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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cluetrain: Happy Tenth Anniversary

Via this fine Mitch Joel post, I finally stumbled on the Cluetrain plus 10 project. 95 bloggers with 95 posts speaking to the 95 theses.

Luckily, there seems to be a few open slots left. So I've decided to write on Thesis 59: "However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing ... conversations from intersecting."

The two conversations in question are "One inside the company. One with the market."

Today we might add, "one with the network".

Two responses to this.

(1) Although an eternal amateur when it comes to contemporary philosophy, I remain fascinated by the grand distinction pioneered by Jurgen Habermas: "system" vs. "lifeworld." To me it feels like the tug of these forces plays out all the time, in every workday, in every decision we make. Those who work for companies today are more conscious than ever that their human connections are quite separate from their role in a company. That insight was somewhat novel to corporate America ten years ago -- it had to be brought by some Boomer cultural translators who had an unhealthy obsession with the shortcomings of "intranets," whatever they are. Today this is a conversation most of us have every day. And the dystopian vision put forward by Max Weber (and his heir, Habermas) that we would all sink into a "steel-hard cage of bureaucracy" seems a looming threat yet somehow at bay, as we see daily evidence in blog posts and Twitter streams and supposedly "inappropriate" Facebook oversharing, that the "people" (lifeworld) want to connect directly, in spite of what their "companies" (system) might think. This is sometimes posed as a generational divide (youth overshares, age doesn't "get it"), but in fact, it's an overarching impulse that affects us all.

Connecting humanly outside the corporate box doesn't have to mean indiscretions being displayed for all to see, however. It could simply mean showing your human side while interacting on behalf of your company, and seeing no conflict or contradiction. Lifeworld beside system, neither devouring the other. I had a conversation about this with a prominent Microsofter and blogger recently. Some of his fans regularly chide him about his mindset which they assume must be 100% dictated by the borg. But I praise him for being consistently human, and consistently distinct from his "corporate overlords." Might that eventually be a threat to his company because he might eventually leave? Maybe, but if that ever happens, they'll have got a good 10-12 years of service of someone who understood that both conversations are taking place, and took a completely natural approach to both. Suppressing the human voice is still possible, and is still going on at many companies. But it takes a lot less courage to be yourself at many big companies nowadays than it did in 1999.

(2) Someone asked me recently "what companies" seem to really get e-marketing in Canada. Sometimes I feel like I can answer that question. Other times, I say that I know a lot of the people who get it. While they may be in "companies," I am quite certain that their savvy is what connects us. It's a rare company (there are a few) I connect with as both a company and to the people inside. Many times, I think about the people who are there. And know that we'll remain connected when they're at a different company (or their own) in a couple years' time. That's a scary threat to companies. Hey, I run a company. It should scare me. How do companies retain great people who support company objectives, while giving them the latitude to have the conversations they crave, with the market (which benefits the company) and with the network (which benefits them personally, maybe the company, and maybe humanity as a whole)? That's a long conversation brewing. But remember Thesis 1: Markets Are Conversations. Let's keep it going.

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