It's The End Of The World As We Know It
But clued in to the change, netpreneurs
(Washington, DC -- March 7, 2000) It was Mardi Gras. It was Super
Tuesday. "Let the record show," however, said Thomas
Petzinger, Jr., "Right about now the
exit polls are being released and the coolest people in the nation's
capital are not in front of CNN."
It's no longer business as usual in Greater Washington. The city's
company town, political image is rapidly being shed, replaced by a new
economic base of Internet and communications entrepreneurs. The
Cluetrain came to Washington, DC, this evening, and over 1100 of the
region's Internet leaders preferred a glimpse into the future of
business over plastic beads and exit polls. They came to hear Christopher
Locke and David
Weinberger explain why the Internet means
the end of business as usual, not just in DC, but everywhere.
Locke and Weinberger are two of the four authors of The
Cluetrain Manifesto, a book that has
become both a best seller and cult favorite among the digital
in-crowd. Says the Manifesto, "Markets are conversations. Talk is
cheap. Silence is fatal." It's a mantra that upends everything
we're used to about commerce. At tonight's event, entitled "The
End of Business as Usual," produced by the Morino Institute's netpreneur.org
it was anything but silent, as Locke, Weinberger and Petzinger, author
of another business bestseller, The
New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and
Marketplace, joined with audience
members in a . . . well . . . "spirited" conversation. It
started with the audience beaning each other with dozens of inflatable
beach balls, moved from presentations to dialogue to debate; along the
way delivering predictions, very bad puns and more than a little
"What is the Internet for?" asked Weinberger. It wasn't a
trick question, but not an easy one either. "A telephone is for
calling people. Highways are for going places. What is the Web for?
I haven't heard an answer. Why does the growth curve look like a
hockey stick with the fastest vertical acceptance line since the
discovery of fire? Why are we rushing to this thing that we have no
idea what it's for? Something deep is going on."
The answer to that question goes far beyond business, and it
changes everything about how we do business. "The Web
offers us our voice back," is Weinberger's conclusion. "We
are not on the Web because we want a better shopping experience. It's
not because we have electronic catalogues instead of those old,
stupid, paper catalogs. What's doing it is connections. We want to
connect with one other. We want to connect with other people as
That's why, in the New Economy, markets are conversations, not
demographic reports. It's big picture stuff.
"We live in this split-apart world," opened Locke,
"where you hear people talking about 'my job' and 'my life' as if
those really were two different things." It's been a historical
progression from the Industrial Revolution to Organization Man; from
interchangeable parts, to interchangeable workers, to interchangeable
consumers. He may have begun by sounding a little cosmic, but Locke's
message was ultimately, eminently practical—in an interconnected,
global market with an explosion of options and where individuals can
talk to each other anytime, business must start treating customers as
people and allies, not consumers.
Traditional business is hierarchical, and traditional business
communications are about controlling the message. That doesn't work
when you have the Internet around mucking up chains of command,
providing alternate routes to information and letting customers talk
to each other, your employees, competitors and the media. Markets are
conversations, not lectures.
When did 'marketing' become a verb? In the earliest days, markets
were places to go, not just to pick up vegetables for tonight's
dinner, but to get the latest news, gossip and debate. To meet people.
Weinberger said, "It was filled with the sound of human voice.
It's where civilization actually grew up. Somehow, in the 20th
century, now the 21st, it got turned into 'marketing,' something you
do to people, and you do it to them against their will."
"What gets marketed to consumers are messages," he said.
"The only flaw in this is, there is no market for messages."
But, in the New Economy, the old market is back. A Saturn owner
posts a message to an email group asking if he was ripped off in a
repair at the dealership. "Yes," replies a mechanic from
another Saturn dealership, "Here's what we're supposed to
Airlines announce that they will purchase
PCs and Internet connections for all of their employees. Why?
The newspapers covering the
announcement talked about the cost and
technology, but for Ford CEO and President Jac Nasser the reason was
that, "We're committed to serving consumers better by
understanding how they think and act." In Locke's words, it gives
them 350,000 ears in the marketplace listening to new trends, and it's
bi-directional—350,000 voices in the marketplace not talking like PR
people, but talking like mechanics and secretaries. Weinberger
quipped, "At Ford, conversation is job one."
Opportunity in the New Economy isn't so much about bandwidth and
technology, although those things are certainly important for creating
economic opportunities on the Net. In the larger picture, it's about
companies releasing their struggle for control—control of the
message, the process, the organization and the people. And companies
don't have a choice, because the millions of people on the Internet
are not in their control. Those which can adapt, will succeed. They'll
form conversations in which real people talk to each other.
Said Locke, for example, on the question of how Internet marketers
use data they collect about buyers, "If what we get from
companies is connecting the dots and facilitating the conversation,
there would be far less concern that we are being targeted for spam
Traditional business has usually been a zero-sum game, according to
Petzinger, who for many years covered, at various times, the
agriculture, oil, steel and coal industries for the Wall
Street Journal. A dollar in labor's pocket
was a dollar out of management's, the same as a dollar going to a
competitor. All that has changed, largely because of opportunities
opened up through communication. "In nature," he observed,
"all boundaries are permeable." But traditional business has
been a hard-shelled organism. The co-evolution of the Internet
alongside the growth of international markets and customer choice has
changed the zero-sum view into one of a growing, shifting,
transforming, uncontrollable conversation.
No one was as surprised as Petzinger, for example, when he began
printing his email address in his columns. Yes, he received volumes of
mail which he had to read and respond too, but his readers also became
millions of new eyes and ears. "It was virtually all incredibly
intelligent, thoughtful and well written—with the occasional flame,
but you need that to make life interesting," he said. "A
dialogue began, and it actually shaped how I began to do that column.
The boundary between me and my readers had begun to dissolve."
Mario Morino, who wrapped up the event, relies on a technique he
calls pulsing. "There is no longer a need," he said,
"for any company or organization to make a decision completely
internally again." Whether you are in research, customer support,
sales or any other decision-making role, it's foolish to keep it
inside the conference room. Go out and ask for help. "That's the
cultural challenge," he said. "Are we big enough, strong
enough and do we have the confidence to carry on that dialogue.?"
As Locke noted, The
New York Times never really printed all the
news that was fit to print. That's why he sees one of the next big
waves of Internet-enabled opportunities in "micro-markets"
that bubble up from below, not created top-down through market
research. "It's going to go to companies and individuals who can
coalesce those markets which don't yet exist, but which are going to
gravitate and come together around kernels of good writing, good
analysis, good insight, good entertainment—whatever it is that
brings people together. That's going to turn over billions, if not
trillions of dollars. In the next five years, something as
astounding as what we have seen with the Internet in the last
five years is going to happen again. It's going to happen with respect
to these bottom-up micro-markets emerging with a completely different
set of opportunities than existed in the top-down broadcast, mass
marketing mass advertising economy that we are leaving."
If the end of business as usual means the end of top-down control,
it also means the end of secrets, and according to Locke, "The
biggest secret that business is trying to hide from the market, is
that we are human; we are fallible; we make mistakes; we are not
perfect." The underlying message of the Cluetrain Manifesto is to
break old habits, but that's hard to do, even for the cutting-edge
entrepreneurs who are immersed in Internet innovation. "You get
your first VC money and you start talking like General Motors. Stop
Copyright 2000 Morino Institute. All