Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A bit of history surfaces - A Cluetrain talk turns 10

cluetrain.jpegDoc Searls, one of the original authors of The ClueTrain Manifesto, came across this recently and posted it to his blog. The Manifesto was arguably one of the most influential events at the turn of the century, at least for those of us that have made their living during this information revolution we're in the middle of. (You can read the whole thing online or order a new 10th anniversary version from Amazon.)

While much of the detail has changed, this is still an important historical record. And now, as we all become immersed in the social media juggernaut which is sweeping us all along, it's perhaps more interesting than ever. I'll include the opening comments here, then you can click through to Doc's site for the complete post.

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A Cluetrain talk turns 10

Ten years ago this month, I gave the opening keynote for the International Retail Conference of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Instutut, in Lucerne, Switzerland. The venue was the amazing Culture and Congress Centre, which had opened just two years earlier. Designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and esteemed for its acoustics, it was the most flattering jewell box into which the stone of my rough self has ever been placed as a speaker. My warm up act was a symphony orchestra. While they played I whispered to my wife, ‘Not one of those musicians has played a wrong note in years. How many seconds will pass before I flub a line?’

Less than ten, it turned out. But somehow that relaxed me, and the rest of the talk went without a hitch, even though many in the audience were wearing headphones, so they could hear me translated to another language, and their reactions (some nodding, some laughing, some shaking their heads) came several seconds after I said whatever it was they were reacting to. It was weird.

I had mostly forgotten the talk, and wasn’t even sure I had put it up online anywhere. But in fact I had, right here. Since that’s inside a site that’s not indexed by search engines (my choice, so far back that I’ve only recently re-discovered that fact, explaining why nothing there ever shows up), and I don’t plan on fixing it soon (I’ve got other stuff there I really would rather not get indexed), I’ve decided to post the whole thing here in the blog. As one might expect, it was right about some things, wrong about others, set in a context that has long since changed, addressed to an audience that has mostly moved on, and with arcana that may in some cases no longer make sense. Yet I think it still says some worthwhile things that invite probing and discussion. So here goes:

Why Markets Will Once Again Consist of People
(and why this is good news for Retailing)

This speech was given on the Gala Evening/50th Anniversary Celebration of the Gottlieb Dutteiler Institute, in the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern – Konzertsaal, Lucerne, Switzerland.

The subheads were put there mostly to make it easy for me to keep my extemporizing close to the text, and to make live translation a little bit easier.

25 September, 2000

By Doc Searls


People ask me why The Cluetrain Manifesto has 95 Theses. The reason is that Martin Luther did our market testing for us. It seemed to work for him, so we figured it would work for us.

But lately I’ve been wondering why he chose 95. I think the answer is that he was really a retailer at heart.

I figure he had 100 theses, but then decided more people would buy it if he knocked off 5 theses and offered 95 as a discount. It was kind of a sale price. Worked pretty well.

The priest

Speaking of priests, I have a friend, an Irish priest who for many years did missionary work in East Africa. After he read The Cluetrain Manifesto, he called me up and said ‘I love your book. Especially that first thesis: markets are conversations. It’s brilliant.’

I was the original author of that thesis, so this was fun to hear. But the brilliance he praised was his, not mine.

Village market story

This became clear when he told me the story of a visiting friend he once took to a traditional African village market. His friend wanted to buy a rug displayed in one of the merchant’s stalls. With the priest serving as an interpreter, the customer asked for the price. When merchant responded, the customer said, ‘That’s too much,’ and began to walk away.

The priest then explained to his friend that he had insulted the merchant. So they turned around and went back. The customer then indicated that he wanted to go ahead and buy the rug for the stated price. Now the merchant became upset.

The priest now told to his friend that he had insulted the merchant twice – first by refusing to discuss the value of the rug, and second by offering to pay full price. The customer was completely confused. Clearly he didn’t know how to buy a rug in this town.

Then the priest said to his friend, ‘What do you think the rug is worth?’ The friend responded with a number, and a conversation between the three parties followed.

After a while the customer arrived at both an education about the rug and a price everybody agreed was fair.

The point: markets really are conversations

Now this, the priest told me, is an example of how markets really areconversations. In traditional markets like this one, the only way for a seller and a buyer to discover the true value of the seller’s goods is together – by talking about them and coming to an agreement.

In other words, all value is discovered inside aconversation.

This is why the idea of a fixed price set by a merchant is as silly as talking to oneself. It makes no sense. In traditional markets like this one, conversation starts with the merchant’s asking price. It doesn’t end there.

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To read the rest of Doc's speech, go to The Doc Searls Weblog.)