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40 Years After

By Denis Pombriant
Jul 22, 2009 4:00 AM PT

What a summer for remembrances. Forty years ago, a couple of people landed on the moon, and a half-million of them landed on Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York for the Woodstock festival. [*correction]

40 Years After

That might sound like ancient history, but of course without the space program, who knows where the technology industry would be today. The people who propelled the industry in its early years, and even today, were largely of the Woodstock generation. Hold those thoughts.

Closer to home, this year also marks the first decade of the Cluetrain world -- 10 years since the publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto. I was re-reading it on the beach the other day. It's a seminal work and not exactly beach reading material, but with the perspective of 10 years, it was interesting to consider it in context with our love of technology and the aspirations of the Woodstock generation.

Delivering the Promise

It seems to me that the last decade was mostly lag time between the ideas embodied in the book and the reality of today. Along the way there have been many false starts and wrong turns, but what fascinated me most is this: Despite Cluetrain's ample warnings that people want to be treated like people, not some demographic to be marketed at, corporations enabled by CRM and its related disciplines disregarded the warnings.

Sound too harsh? Maybe it is, but not by much. Did the Woodstock ethos melt away, or was it simply submerged? I think it was submerged waiting for appropriate technology.

The early years of CRM were heavy on management and light on everything else. SFA quickly became a tool for managing salespeople more than deals, call centers too often became places where calls went to die, and call handling time became a metric. Marketing automation? An accounting system to manage marketing spend.

Then something wonderful happened, something that Cluetrain alluded to but could not predict because it was an unknown unknown. Social networking evolved rapidly and made it possible for the Internet to deliver on its promise, which looks a lot like an incarnation of some of what was best of the Woodstock era.

What Changed?

Ten years on (I could have said ten years after, but I didn't) we have Twitter and Facebook, Linked-in, MySpace, YouTube, and a lot more ways to share ideas. In the short term, it gives life to Bill Gate's observation that we overestimate what we can do in two years and underestimate what we can do in 10.

More importantly, social computing is finally changing the ways we live and work -- ways that are at once profoundly human, surprising and humbling. Technology, both social and otherwise, is destroying industries that were once pillars of our civilization. The Internet is eroding the revenue base of newspapers, magazines, radio and television, while social media makes all of us the heroes of our own lives as bloggers, innovators, arbiters of taste and product reviewers -- and that's just in our private lives.

Our work lives are nothing like those of our older peers, who can easily remember a time when not even a fax machine was part of regular business. We are enormously more efficient and productive, and in more normal times these traits drive phenomenal economic growth. We communicate -- asynchronously, most of the time -- with the expectation that others in our circle will receive and respond if our thoughts are interesting.

The corporations we work for and buy from have at last gotten the message that our attention and loyalty cannot be taken for granted. We are not out of the woods yet. Too often people and corporations take the view that the new social technologies are things to be bolted onto old ideas, and the result will enable them to sell more and faster. But that's not where we are.

Rethinking Pretty Much Everything

We are at the point of a great paradigm shift -- actually, many shifts, which is what makes these times so interesting.

With so many iconic companies and whole industries teetering, we are at the point where the Woodstock generation thought they were. Energy, finance, communications, transportation, food, healthcare and who knows what else -- a perfect storm -- all need to be rethought to one degree or another.

The thing that unites these efforts is how to reorganize the relationship between producers and consumers, vendors and customers, and us to ourselves. What a great time to be in this business.


Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.


*ECT News Network editor's note: The original publication of this article incorrectly spelled Max Yasgur's name as "Yasker."


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