The End of Business as Usual
powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet,
people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant
with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting
smarteróand getting smarter faster than most companies.
Is the Web For?
know telephones are for talking with people, televisions are
for watching programs, and highways are for driving. So whatís
the Web for?
donít know. Yet we put it on magazine covers, found businesses
stoking it, spend billions on an infrastructure for it. We
want it to be important with a desperation that can frighten
us when we look at it coldly.
is this we? Itís not just the webheads and full-time aficionados.
Itís the management teams who donít understand it but sense
an opportunity. Itís the uncles and aunts who pepper you with
questions about all this Web stuff. Itís the seven-year-old
who takes it for granted that when she speaks the entire world
can choose to hear her. Our cultureís pulse is pounding with
fervid desire for the Web bespeaks a longing so intense that
it can only be understood as spiritual. A longing indicates
that something is missing in our lives. What is missing is
the sound of the human voice.
spiritual lure of the Web is the promise of the return of
longing for the Web occurs in the midst of a profoundly managed
believe, in fact, that to be a business is to be managed.
A business manages its resources, including its finances,
physical plant, and people in basically the same way: quantifiable
factors are determined, predicted, processed, assessed.
our management view extends far beyond business. We manage
our households, our children, our wildlife, our ecological
environment. And that which is unmanaged strikes us as bad:
weeds, riots, cancer.
idea that we can manage our world is uniquely twentieth-century
and chiefly American. And there are tremendous advantages
to believing one lives in a managed world:
avoidance. Nothing unexpected happens if youíre managing your
Everything works in a managed environment simply because broken
things are an embarrassment.
In earlier times, life was unfair. Now youíre guaranteed your
three-score and ten and if something "goes wrong,"
the managed system will compensate you, even if you have to
sue the bastards.
attention. If you were out in the wild, your attention would
be drawn to every creaking twig and night howl. But now that
the risks have been mitigated, things work right, and you
can manage your time so you have not just leisure time but
also discretionary attention: you can decide what interests
you. Why, you can even have hobbies.
course, none of these benefits are delivered perfectly. There
are still risks, there are still injustices, there are still
"outages." But these are exceptions. And when they
occur, we feel cheated, as if our contract has been violated.
wasnít always thus. For millennia, we assumed that being in
control was the exception and living in a wildly risk-filled
world was the norm:
flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for
these awful words sound like one of those quaint, primitive
ideas weíve outgrown.
belief in the managed environment is a denial of the brute
"facticity" of our lives. The truth is that businesses
cannot be managed. They can be run, but they exist in a world
that is so far beyond the control of the executives and the
shareholders that "managing" a business is a form
of magical belief that gets punctured the first time a competitor
drastically lowers prices, a large trading partnerís economy
falters, a key supplierís factory burns down, your lead developer
gets a better offer, your CFO becomes felonious, or an angry
consumer wins an unfair lawsuit.
flies to wanton boys are companies to their markets. They
pull off a companyís wings for sport.
to Hate Your Job
managed environment requires behavior from us that we accept
as inevitable although, of course, it is really mandatory
only because it is mandated. We call it "professionalism."
goes far beyond acting according to a canon of ethics. Professionals
dress like other professionals (one eccentricity per person
is permitted -- a garish tie, perhaps, or a funky necklace),
decorate their cubicles with nothing more disturbing than
a Dilbert (formerly Far Side) cartoon, sit up straight at
committee meetings, tell carefully calibrated jokes, donít
undermine the authority of (that is, show theyíre smarter
than) their superiors, make idle chatter only about a narrow
range of "safe" topics, donít swear, donít mention
God, make absolutely no reference to being sexual (exceptions
made for male executives after the hot new hire has left the
room), and successfully "manage" their home life
so that it never intrudes unexpectedly into their business
of us donít mind doing this. In fact, we actually sort of
enjoy it. Itís like playing grownup. And having extremist
political banners hung in cubicles or having to listen to
someone talk about his spiritual commitments or sex life would
simply be distracting. Disturbing, actually.
yet... we feel resentment. Find someone who likes being managed,
who feels fully at home in his or her professional self. Our
longing for the Web is rooted in the deep resentment we feel
towards being managed.
much we long for the Web is how much we hate our job.
about all the concessions we make to work in a well-run, non-
disturbing, secure, predictably successful, managed environment
have to do with giving up our voice.
is more intimately a part of who we are than our voice. It
expresses what we think and feel. It is an amalgam of the
voluntary and involuntary. It gives style and shape to content.
It subtends the most public and the most private. It is what
we withhold at the moments of greatest significance.
voice is our strongest, most direct expression of who we are.
Our voice is expressed in our words, our tone, our body language,
our visible enthusiasms.
business voice -- in a managed environment -- is virtually
the same as everyone elseís. For example, we learn to write
memos in The Standard Style and to participate in committee
meetings in The Appropriate Fashion. (Of course, we are also
finely attuned to minute differences in expression and can
often tell memos apart the way birdwatchers spot the differences
between a lark sparrow and a song sparrow.)
fifty years, our corporate lives will seem no different than
those of the 1950s. Whether we are Ward Cleavers or Dilberts,
we all reported to work in look-alike rooms, wearing uniforms,
speaking civilly, playing our parts at committee meetings.
The fact that earth tones and Rockports have replaced gray
flannel and wingtips isnít going to separate us from our crewcut
businesses have taken our voices. We want to struggle against
this. We wear a snarky expression behind our bossís back,
place ironic distance between our company and ourselves, and
we donít want to think we have become our parents. But we
have. And weíve done so willingly.
is a powerful force, part of a larger life-scheme that promises
us health, peace, prosperity, calm, and no surprises in every
aspect of our lives, from health to wealth to good weather
and moderately heated coffee from McDonaldís. We are all victims
of this assault on voice, the attempt to get us to shut up
and listen to the narrowest range of ideas imaginable.
is only the force of our regret at having lived in this bargain
that explains the power of our longing for the Web.
donít know what the Web is for but weíve adopted it faster
than any technology since fire.
are many ways to look at whatís drawing us to the Web: access
to information, connection to other people, entrance to communities,
the ability to broadcast ideas. None of these are wrong perspectives.
But they all come back to the promise of voice and thus of
the first InternetWorld conference, the vendors were falling
over one another offering software and services that would
let you "create your own home page in five minutes."
Microsoft, IBM, and a hundred smaller shops were all hawking
the same goods. You could sit in a booth and create your own
home page faster than you can get your portrait sketched on
a San Francisco sidewalk.
the create-a-home-page problem proved too easy to solve to
support a software industry, there was something canny about
the commercial focus on the creation of home pages. Since
you could just as adequately view the Web as a huge reference
library, why did home pages seize our imaginations? Because
a home page is a place in which we can express who we are
and let the world in. Meager though it may be, a home page
is a way of having a voice.
Webís promise of a voice has now gone far beyond that. The
Web is viral. It infects everything it touches -- and, because
it is an airborne virus, it infects some things it doesnít.
The Web has become the new corporate infrastructure, in the
form of intranets, turning massive corporate hierarchical
systems into collections of many small pieces loosely joining
voice that the Web gives us is not the ability to post pictures
of our cat and our guesses at how the next episode of The
X-Files will end. It is the granting of a place in which we
can be who we are (and even who we arenít, if thatís the voice
is a public place. That is crucial. Having a voice doesnít
mean being able to sing in the shower. It means presenting
oneself to others. The Web provides a place like weíve never
may still have to behave properly in committee meetings, but
increasingly the real work of the corporation is getting done
by quirky individuals who meet on the Web, net the two-hour
committee meeting down to two lines (one of which is obscene
and the other wickedly funny), and then -- in a language and
rhythm unique to them -- move ahead faster than the speed
memo is dead. Long live e-mail. The corporate newsletter is
dead. Long live racks of ízines from individuals who do not
speak for the corporation. Bland, safe relationships with
customers are dead. Long live customer-support reps who are
willing to get as pissed off at their own company as the angry
are so desperate to have our voices back that we are willing
to leap into the void. We embrace the Web not knowing what
it is, but hoping that it will burn the org chart -- if not
the organization -- down to the ground. Released from the
gray-flannel handcuffs, we say anything, curse like sailors,
rhyme like bad poets, flame against our own values, just for
the pure delight of having a voice.
when the thrill of hearing ourselves speak again wears off,
we will begin to build a new world.
is what the Web is for.
© 1999 Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger.
authors @ cluetrain.com
All rights reserved.