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Learning Social Media From LEGO

by James Ball on December 28, 2009

It all started yesterday with this tweet from my friend Carol Flammer:

At this exact same moment, I overheard a LEGO® commercial that my daughter was watching say something about “social skills”.  This started me thinking about ways to best explain certain aspects of social media. Bang@*! Pow!#? I was off on a hunt! (Now the mystery of how I come up with blog posts is unraveling…yes?) All of this led me through hours of wonderful research based on LEGO®. It then became an introduction, of sorts, to a book called The Cluetrain Manifesto, which was written in 1999. What a ride!

Little did I know how deep one could go in a search where “LEGO®” and “Social Media” became paired! In all honesty, I attribute my ignorance here to the fact that I was more of an Etch-A-Sketch kid. If not for this I would have surely known all about Jake McKee. Do you know of Jake? He’s the mastermind behind the social media consultancy Ant’s Eye View, who “burrow into your business, becoming an extension of your company while we partner to build social media capabilities into your organization”. He is also the voice at Community Guy, which is a most excellent resource for anyone interested in social media. Jake was the man who helped to build the community development team and social media presence for LEGO®. Is it all starting to come together now?

Jake has much to teach us all about how we build and manage our communities. My original inspiration for this post was LEGO® itself…the little building blocks and what they do for us as a teaching tool while growing up. Before today I’d never heard of Jake McKee. Today I’ve hit the jackpot, all thanks to a tweet about LEGO®! I stumbled upon TWO related articles over on Feeding the Puppy. An excellent interview with Jake himself, and,…get this, a much earlier post with the title “The Social Lego Principles”, which uses LEGO® to explain “how to build something wonderful from the blocks of social media”! I’m cross-eyed at this point y’all.

I then headed over to the LEGO® website, and there, on the page for parents, where they explain the benefits of playing with LEGO®, I was shocked at what I read! Playing with LEGO® can teach us much that is necessary for success in social media! Click through the orange age tabs in the middle of the page to see for yourself.  Apparently, learning with LEGO® never stops! LEGO® hasn’t stopped utilizing social media sans Jake McKee either.  They still embrace and embody what it’s all about.

The video below is almost 45 minutes long. You may want to bookmark this page, finish your pop-tart and head out. That’s fine; I promise it’ll be here later when you have the time. Do make the time though! In the video is Jake McKee, explaining how LEGO® Caught the Cluetrain. “Cluetrain” is a reference to a 1999 book, The Cluetrain Manifesto. This book obviously had an impact on Jake McKee!

Wikipedia explains: “The Cluetrain Manifesto is a set of 95 theses organized and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what is suggested to be a newly-connected marketplace. The ideas put forward within the manifesto aim to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organizations. In addition, as both consumers and organizations are able to utilize the Internet and Intranets to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the manifesto suggests that the changes that will be required from organizations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.”

From Doc Searles (one of Cluetrain’s authors) blog:  “the book started as a website, with 95 Theses splashed on a web page, in tribute, homage or just a scandalous rip off of Martin Luther’s famous set of 95 Theses.  If you don’t know about the original, shame on you.  Martin Luther was the renegade priest who started the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 Theses to the door of a church.  Equally important but often ignored, he translated the bible from Latin to the language of the people (in his case, German) and opened it up for all to read.”

If you haven’t read this book, today is your lucky day, you can Read the entire book online for free. Here now, just to entice you to a great read, are the 95 Theses – from 1999:

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
  11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  13. What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.
  14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
  16. Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  17. Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
  18. Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  19. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
  21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
  22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
  23. Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
  24. Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position.
  25. Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
  26. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.
  27. By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.
  28. Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.
  29. Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”
  30. Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.
  31. Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own “downsizing initiatives” taught us to ask the question: “Loyalty? What’s that?”
  32. Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their own language.
  33. Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.
  34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
  35. But first, they must belong to a community.
  36. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
  37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
  38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
  39. The community of discourse is the market.
  40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
  41. Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.
  42. As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company—and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.
  43. Such conversations are taking place today on corporate intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
  44. Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore.
  45. Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation.
  46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.
  47. While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked conversations.
  48. When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  49. Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.
  50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
  51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
  52. Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.
  53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.
  54. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  55. As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked markets.
  56. These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.
  57. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  58. If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few companies have yet wised up.
  59. However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
  60. This is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies.
  61. Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.
  62. Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.
  63. De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.
  64. We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.
  65. We’re also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.
  66. As markets, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual reports and third-hand market research studies to introduce us to each other?
  67. As markets, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
  68. The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what’s that got to do with us?
  69. Maybe you’re impressing your investors. Maybe you’re impressing Wall Street. You’re not impressing us.
  70. If you don’t impress us, your investors are going to take a bath. Don’t they understand this? If they did, they wouldn’t let you talk that way.
  71. Your tired notions of “the market” make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere.
  72. We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.
  73. You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
  74. We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
  75. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
  76. We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay for. Got a minute?
  77. You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we’ll come back later. Maybe.
  78. You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.
  79. We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.
  80. Don’t worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it’s not the only thing on your mind.
  81. Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
  82. Your product broke. Why? We’d like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We’d like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she’s not in?
  83. We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
  84. We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?
  85. When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to.
  86. When we’re not busy being your “target market,” many of us are your people. We’d rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar web site. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing’s job.
  87. We’d like it if you got what’s going on here. That’d be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we’re holding our breath.
  88. We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
  89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
  90. Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we’ve been seeing.
  91. Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Companies that have no part in this world, also have no future.
  92. Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can’t they hear this market time bomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.
  93. We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
  94. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
  95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

Are you as amazed as I am at the relevance of these after 10 years?

 This concludes my search for truth and meaning in a set of stackable blocks! If the LEGO® story or The Cluetrain Manifesto tidbits have moved or enlightened you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If you have any 10 year old books that are worthy of a mention, or you have any toy company executives as friends…we want to hear about that too!

Kathy Drewien December 29, 2009 at 12:05 am

Oh, James. You're making me feel old…

I thought everyone in social media had read Cluetrain, even though Cluetrain preceded the burst of communication tools ubiquitously known as social media. I'm glad it struck a chord with you.

Marshall McLuhan discussed the impact of technology and social communication even earlier: "…since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear." (Understanding Media 1964)

And, on media and technologies as Extensions of Man (subtitle of Understanding Media) it was R. W. Emerson who wrote that "The human body is the magazine of inventions, the patent-office, where are the models from which every hint was taken. All the tools and engines on earth are only extensions of its limbs and senses" (1870).

Communication has been around since man himself. What has changed is the scale and immediacy of connections.

What we need in 2010 is to take the small brightly colored individual LEGO® blocks and construct a communication model that makes sense for the business growth of our clients.

@smallbiztwit December 29, 2009 at 2:19 am

James-
Here is a post I put up several months ago http://www.smallbiztwit.info/cluetrain-plus-10-gr… Some of the best in our biz wrote a blog post on each of the 95 theses and they are just an incredible resource and look into some of the best thinking on each of them.

I so want the cluetrain brotherhood of authors to write another one and let us see into the future again 10 years out… this book changed my life in my thinking about the web when I read it the 1st time in Dec of 99. I have worn it out and have the new copy that they put out for the 10th anniversary, and also found 2 old copies at a bookstore once for 3 bucks a piece.

It should be mandatory reading for all Marketing and Business students in college. Those that read it 10yrs ago and put it into work back then are the giants in the SM world. Hope you enjoy the 95 great links, it took me a couple of weeks to get thru them but what an education.

Love the way you put this post together you are a great writer and you have a new reader..
Steve

Aurek Brillowski December 29, 2009 at 4:07 am

Prior to finding your blog, I was reading through "TrendsSpotting's 2010 Social Media Influencers – Trend Predictions in 140 Characters" where I found mention of "Conversational Marketing" to which I did a web search on. I found an article on "What Conversational Marketing is NOT" by Tom Hespos on the iMedia Connection website. In it I first heard about The Cluetrain Manifesto which I figured was published just a few years ago. I eventually clicked on the link to "the first of the 95 Theses" and immediately began reading them all and jotting notes in my outliner of what I could take away from it. At some point I noticed that it was written in 1999. No chance, no way, how could it have been? My biggest amazement was that so little of it could be seen manifested (pun intended) in todays Internet and corporate communities. I thought I had stumbled upon a lost gem. Guess not. Maybe simply a gem whose value may have been overlooked or should have been re-examined a bit sooner.

Jake McKee January 4, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Wow, thanks for the call out. I had a great time during my tenure at LEGO and worked with some fantastic people. We worked hard to change the way LEGO viewed, engaged, and grew its fan base, including the adult fans.

As you may have read in the updated Cluetrain book, the Cluetrain Manifesto was actually more than just a little important in our journey. It's amazing to see that it's been 10 years. Amazing still that our industry still has a way to go!

Let's keep talking up the Manifesto. It's surprising how many people haven't even heard of it these days. Scary, but also a great opportunity!

Jake McKee
Chief Idea Officer – Ant's Eye View
Cluetrain Disciple

insolvency london August 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm

First-class story it is without doubt. I?ve been searching for this update.

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