the cluetrain letters

This is a place for your voices. War stories, comments, flames and rants: all fair game. Try it:


Where we consider Letterman, integrity, circuses, and the ascendance of the small business.

a Peter Merholz
b Random Comment
c Scott Rautmann
d Blythe Butler
e R. J. Walsh

Edited by Rick Levine

Peter Merholz

You fools. Why model yourselves after Luther when Letterman is so much more popular. What are the Top 10?

Of course. Rageboy came through...
  1. Don't be an asshole -- unless provoked.
  2. Never say "paradigm shift" or "solution."
  3. Don't refer to your company Chairman as His Holiness.
  4. Try not to appear more cheerful than a crack addict who just scored.
  5. Never pay more than $3000 for a pair of shoes.
  6. No, we don't really want to know about your golf handicap.
  7. Keep your sports metaphors to yourself.
  8. Portal? You have a portal? Oh.
  9. Never say "So... how can I help you?"
  10. Answer every email -- and no whining!

We did get some responses asking "why 95?"
Try Luther?

Random Comment

Cut it down to seven simple secrets of successful business.
I can read seven.

Er, it was tried. Doc took it and tried to edit things down. He came back with 119 theses. It's not the length, and it's not the tone that make this an indigestible meal. There's a message here that reads best from the perspective of a consumer, of an individual. It's scary to read when you're sitting on the business side of the wire, because we're asking for basic, systemic changes in how you do business, how you treat your customers and those who work for you, and how you take your personal needs for respect and honesty and extend them to how you do business.

There's a basic tension Chris, David, Doc and I tripped over as we were writing the manifesto, and trying to figure out what should go on the site. There's very little prescriptive advice here. I struggled with how we should deal with presenting "help" or "advice" for businesses that got our message and wanted to change from where they are today. As soon as I give the impression that I can sell a bit of consulting advice to help a company remake their image, to synthesize a "human voice" to better connect with their customers, I've sold my integrity. This isn't about training yourself or your employees to be human. We're already there. It's about discovering the essential honesty that you, as an individual, must perceive before you respect the person on the other side of your conversation. It's not something I can package, can sell, can apply like an ointment to make a synthetic conversation into a human one.

I think the best we'll be able to do is to create a forum for others' voices, to help people tell stories about how they perceive honest business relationships should work. Businesses that can learn from our stories, and find the truths that apply to their situation, will prosper.

Rick Levine

Scott Rautmann

Scott Rautmann is an ex-Silicon Valley managerial type. He jumped ship, is planting ginger on Kauai, and growing up his kids barefoot.

I take a lot of the site to be talking about integrity.  I love this concept. It's a value that is in the top three for all people as they rate their management.  It's the value that transcends hierarchical, director, production, group-wise and chaotic models of getting work done.  It's the value that most people are equipped to detect no matter what their up-bringing.  It's hard to imagine you need to be on the edge to promote that.  I'm reeling.

Of course, there's a lot more that's said on the site.. but if I had to sum it to a word, it's integrity in a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional sense.

The manifesto almost drove me nutz.  Part essay, part step-wise program, part philosophy.  I liked it.  But I wonder about who the "market" is. There are a lot of sheep out there, my friend.  They aren't sheep by nature or genetics, they are schooled to be sheep.  I hate to say it.

And then I read this in one of Chris' interviews:

Chris: It's more of an open issue than a vision really. I've got this nagging question in the back of my mind. Are audiences as stupid as many seem to believe? Or have they just been waiting for something like the Net to come along? I'm not suggesting this is a conscious thing necessarily. There has been so much conditioning by previous media models in which people were simply information consumers that, at this point, I think they're not sure what they want.
Sheesh.  I was only talking from the people I've met since leaving the rarified atmosphere of silicon valley.

Integrity implies many things.  Integrity in business implies enlightened capitalism, making only what you need, and not the max you can get.  Integrity in business implies honesty and integrity in communications.  It implies actually solving a customers' problem, not finding a customer for the solution (which implies open dialogue with the customer.)  It implies groups of people formed to solve problems for customers to be treated in such a way that they can solve those problems, and that they are allowed to fuck up when they don't.   Fuck ups are the most brilliant new products of tomorrow.  I could go on.

Cluetrain focuses on integrity, for lack of a better word, within business. Wanna kick ass and take names in the business world?  Only work for those managers/leaders with the requisite integrity (whatever you want to call it), in personal and business dealings.  Don't stop there: go one step further and treat the neighbors like this.  Take a further step and rip out out your lawn and plant perennial food plants that self-water and self-manage. You can treat the planet with integrity, too.

Life is just too short to sit through one more marketing presentation.

Blythe Butler

As a business student approaching graduation, reading your recent manifesto gave me a good guideline as to what kind of company I should be working for.  It also threw everything I've learned in the past few years out the window.

Case in Point:  In my MBA-level "Organizational Analysis" class (got to laugh at that one),  we spent the entire year trying to define what the quintessential transnational company would be.  As my final project, I decided to do an hour presentation on a circus.  Literally.  The Prof. didn't say a word after I finished.  It obviously threw her off guard that a company built on connecting with the human spirit was inherently more "international" than IBM.

The response from the class was somewhat different.  People came up to me after class, wanting to know more, interested in my personal take on the case.  People who have seen me on Campus for the past 4 years through the veil of institutional learning now feel comfortable enough to say a quick hello when we pass.

Proof that content and connection create community.  Which is where this whole thing is going, right?

I signed the manifesto.  (Hoping that one of the companies listed is hiring) ;-)

So hire the lady, already.

R. J. Walsh

I suppose being a self-employed tradesman has left me in such a mindset that I have difficulty comprehending that the corporate mindset which occasions some of your best rants really exists. I've had to work the way you hope corporate America will come to work to stay alive, depending on referrals from past customers to acquire new, exploring their real desires and approximating those desires within a realistic budget. It seems the only natural way to function. That's probably why your "real" work leaves me somewhat bored. Broken down to basics, it's so obvious, it doesn't seem necessary to say it.

I believe the thrust of your 95 Theses is that "the market" is evolving (and that generally is assumed to represent forward motion) but the substance of those theses seems to represent the dynamics involved in a small, local service company.

A home repair contractor, for example, needs to follow the tenets you set forth to maintain and expand a client base. The networked community he serves is bound by geographical constraints, but the interaction of the people in that market determines, to a large extent, his financial success. He needs to listen to his customers, on an individual basis, to give them what they want.

Similarly, the general store proprietor of years past had to determine what his customers wanted/would purchase and stock his store accordingly. Again, geography limits his customer base, but those same limitations force the kind of networking you champion as a new outgrowth of internet connections.

The newness exists in the removal of the geographical barriers. The groupings of individuals are based on criteria other than physical location. The providers of goods and services need to revert to a "more primitive" way of doing business. If your theories prove true, it will likely mean that smaller, more specialized businesses are the way of the future as they were in the past (and, in some industries, have remained through the present.)

Of course, some products are attractive to multiple communities and in these cases, larger companies can continue to prosper. The apparent result of your analysis, however, is the demise of many large businesses and the resurrection of the primacy of small (even very small) enterprises.

Or not.

Or perhaps larger businesses that think, act and react as if they were small?

The other newness the 'net brings us is immediate access to conversations beyond the wildest dreams of small-town marketers from the last several generations. It's almost trivial to tap the 'net for conversations about a company's product quality, customer service, business practices and integrity, from past customers and current ones, from all over the globe.



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