Corporations and the Cluetrain Manifesto

It’s hardly surprising that I should find myself meeting people who work for the BBC. Global media, right? And a nonprofit corporation–that’s also a good fit with Berkshire Publishing at the moment, and with the kind of publishing we do. It’s interesting, though, to find out that the BBC suffers from the usual corporate ills: bureaucracy and lack of vision.

I’m waiting for my flight home (delayed by 20 minutes, “apologies for any inconvenience caused”) and reading, finally, the Cluetrain Manifesto. Published in 2000, so something of a period piece, but then I love old books. And this, while full of ideas that I’ve heard a hundred times before, is a great thing to read as I try to get a handle on what social media is all about: community. They have a definition of communty I hadn’t heard: “a group of people who care about each other more than they have to.”

The authors contrast community with the corporation, but they’re a bit naive. They point out that corporations don’t really exist, that inside them are human beings with human voices. Their goal is to get those people to talk directly with customers. Right, corporations aren’t real, but the structure and demands placed on the people in corporations affect, dramatically, the real world, and create problems that really do exist. Climate change is only one of them. Corporations do matter.

Over dinner last night, we were talking about corporations and how they squash creativity. I raised a question that’s on my mind, as we deal with some big corporate publishers with whom we have long-standing relations. Does the corporation change people? I’m dealing with a couple of people who seem to be good-hearted and well-intentioned, who are parents and no doubt talk to their children about right and wrong, but who do things that are just plain unethical. How do they reconcile themselves to this? I imagine a particular guy I know, who is no doubt just following orders, and wonder if he says to himself, “Well, I have a family to support so I have to do what I’m told.” A slippery slope, that.

Yesterday’s papers announced that Britain is the fattest nation in Europe and the Cabinet was quizzed about whether they were following government guidelines about eating enough servings of fruit and veg. How nice that our first course was a vast spread of vegetables–grilled peppers, a gorgeous bunch of radishes and other crudites, beet slices with Indian spices–and melon slices. But I don’t think any of us could claim to have only the “occasional drink” of the so-virtuous British cabinet. Funny, that. No one I know in England is so abstemious. Maybe just as Bill Clinton did not consider fellatio to be sex, they don’t consider beer or wine to be a drink.

Must sign off but will find the fruit-veg rowing machine article when I get back to the States.