So I came up with this noun: clueship. Meaning the ability to give or get clues. It’s one name for two conversational assets: having something new to say, and having a willingness to listen to new things other people are saying.

Although conversation is a purely human activity, what we meant by “markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto was broader than that. We wanted to recall markets as what they were to begin with: places where people gathered to do business and make culture. There conversation was anchored in people talking to each other, but was also something larger than that. It was demand and supply speaking to, and hearing, each other.

Now let’s move forward to the present, now almost ten years since Chris Locke, David Weinberger and I began the conversation that became Cluetrain. To start, check out Josh Bernoff’s long and thoughtful post, Corporate social technology strategy, Purists, and Corporatists — why companies CAN participate. As two poles (one purist, one corporatist), Josh points to Shel Israel’s Can Brands be Social? Jeremiah Owyang, who poses The 3 “Impossible” Conversations for Corporations. Shel later chafes at Josh’s characterization. To get ahead of ourselves a bit, Shel says,

  Josh calls me out, pointing to a post I had up in December and seems to think that I am in his “purist camp,” a camp that he characterizes as being anti-corporate, and personified by Doc Searls, co-author of Cluetrain and one of the pioneer thinkers of what has evolved into social media. He implies that we purists somehow oppose corporate objectives, which seems to me to reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of what I have been writing about these last several years.

I’m mostly in agreement with Shel here, but I would rather not be credited with much that has led to “social media”. Not my topic, basically.

Anyway, Josh and I both spoke at There’s a New Conversation, in New York a few weeks ago. Josh’s talk isn’t up yet. Hope it will be, because it was good, and is chock full of data as well as insights. Mine is — though it’s missing the best part (as I recall, anyway), which is the Q&A at the end. (Another talk there — and an especially good one — is Jake McKee’s “How LEGO caught the Cluetrain” — watch TheConversationGroup for more stuff along these lines.)

I’d like to respond to all this stuff, but I don’t have the time. Meanwhile, I’d like to qualify what I’m a “purist” about. In a word, individuals. Customers. My point of view, and my interest, are primarily anchored there. As I said in that talk, the main reason Cluetrain succeeded was that it stood foursquare on the side of customers, and not of companies. As I said in that talk, Jakob Nielsen observed that the Cluetrain authors had defected from marketing and taken sides with markets against marketing-as-usual.

But now marketers are looking at markets as conversations, and as places where they can relate to customers, on terms, and in ways, that work for both. Seems to me that Josh, Jeremiah and Charlene (all of whom work for Forrester) are helping with that: to build clueship on both sides.

Or am I wrong there?

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19 Responses to Clueship

  1. Josh Bernoff says:

    Doc, that may be nicest compliment I could have gotten. If what we’re doing is building clueship, I’m proud to bear that banner.

    Shel thinks I don’t recognize what you did to make that possible. But I very much do.

    What I wonder is, if people follow our suggestions in the book Groundswell, will you find their activities clueful, or offiensive. I hope the former, but I think I may be holding out more of a role for companies here than everybody may be comfortable with

  2. Mary Schmidt says:

    I look at it this way – I’m not “anti-corporate” – I’m “anti-clueless.”

    All those BCCs (Big Clueless Companies) that I slam in my blog don’t have to be that way. The people in them can make the difference – if they so choose. Customers aren’t “targets” or “receivables” Employees aren’t “headcount” or “overhead.” They’re people – individuals with emotions, dreams and problems like everyone – regardless of which side of the transaction they’re on.

    So, nope, you’re not wrong.

  3. Tom O'B says:

    I’m a bit of a purist (I prefer humanist) and agree with Shel that only people can have conversations.

    I also really appreciate the work the Forrester crew is doing to help bring “clueship” to corporate America.

    Tom O’B

  4. carterfsmith says:

    I see what you’re getting at about clueship (rather than cluelessness) on both sides. I think the challenge comes when real companies actually ‘get’ the message and look in their toolbox to see the same tools. This might lead to redefining strategies without changing them.

    Here’s an example: a company of folks with varying degrees of clueship buy in to the conversation with the people formerly known as customers message. Their problem is that they still have connections with people formerly known as customers who are using their own Vendor Relationship Management strategy.

    How should that company approach the tracking (formerly known as managing) of those relationships? They are of the impression that anything resembling CRM is taboo . . .

  5. Doc Searls says:

    Tom, I agree that only people can have conversations. But I also believe that it’s possilbe for the people working inside companies to humanize those companies. For too long humans have been corporatized instead. I believe humanization is what the Forrester folks are after. Might not be their term, but I believe that’s their thrust.

    Many years ago Peter Drucker said that companies were ways of organizing work that people could not do on their own. He also said companies were ways of gathering, applying and improving talent, and he compared management to conducting an orchestra or a band.

    He said the modern corporation was still a young institution, and that large modern corporations were losing a number of formerly exclusive advantages over small companies and individuals, including access to captial, and international communications and reach. And he said all this decades ago.

    I point this out because some of the ideas we floated in Cluetrain were not new. There is plenty of scholarship, going way back, on the need for communications between companies and customers to be as human as possible, and to involve as many humans as possible on both sides.

    To Carter’s question, once both customers and companies can manage their relationships with each other, they’ll just have to work things out. Right now the means aren’t there. But they will be. And that’s what VRM is about.

  6. Jake McKee says:

    Doc, first off thank for the kind words. It was a bit daunting following up your speech 🙂

    Your new term is a good one, and good post. But the thing that really sticks out to me is the idea of “making culture” as part of business. I think there’s a power in companies understanding this. Apple understands this.

  7. carterfsmith says:

    so can you envision a modified CRM system that provides a place for the customer to personalize their experience – perhaps changing the phone numer on file to their Grand Central or Skype number, editing their preferred product descriptions, and maybe even providing quotable feedback?

    I’m trying to envision a two-way communication enhancing system, instead of an adversarially positioned one way device (a glass window vs. a mirror).

  8. Julian Bond says:

    I saw the word “Clueship” and suddenly it was 1979 and George Clinton, Bootsy, Dr Funkenstein, Parliament, Funkadelic were funking it up with the bomb as they called on us to climb on board the ClueShip Connection and take it to The One.

    I think Chris will know what to do with this one!

    “If you hear some noise, it’s just me and the boys. Hit me.”

  9. Yup, sorry, but the Clueship is the thing you embark upon having just alighted from the Cluetrain.

    Please use terms with better affinity, e.g.

    Cluetrained – someone who’s grokked the Cluetrain Manifesto

    Cluetraining – the process of becoming cluetrained.

    Cluetrainer – an evangelist.

  10. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, Jake.

    The problem with Apple, as with, say, the New York Times, is that it is a good example only of itself. (Maybe LEGO is this way too. Be interested in hearing your thoughts on that.) Apple can get away with being as closed and uptight (know any Apple bloggers?) as it is, because they do what they do (and only they do) so well.

    The danger is that others will try to be like Apple in ways that are not only impossible (e.g. make unique and strikingly stylish products, and control everything about them exclusively, from manufacture through retail and service) but a bad idea in any case — for every company other than Apple. (And hell, maybe for Apple too, but how can we tell? There’s only one of those.)

    Most companies are herding animals. They talk about being unique, but they feel most comfortable following and avoiding risks. That’s why Times Select, the NY Times’ now-defunct attempt to make money by locking up editorial and retailing it after its print versions were fishwrap, became a dumb model for newspapers everywhere. The whole field still hasn’t recovered.

  11. John Cass says:

    If Forrester is reviewing the marketplace, studying what companies are doing with social media, and giving us highlights of best practices that work for the companies that are following the direction of the cluetrain then yes you are right Doc. Josh, Jeremiah and Charlene are helping with the process of building clueship. From the posts I’ve read and presentations I’ve seen from Forrester I think that is a fair characterization.

  12. Somewhere, I have a Clue. I might be able to locate it if pressed, but I know that a Clue is too valuable to throw away, or even to give away. I got mine from Brad Templeton at an Interop many years ago, when Interop was still a meeting and not an event. It’s a button which says “Clue” in black letters on a pink background.

  13. David says:

    I would like your clarification on…

    “As I said in that talk, the main reason Cluetrain succeeded…”

    Has it succeeded? If so, by what metric? Book sales, downloads?

    In my opinion claiming success is premature–mostly because you haven’t heard from the larger mass of people who could care less about this entire conversation.

  14. Doc Searls says:

    If somebody is holding a “Cluetrain at 10” event, and plenty of people come, and people who put it to use at companies such as Lego come to talk about it, and analysts get up and talk about the same thing… that hardly seems like failure to me.

    I’m not one to brag on Cluetrain, or anything for that matter. But it was a bestseller, and continues to sell well. We’ve heard from thousands of people over the years about it.

    FWIW, etc.

  15. Pingback: Doc Searls Weblog · Cluetrainings

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