I was sitting in the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco on a reporting mission for "The Front Lines," a weekly column I spent four years writing for The Wall Street Journal. Between interviews, I was checking e-mail from my readers. (The Internet puts me in touch with thousands of them who act as my scouts.) On this particular day, one of my correspondents urged me to check out a new site at www.cluetrain.com.
I was dumbstruck. There, in a few pages, I read a startlingly concise summary of everything I'd seen in twenty-one years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, and columnist for my newspaper. The idea 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.
And most importantly, that however ancient, timeless, and true, these principles are just now resurging across the business world. The triggering event, of course, is the advent of a global communication system that restores the banter of the bazaar, that tears down power structures and senseless bureaucracies, that puts everyone in touch with everyone.
Scrolling through the hundreds of signatories who had endorsed the manifesto, I realized this if nothing else: The newspaper gods had just blessed me with one of my favorite columns ever, enabling me to articulate much I knew to be true but never previously had the words to say.
Because "The Front Lines" was usually a narrative tale, I bored into the manifesto's origins. Befitting its message, the document, I learned, was born in an extended electronic conversation among four Internet denizens spread from coast to coast. The authors were not the ultra-hip, just-outta-college webheads I had imagined. One was Rick Levine, a Boulder-based engineer for the giant Sun Microsystems. Another was a Boulder consultant named Christopher Locke, late of such hoary outfits as IBM, MCI, and Carnegie Mellon. There was a well-known Silicon Valley publicist named Doc Searls and a longtime high-tech marketer from Boston whose name, David Weinberger, I recognized from his commentaries on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
They were, in short, fixtures of the high-tech establishment -- but being establishment made their renunciation of business-as-usual all the more powerful.
The manifesto URL leaped between cubicles like mononucleosis through a co-ed dorm. Some readers found it pretentious, bordering on smug. (To those of delicate sensibility, it was.) Some found it nihilistic. (It wasn't.) But all found it arresting and impossible to ignore. The manifesto became a kind of user's guide to the Internet economy -- a world of new online communities; of self-organizing corporate employees; of Linux and other "open source" movements that seem to erupt from thin air.
So now, for anyone who missed it the first time and for everyone else who wants more, we have The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the first books written as sequel to a Web site.
I look at a huge number of business books. I actually read some of them and have published reviews on more than my share. I'll mention a few ways The Cluetrain Manifesto is like no other.
First, this is no feel-good book. Though the broad theme is overwhelmingly optimistic, the details will make you squirm. This is an obituary for business-as-usual. It shows how your Web strategy may be minutes from obsolescence. It reveals how the Internet has made your entry-level employees as powerful as your senior vice president of marketing. Recall what The Jungle did to meat packing, what Silent Spring did to chemicals, what Unsafe at Any Speed did to Detroit. That's the spirit with which The Cluetrain Manifesto takes on the arrogance of corporate e-commerce. (Notably, some of the best material comes from the authors' own experiences within big companies, and they name names.)
Second, this is not a how-to book, unless you need a remedial lesson in being human. For all their righteous self-assuredness about the Internet revolution, these authors don't presume to tell you how to run your business or your career. One-size-fits-all "programs" and "methodologies" are just ways for consultants to gouge clients and book buyers. Instead, this book simply describes business as it really is and as it's really becoming. You'll come away from these pages with a new set of eyes for redirecting your career or rehabilitating your company according to its own unique circumstances.
Third, this book is not boring. The whole message here, after all, involves speaking with a human voice. That means stories instead of lectures, humor instead of hubris, description instead of PowerPoint pie charts. (Imagine In Search of Excellence crossed with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) When was the last time you laughed out loud reading a business book?
And why not laughter? It's one of the signature melodies of human conversation. This book shows how conversation forms the basis of business, how business lost that voice for a while, and how that language is returning to business thanks to a technology that inspires, and in many cases demands, that we speak from the heart.
To rip off what rock critic Jon Landau once said about Bruce Springsteen: I've seen the future of business, and it's The Cluetrain Manifesto. At first you may be tempted to hide this book inside the dust jacket for Customers.com or something equally conventional. But in time you'll see the book spreading. It will become acceptable, if never entirely accepted. It will certainly become essential. Why am I so sure? Because like nothing else out there, it shows us how to grasp the human side of business and technology, and being human, try as we might, is the only fate from which we can never escape.
Thomas Petzinger, Jr.
The Wall Street Journal