This post is part of “Cluetrain Plus 10“, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto. The Cluetrain Manifesto was written by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. Along with the 95 tenets or theses of the Manifesto, they also wrote a lively book of the same name explaining their concepts, which is available free of charge on the website. It is all about how marketplaces are really conversations and how organizations need to take part in those conversations; it is no longer enough to broadcast advertising randomly at masses of people.
I remember reading the Cluetrain Manifesto book back in 1999 and thinking how well it related to library service. I could picture librarians taking part in the conversations of the communities they are working with and serving. I could see it going a step further, and seeing librarians as part of those communities. I was delighted a number of years later to hear that Michael Stephens incorporated Cluetrain teachings into his course content.
As a law firm employee, I could also see how this relates to lawyers working with clients, taking part in their conversations as well. It is no surprise, then, that I have taking to social networking tools such as blogs and Twitter so well!
In particular, the discussion of how the affects of the Internet can be felt inside the organization quite captured my imagination. I have therefore selected to discuss thesis 46 for my tribute to Cluetrain. It reads:
“46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.”
From the book:
The gulf the Web opens is, ironically, that of connection. Without anyone asking for it, the Web has given the people inside an organization easy access to one another in a rich variety of ways. They can send e-mail to one person, to a steady group, to a dynamic team, to the entire sales force, or “just” to the board of directors. They can post creative, informative pages that express their interests, correct the mistakes in the official technical documentation, or point to the industry analyst’s report the company doesn’t want anyone to read. They can write a ’zine that parodies the company line savagely and without let-up. They can play backgammon online or blow up their colleagues in a ruthless game of Quake in which the guy who never speaks at meetings routinely turns his manager into animated meat chunks. They can also find every piece of information about the company and its competitors, shop for a car, or learn how to play the blues like Buddy Guy.
The command-and-control power structures became subverted once the mailroom clerk became able to directly email the CEO (or a close facscimile). It put all employees on a more level playing field. This shift was perhaps not immediately evident, but becomes even more so when you have an intranet–such as a wiki-based one–where everyone has access and can make a contribution.
Intranets, in effect, shifted the corporate culture. Lowly staff became more involved in the organization, or at least had more of a voice. With generational changes as well, the big booming voice of authority has become weaker over time, with employee empowerment being the rallying cry over the last ten years.
Not all organizations have intranets. Some are still working with files on shared drives, or on individual computers, while in contrast other (mostly large) organizations are on their third or even fourth generation of intranets or portals. Up until now creating an intranet has been an expensive endeavour. Pair that with many anecdotes of failed efforts, smaller organizations have shyed away from taking the plunge.
In the last 2-3 years, more economical ways of creating an intranet are being used. Some organizations are implementing a scaled-down version of MS SharePoint. Others are using wikis or wiki-based content management systems such as ThoughtFarmer. Others are implementing Open Source content management systems such as WordPress (yes, the blog software), Drupal and Joomla.
Coincidentally, what all of these new platforms have in common is the ability to allow for increased collaboration. Employees can connect, share, and work together in ways that could only be accomplished previously in person.
But to allow for this, executives and managers have to trust employees. If given enough trust, employees will start to put their thoughts forward from their experience on the “front lines” of the organization, and start to drive the direction of the organization. Trust in an employee helps to motivate the employee. The employee will be far more engaged and do far better work if he or she is allowed to explore new ideas, set goals, and work towards them without too much interference.
These are radical ideas raised by Cluetrain ten years ago, and have even more relevance today. Along with the shift in technologies, we are also seeing a shift in corporate and organizational culture.
This is Intranet Apocalypso.
To read additional tributes to Cluetrain, have a look at the tributes to the other 94 theses, linked from this page on the Cluetrain Plus 10 wiki.