The Cluetrain Manifesto, Critiqued by John Cass

Ian Lurie

john cass
John Cass over at the PR Communications Blog posted an excellent, thoughtful piece about the Cluetrain Manifesto.
His examination centers around (at least in my mind) two primary themes of the Manifesto:

  • That companies need to ‘get out of the way’ and ‘let the inevitable happen’. The ‘inevitable’ in this case is the formation of smarter, more dispersed markets via what we now call social media.
  • And that command and control within a company is a bad thing that should go away.

I won’t rewrite John’s points here. You can read his excellent post for yourself.
I do have three comments though:
First, I agree that the Manifesto totally missed the boat when it said that companies need to get out of the way. Smart companies like Dell empower their employees and then act on what those employees, and their customers, tell them. Only a smart, strong company can do that. In my mind, that’s why Microsoft has failed to capitalize on the changing nature of media and communications: They empower their employees, but they have grown too ponderous to act.
Second, command and control is definitely something that must stick around. See my first point, above. But command and control is only as good as leadership. Folks who aren’t good leaders need to have the courage and intelligence to understand that and step gracefully over to the roles at which they excel.
Finally, I do not think that social media as it currently exists can deliver the ultimate promise of the Cluetrain Manifesto. It’s too anarchic. The people with smart answers are often drowned out by the crass jokes, spam and generally poor communicators. A network is only as good as its nodes. If we’re going to rely on social networks to give us all our answers, we’re doomed.
The challenge now is to figure out how we can let these networks evolve and sort out the best from the worst answers in a fair, intelligent, hard-to-manipulate way.

John, I hope this is helpful, and not just some random babbling during my kids’ bathtime on a Thursday evening…

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  1. On your first comment, I was thinking that my original criticism was that while companies might think that they have empowered employees to act by giving them permission to be open and transparent. That is not enough. You also have to give people resources and the motivation to act.
    Isn’t web 2.0 all about encouraging the group to participate? Look at wikipedia,, and other social media sites; all of those sites work because people are self-motivated to act.
    You said, “Smart companies like Dell empower their employees and then act on what those employees, and their customers, tell them.” but in contrast Microsoft is not acting on what employees and customers tell them to do. This is interesting; there is a link between motivation and action. In the dedicated approach companies use social media to gather intelligence and act on that intelligence, while in the open approach, some centers use intelligence to act, if you will following the same strategy as the dedicated approach in a limited fashion, but the majority are left to their own devices.
    In your second comment, you give the roadmap for how a company can empower employees to converse. I was thinking is there a way to empower employees also to act? Though in talking with Dell this appears to be the strategy the company is using, I think we can learn a lot from the current election in how candidate campaigns use social media to organize people. Perhaps the focus of more social media research should be on how to organize and empower employees to act.
    On the third comment, social media is a tool, the strategy is what is important, and that business strategy applies to simple conversation and the old fashioned telephone. What you state makes a lot of sense.
    Thanks very much for the excellent response and thoughtful review.

  2. Thanks for a great post John!
    I think it’s one thing to pay lip service to the idea of openness, another to actually make it work…

  3. There are lots of reasons to agree with both John and Ian – The place where I see the flaw is deeper in the philosophical sense. My critique is based on my disagreement with Jurgen Habermas’s theory of communication. Where the language act takes on this unifying function, much like the worker in Marx and the Suffering Servant in Martin Luther King.
    So what I see in the Clue Train’s attempt to escape the necessity of control processes is an attempt to loose the individual in the noise of babble. Some voices need to be heard – others not so much.
    From a less philosophical point of view there is a need for the transformation in how value is recognized – instead of the firm being the sole price giver to its customer – there is afoot a more collaborative form where value is the network – is the relationship. These are the issues that firms need to engage – how are they going to build those value creation processes. That’s the point where social networking makes its leap.

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