Clueless or Empowered

Those who know me well have probably heard me quote from The Cluetrain Manifesto ad nauseam, yet I am always astounded by how few people have read this life-changing book. It remains one of my most-referenced pieces of wisdom in navigating the digital revolution.

So, its good to see the folks at Forrester revisiting it and looking at contemporary practices that are emerging in the fulfilment of the vision and predictions of the Cluetrain Manifesto. I think a few of my colleagues in IT will be especially pleased by Empowered Chapter 12, whilst others will be wondering how on earth they are supposed to mitigate risks and keep costs down. 

Its good to see evidence that finally, leadership teams are beginning to actively grapple with these issues instead of ignoring it. And easy, it is NOT! But fun? Hell yes! Put it in your boss’ Christmas stocking, and if you ARE the boss, make sure you read this and change the way you lead. You will thank me for this later. 


by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler


The Cluetrain Manifesto was an incredibly prescient book. It still amazes us that a book written in 2000, when blogs were novelties and Mark Zuckerberg was in high school, was able to identify the shift towards customer empowerment. Combine that with the insight that employees must directly engage with those customers, and you have a truly visionary work.

Because of when it was written, Cluetrain was not practical. A whole lot of people read it and said “Wow, this makes me think differently.” But it’s more inspiration than manual. Ten years later, its authors have seen their work’s influence blossom, but even in 2008, when we published Groundswell, it was hard to act on many of the insights in Cluetrain.

Well, welcome to future, folks. We didn’t set out to write Empowered to address the trends articulated so provocatively in Cluetrain — we were just following the idea that emerged from our research into the way technology empowers individuals, both customers and employees. But that research led us to this fundamental principle:

To succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve customer problems.

Looking at this, it seems very Cluetrain. Specically, Cluetrain theses 53 and 56: There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market. . . . These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.

We have started to get a fair number of questions about it from others who find some of these thoughts familiar. We will be talking about it in our speech to the Web 2.0 Expo audience in New York today. But for the rest of you, here’s a little closer look, the call and response.

Cluetrain thesis 50: Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.

Empowered Chapter 1: “Your staff are going to be coming up with solutions on their own . . . management’s new job is to support and empower employees.”

Cluetrain theses 8, 9, 10 and 18: In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally. . . . Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.

Empowered Chapters 3-6: “[In the United States, people generate] more than half a trillion impressions [on one another about products and services every year.] . . . Solving customer problems, making customers happy, and harnessing their power to talk about it is marketing.”

Cluetrain thesis 41: Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.

Empowered Chapter 12: “[L]ocking down technology doesn’t work so well. . . IT has two new jobs: 1. train and educate information workers about how to keep themselves safe. 2. Help [employee innovators] assess manage, and mitigate risks associated with their projects.”

We could go on, but there’s no need. We promise you, we didn’t set out to rewrite Cluetrain, we set out to create a practical manual for today’s connected world. In that world, though, the shout that is The Cluetrain Manifesto has become the reality of customers and employees empowered by social, mobile, video, and cloud technologies. Cluetrain’s ideas are now practical and actionable, but the details are a bitch. Empowered looks at the world of the 2010, complete with Twitter, Sharepoint, and Google App Engine, and tells you what to do. It’s a management manual for the age of the empowered customer.



When the counter-trend emerges…..

I always love to predict when a countertrend will emerge to challenge the mainstream thinking – guess an economic crisis is guaranteed to severely test organisational values and few organisations can withstand a true test of integrity because it’s not one person. Here is a fascinating read on what I’m calling the emergence of the Engagement backlash. I thought you will be very interested to read it- some very interesting folks participating in the debate. See http://authenticorganizations.com/harquail/2010/05/10/3-reasons-why-employee-…

And it comes right alongside the emergence of new trends….eg
>> The Democratic Workplace
>> The Authentic Organisation
>> The emotional brand (scan the blog entries)> http://theengagingbrand.typepad.com/

Coincidence that a lot of these correlate to a rise on female power and leadership? Who knows…I don’t…but as a trend-watcher, I am calling it…..What do you think? Food for pause?

When things aren’t going marvellously


Today, I spoke to a large team at work about Innovation.  I had only 10 minutes.  They are smart, long-term IT folks (developers and programmers) with many years of service and have seen their fair share of corporate programmes come and go. While they don’t work at the sexiest end of the technology spectrum, their passion to continuously improve code as they maintain and enhance the core applications they maintain, is unquestionable. 

In the tougher economic climate we have been experiencing since the sub-prime mortgage crisis started contaminating the world, I have seen the number of innovation ideas diminish in direct proportion to the availability of fat in the system to absorb and fund a bit of experimentation,

and more importantly, the PERCEPTION that there is no point to try and innovate because we are in cost-focus mode.  How fragile and shallow our innovation culture still is….after 5 years, and how frighteningly powerful perception and leadership signals are if cost focus is not balanced with what else remains important while we keep an eye on the bottom line. I was quite conscious as I entered that meeting that a rah-rah-rah pep talk about how hunky-dory and jolly great innovation was and please can we see more of it, would be simply stupid. 

So, instead, I set about to create and provoke a conversation.  

It was a dicey strategy because I don’t know this team well and in the past I have found them quite passive and uncommunicative. And, in addition to their team leaders and direct managers, their IT Director was also present and I wasn’t sure how comfortable they’d be to speak out in a large group. But, the gamble paid off.  A few courageously started speaking out about how they feel when their innovation efforts and ideas go unheeded, what they saw as obstacles (much were perceptions, but as they say in advertising, PERCEPTION IS REALITY), and a few of the usual examples ( like Google gives people 20% of their time to work on innovation and where is ours), and so on. (We are not an advertising company like Google, we operate in a  conservative and highly-regulated industry where we look after other people’s money ) 

But here is the celebration!  

These questions were openly asked, passionately yet constructively, and leaders were challenged, work practices questioned, policies picked on and with equal openness and courage, the leaders engaged in the conversation, clarified positions without defensiveness but with fact and reality, took on board feedback, and helped explore a third way where all both leaders and employees can collaborate more effectively to find answers.  It was a beautiful thing to behold.  A few years ago, I don’t believe we could have had those confrontational debates and robust conversations and ended with everyone feeling really good about it and staying well after business hours on a Friday night to carry on talking!  

So often, people just want to be acknowledged for how they are feeling, they dont expect leaders to be able to solve all of the world’s issues and problems.  Listening and paying attention and not ignoring suggestions and ideas is really not hard and it makes all the difference between how engaged and disengaged employees regard their leaders. 

Thats all I wanted to share today. Along with this great Slideshare presentation above full of practical advice!