Levine, Frederick and Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger. The Cluetrain
Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. Perseus Publishing, 2001, 190 pages.
The multiple authors of this volume are clearly convinced that the arrival of the Internet is an apocalyptic moment for the business community. Apocalyptic, that is, not in the cinematic sense, the end of the world and its aftermath; rather, apocalyptic in the biblical sense, as revelatory, something that offers a vision for seeing the world and the way we do business, in radically fresh ways. The book is actually the first book sequel to a web site, and so exhibits all the pluses and minuses of the genre.
All the authors have biographies that lend credibility and gravity to their argument, coming from diverse backgrounds in programming, journalism, web consultation, and the like. In fact, simply reading their individual biographies at the conclusion of the book is humbling and overwhelming. They seem to have been almost everywhere, and seen, written, and produced much.
The overall impression I’ve had in reading the book, even though I learned much while reading it and was even inspired at points, was to feel like it was radical in both practicing and yet not yet practicing what it preached. They want businesses to have a conversation with consumers and not simply write copy and advertising material. So be it. But this book reads, to a large degree, like an advertisement for the Internet writ large, and as such, downplays or minimizes the weaknesses and problems in the system. They do at points recognize the temporal and ad hoc nature of their argument—“This is an existential moment. It’s characterized by uncertainty, the dissolving of the normal ways of settling uncertainties, the evaporation of the memory of what certainty was once like.” Fair enough, but then don’t be so certain about the uncertaintly. Then, right as I try to make an argument like this in my review, they also say, “The most important [Cluetrain tip]: Don’t rely on lists, self-styled ‘gurus,’ or business books.” That about says it all. Books that beat you to the punch and perform the self-critique right about the time you were going to do it for them are always worth reading.
One obvious action step any reader of the book can and should take in order to see how the philosophy of this manifesto is lived out in the respective author’s lives and work, is to simply visit their web sites. Start with the www.cluetrain.com web site itself, where the entire book and much attendant material is available for free. Second, each author has listed their primary web sites, all of which teach much about how their philosophy has played out over time. Since the book was published about ten years ago, the scene has changed considerably, and the web sites bring the reader up-to-date on new best practices and approaches, or the lack thereof. Other links prove that the scene changes so quickly that it’s difficult to follow. For example:
www.mancala.com is now a link resource page, unclear who owns it
www.rageboy.com Heavy on adds, no longer updated
http://www.panix.com/~clocke/ A humorously constructed resume
http://www.hyperorg.com/ A self-published journal, no longer updated
I adapted the Cluetrain Manifesto for church contexts on my blog at http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2011/01/churchtrain-manifesto.html It is just an experiment in replacing some of the language in the manifesto with nouns that would make it specific to a church context.
Finally, perhaps the central thesis of the book is that PR doesn’t work, and markets are conversations. Indeed, and the primary learning pastors and church leaders need to take away from this insight is: we’re doing PR more often than we think, and church is a conversation. Furthermore, the PR we’re doing is not working, but the true conversations we are engaging in are what the church is all about, both in its human and divine dimensions.
The book has a few pull-quotes that are perfect for church contexts, including: “When you get right down to it, human beings are spooky and mystical and terribly uncorporate, and corporations—if you’d only let yourselves admit it—consist entirely of human beings.”
“This fervid desire for the Web bespeaks a long so intense that it can only be understood as spiritual… The spiritual lure of the Web is the promise of the return of the voice.”
“Just about all the concessions we make to work in a well-run, non-disturbing, secure, predictably successful, managed environment, have to do with giving up our voice.”
“The level of knowledge on a network increases as the square of the number of users times the volume of the conversation.”
Finally, the most clear action step from this book I will follow up on as a pastor and leader. “The goal of positioning… is to own one word in your customer’s mind. Positioning is bout discovering who you, as a business, are—discovering your identity, not inventing a new one willy-nilly. Positioning should help a company become what it is, not something it’s not.” I’m still thinking through what word that would be for our congregation as it partners in ministry here in Fayetteville, but I wouldn’t be opposed to settling on “grace,” in all the sense of that word—movement, music, theology, relationships.