The Cluetrain Manifesto and Business and Technical Writing Classes

Okay, I've been thinking about this for months now, so I might as well blog about it. Here's my question: Does anyone teaching business writing and/or technical writing assign The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual? Based on what I know, my guess would be that either very few teachers assign it, or no one does. (If I'm wrong, please tell me; please set me straight.) So who cares, you might ask. Why are you sweatin' it, Clancy?

For me, it's about the disconnect between the way writing is taught and the way writing is, especially when it comes to business and technical writing. The Cluetrain Manifesto has been called "the most important book about communication written in the last 30 years." Many bloggers and other webby cognoscenti divide the world into pre-Cluetrain and post-Cluetrain. I'm not trying to say that Cluetrain should be treated as some sort of tech comm Bible or anything, but clearly it's a very important book worth at least reading and discussing in business and technical writing classes. I know it's not written by academic rhetoricians, but I think it ought to be assigned. I've been thinking about writing a review of it and sending it to the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. (Of course, if someone has already reviewed it for that journal, I'm going to feel like a real heel...a pleasantly surprised heel, though.) Consider some of the "95 Theses":

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

4. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

5. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

[. . .]

20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.

21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.

22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

23. Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.

24. Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ"—do not constitute a position.

25. Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

26. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

27. By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.

[. . .]

38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.

39. The community of discourse is the market.

40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.

What do you think? Should I write this review and try to make a case for why I think this book should be assigned? How could this book change the way business and technical writing is taught? If you or anyone you know already assigns it, I'd love to hear it.


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I've been using Cluetrain off and on for a couple of years in tech comm and media courses. I like it because it's (a) well written, (b) problematizes traditional approaches to workplace and corporate communication, including tech comm, and (c) situates business and technology development as fundamentally rhetorical enterprises. (A lot of the students who take my web design courses come from the School of Business here at Clarkson, so making the connections between business and communication gives them a better understanding of the ideas I'm getting at in the classes.)

I've been drawing on business, management, and technology development work for a while now (at least back to the early 1990s). There are some serious ethical gaps in some of that work, but in general the best work seems to have an extremely rich, robust, and interactive view of how people live and work in the world. Drucker's ideas about post-capitalism, Hammer's work on reengineering--they're all about complex and very active communication situations.


I'm guessing it's you, anyway, what with the web design and Clarkson connections. Glad to know you use Cluetrain. What do you think about the possible book review idea? What's your take on Cluetrain's status in our field? Is it a blip on the radar? Have more tech comm/business writing scholars read it than I think?

Yeah, It's Me

Sorry--The "icognito" tag showed up automatically--I think my working in the new beta of NetNewsWire masks my identity (probably no cookies stored), and I forgot to add my name into the post.

I'd go ahead with the review--the field needs it. I'm not sure who else in C&W or rhet/comp is using it; I know no one's ever mentioned it to me.

My guess is that there are *are* a lot of business writing profs who use it, but many of them work in business schools and aren't really reachable by most of the stuff we publish (my only foray into that group was in 1999, when I went to the Assocation for Business Computing Conference and gave the paper that eventually became Stories and Maps . The only comment that I received via the 35 anonymous forms distributed to the attendees afterwards was (this is a recollected but roughly accurate replication), "The presenter stood up, wearing jeans, and untucked Hawaiian shirt, and untied Doc Martens boots, and read us a paper. Very boring." ) That said, I don't know of any tech comm or C&W people using Cluetrain, or related works.

So, yeah, I'd urge you to write this review, even make it an essay-review and spend the bulk of your time talking about why C&W (and rhet/comp in general) needs to pay more attention to what's happening in the corporate world. They may often be slimy, unethical people, but they're also often-enough wild and cool visionaries that we can learn things from. (And, let's face it, we can name lots of academics who are slimy and unethical--that doesn't negate the importance of what we do.)

Let me know if you want me to give you comments on a draft of something before you send it out.

we being Brand

TrackBack from Collin vs. Blog:

-new; and you know consequently a little stiff Couple of weeks ago, Clancy posted an inquiry about Cluetrain, whether anyone in the field was picking it up or not, and that question has been bouncing around in my head ever since. It came at a time where I was thinking about excerpting it for my class next semester, and at a time when I've been adding people like Hugh MacLeod to my aggregator (having already aggregated the Cluetrain principals). This morning, I came across an entry at Doc Searls's site, on the issue of branding, and that set me to thinking even more. (good set of followables there, that I won't simply repeat here) The gist of Doc's remarks is that there is an inverse relationship between company-sponsored or -encouraged blogging and the strength of that company's brand. In other words, companies that have a high-intensity brand (like Apple, e.g.) need to exercise a great deal of control over the information that leaves the company. Hence, they're not likely to be as blog-friendly, which would require a certain amount of relaxation of control over information flow. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of the corporate metaphor for education--I think it was Anne Balsamo who said once that education needs no metaphor--but in this case, I've been thinking about how compatible blogging will prove to be in composition classes. Actually, that's...



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