Thinking about Walls, The Cluetrain and Organisations

Many organisations, whether by design, or simply through the passage of time are siloed. Departments, instead of functioning as part of a well oiled system, become cliques. Organisational silt builds up, blocking the flow of ideas, information and innovation. 

IT mistrusts Finance,  Finance thinks HR stands for “Human Remains” and HR thinks that IT spends all its money on stuff for Finance.

Humans are good at making cliques and building walls and borders for the strangest reasons. The walls rarely help though.

Looking back over the last year my blog is sprinkled with Cluetrain ramblings. I stumbled upon it soon after starting  blogging, and it has slowly grown on me, better late than never.  I really ought to buy a copy.

I suppose this blog has become my attempt to generate a little more conversation with customers and those that watch SAP. I’ve thought a lot about the Cluetrain and how it impacts selling, and surfing around, most blogs that reference the Cluetrain do so from customer perspective. Yet I seem to have neglected an important and blindingly obvious component.

It stands to reason that if you preach the Cluetrain externally, in the customer context,  then it should  have an employee counterpart? The more I think about the Cluetrain, the more I reckon it needs to start within an organisation.  If you can build a culture of trust and collaboration with an organisation, then ideas and processes flow smoothly, making it possible to deliver on your promises. But surely the Cluetrain needs to work within the organisation too? If the internal functioning of an organisation are wracked with divisions and walls, then building a consistent conversation with the customer becomes impossible.

How does or should the Cluetrain impact how you hire, train, develop, communicate with and motivate  people in your organisation?  Re-reading it on the plane to London this morning, I was struck by this paragraph.

Consider this: from the other side of the gulf opened by the Web, virtually all of the structures that management identifies as being the business itself seem to be bizarre artifacts of earlier times, like wearing a powdered wig and codpiece to the company picnic.

I suggest that anyone interested in how organisations work should read the Cluetrain, and focus on Chapter 5, the Hyperlinked Organization. David Weinburger wrote it.

 I wonder how many HR leaders have read the Cluetrain, or even given serious thought to how the web impacts your organisation? This sentence really hit home.

Somewhere along the line, we confused going to work with building a fort

Does your organisational culture build walls or break them down? Does information flow easily across functional domains, or is it hoarded?  Does everyone know and believe in the strategy? Does everyone take ownership for success?

Are you someone that breaks down silos?

Or do you help build them?

And when people work together even the most seemingly impregnable of silos can be made to crumble.

So next time IT, HR and Finance climb into their forts, or you see silos growing, suggest a trip to Berlin, stand on this line and ask them if the organisation would work better without the walls.

After all,

Berlin Mauer 1961-1989

Hyperlinked organizations never met a wall they liked.

UPDATE:  For more on Berlin in English, checkout the Berlin life site.

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10 thoughts on “Thinking about Walls, The Cluetrain and Organisations”

  1. Hi Thomas, A very interesting post and blog generally. That picture you have of the Wall is actually from our website. No problem keeping it there, but we’d appreciate a mention of our Berlin Wall page (or the site generally) on your page! Cheers! Mark

  2. Thomas, great post!

    “It stands to reason that if you preach the Cluetrain externally, in the customer context, then it should have an employee counterpart?” – but of course, “markets are conversations” so goodbye push, hello pull!

    And an important part of conversations as we all know, is somebody interesting to chat with. If I’m a customer would I like a tête-à-tête with a marketing fellow? Nah, I would like to discuss directly with the bike designer, the man who screws stuff together or the CEO if strategy and future is my interest.

    And with any wall, internal or the ones towards the street that would not be so easy…

    Lastly – your suggestion of “build a culture of trust and collaboration with an organisation” would have an important side-effect, it would build self confidence among the members of the organisation making them able to join the (or any) conversation! Guess that’s where you’d have to start – no self confidence, no conversation – no self-confidence, then more need for walls!


  3. Sig,
    Indeed, and I think that is what Steve Clayton is trying with the Blue Monster at MSFT.

    I think there is a role for marketing, but it is different. When I was discussing the Blue Monster
    I wrote:

    It seems to me that the goal of a modern marketing function shouldn’t be to dictate, determine and control product messaging and branding, but to facilitate and encourage conversations between those that actually know stuff about the solutions and those that are looking to buy them. Those that know stuff could be the product manager or the developer, or even better, another customer using it.

    I now ought to think about what is the role of the HR, Finance and IT functions in a similar context. Put bluntly how do you pay and motivate people in this hyperlinked organisation?

    With software development though, the best developers aren’t necessarily the best customer communicators. Technical brilliance doesnt always translate into conversation. I think orgs need multipliers, some technical (like blogs and wikis) but also human multipliers. Developers do need to develop, not just converse.

    I guess we need all sorts of people to make this work.

    Have you seen Steve Mann’s blog? He is a senior guy at SAP in Marketing who has some interesting ideas.

  4. Cool! Agree completely regarding the “human multipliers” – and again that’s where the internal conversations comes into play, those HMs will rise to the surface showing knowledge, ability to listen, and showing confidence so they will enjoy the conversations.

    The good thing about the HMs is that it’s not on the radar of the HR nor Cxx level yet, thus able to develop the natural way 🙂

    So basically: Prepare the environment, then get the hell out of the way!

    (Reminds me of the days the chaps introduced newsgroups internally in the 80’s and made all corridor politics evaporate – we the leadership thought it was the new menu in the cafe 😉 Obviously we had no idea what was happening)

  5. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offence.

    All this talk of walls made me think of one of my favorite poems, the Mending Wall, by Robert Frost. Upon re-reading it I reveled in its “cluetrainy” like qualities. Check it out at one of my favorite sites,

  6. Thomas:

    Big cluetrain fan here – started up a company with a friend of mine based on the inspiration.

    New kind of Marketing Consultancy that *listens* to and makes sense of all the consumer conversations on the web to provide actionable insight to managers of passion brands.

    (Software licensed from the NSA reads thru thousands and thousands of unstructured text messages – newsgroups, blogs, forums – extracts meaning and arranges them according to topic.)

    Really cool stuff.

    Tom O’B

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