The clueless brain manifesto

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter — and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

— Argumentative introduction to the Cluetrain Manifesto at

Earlier this year, a group of guys put up a Web site. The site put forth the notion that the Internet has changed the nature of markets, and companies in general don’t get it. Of course, like all good pundits, they have the solution.

Their solution is embodied in “The Cluetrain Manifesto.” The name is derived from their belief that companies need to get a clue.

The brains behind this are: Rick Levine, Web architect for Sun’s Java Software group; Doc Searls, senior editor for Linux Journal; David Weinberger, editor of The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization; and Christopher Locke a.k.a. Rageboy, editor/publisher of Entropy Gradient Reversals.

The Cluetrain diatribe starts with the above quote and goes on: “Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure and ‘your call is important to us’ busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.”

Nothing but the same old pinko rhetoric. I can just see the authors hunkering down beside their delusions waiting for the black helicopters to take them away.

Anyway, the ringleaders managed to attract a slew of signatories to jump on board the Cluetrain with a lemming-like willingness to stand up and be counted amongst the digerati riding the rails of righteousness. You can see their comments on the site, but what a lot of posturing! You get the feeling that you’ve just wandered into a party full of wannabes playing the “I’m as hip as you” game.

As you explore the site — which I encourage you to do — you will find that it kind of makes sense. The central argument that companies must adapt to the new dynamics of interacting with people on-line is a sound, if somewhat obvious, statement. However, The Wall Street Journal referred to Cluetrain as “absolutely brilliant,” and InfoWorld declared: “Reading this manifesto…was like getting hit on the head with a Zen stick.” I think that whoever wrote those comments should get out more.

Where I find myself jumping off the train is in the 95 theses (for the gods’ sake, 95!) that are the heart of the Manifesto. Let’s look at the first thesis: “Markets are conversations.” OK, but that’s more a philosophical than useful axiom.

Thesis No. 2: “Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.” Yuck. Do you see some disjointed thinking here? If there’s something improper about grouping people into sectors, then isn’t lumping them into a “market” an equally egregious crime?

The theses go on in the same vein but never really address the key issue of the relationship between people and the companies that want their attention. That issue concerns value. Sure, Cluetrain mentions the word “value” in a few theses but not as a key concern in the relationship between companies and people. I would argue that most of the 95 theses read more like socialist rhetoric than reasoned business analysis.

Missing from Cluetrain is the need to understand the concept of the exchange of equivalent value. Next week, I’ll discuss this idea and what it means to businesses. If a Cluetrain ringleader or signatory doesn’t assassinate me first.