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Riding the cluetrain

Editorial | July 1, 2019 | By:

The art of working with people is found in meeting them where they’re at, which means I must be willing to go where I am not. 
–Craig D. Lounsbrough

Almost 20 years ago, Robert Putnam published “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” He posited that the demise of bowling leagues was only one symptom of growing social isolation in this country; new technology has linked hemispheres, he argued, but has also severed the ties that bind a healthy society. In the years since, the ironically named “social media” is close to completing the process of divorcing information and opinion exchange from personal acquaintance. (And sometimes from fact, but that’s another editorial.)

“The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual,” first appearing online in 1999 (, presented 95 theses around the theme that companies must become parts of communities in order to remain relevant to potential customers. Number one on the list: Markets are conversations. I think that many businesses and organizations are learning, or think they’re learning, how to connect in a human way with their markets through the internet and social media. And yet, Thesis No. 31 says: “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?’”

In today’s labor market, especially in the specialty fabrics industry, communicating in a human voice with employees and potential employees is surely of equal importance with the need to support product innovation, convincing and comprehensive marketing and stand-out customer service. But communicating more does not necessarily mean communicating more effectively, either externally or internally; and doing more marketing doesn’t necessarily create more markets. As I read through the Manifesto again earlier this week, its exaltation of “human conversations” through electronic media seems more and more a contradiction in terms to me. 

In a 2015 article in Forbes, author Mina Chang, CEO of Linking the World International, says: “In today’s fast-paced world, you can’t forget to embrace humanity. Take time to genuinely get to know people because they are your best assets. Understanding why people do business is more important than understanding what they do, and this kind of understanding is only attainable through in-person interactions.”

In other words—it may take sitting in a classroom with your peers in order to best understand how to communicate effectively online with customers, competitors and coworkers. As editor of Specialty Fabrics Review since 1999, I remain a big fan of the written word. But for finding out what people in this industry are really thinking, talking to exhibitors, educators and attendees at IFAI Expo has no competition. We best learn from each other when it comes to re-aligning our business goals, practices and structures. As a long-term business plan, Cluetrain Thesis No. 80 sums it up: “Don’t worry; you can still make money. That is, as long as it’s not the only thing on your mind.”

The power of fabric

Colin Touhey, CEO of Pvilion in Brooklyn, N.Y., works with partners Todd Dalland and Robert Lerner, AIA, to forge strategic partnerships to integrate photovoltaic technology into all kinds of fabric products. “Effectively, any surface, any fabric that is getting hit by the sun, can be a fabric that generates electricity,” says Touhey. It’s a proven (although still evolving) technology, and one of Pvilion’s goals now is to make customers, and potential partners, aware that there’s no need to miss out on the boom in mobile energy generation. “We’re not in a lab coming up with something that’s going to be ready 10 years out. We have products that are commercially available today,” says Touhey.

If you’d like to nominate a fellow IFAI manufacturer member for coverage in a future “Perspective” article, please contact Galynn Nordstrom, senior editor, at

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