Summary of “Tribes”: Today, thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier to gather a tribe around a common goal and to lead it; this book shows us what constitutes the very essence of leaders of tribes and why so many people expect YOU to lead them.
By Seth Godin, 2008, 252 pages.
Chronicle and summary of “Tribes”, by Seth Godin:
Joel Spolsky is changing the world. It’s with this intriguing phrase that Seth Godin begins his book, Tribes. Who is Joel Spolsky? A great scientist, a billionaire, an influential politician, the founder of a multinational humanitarian association? Not at all. Joel is a former programmer who worked at Microsoft, and who created his blog, Joel on Software, in 2000, to go along with his change in perspective and his thoughts while he was creating his first company.
His vision on how to run a small software publishing business has been very successful. His first readers spoke about him to their colleagues and friends, most of whom changed their minds about how to look for, hire and manage programmers as they read him, forming, along the way, a large and influential tribe that respects him and considers him as their leader.
What is Seth Godin’s concept of tribes?
A tribe is a group of people gathered around a leader who need only two things: a shared interest and a way of communicating. The tribes of our ancestors shared the common interest of life and survival and communicated primarily orally and directly between themselves. Today, the Internet has eliminated the geographical constraint, and it has brought together many more tribes, big and small – some much larger than before – including tribes that would never have existed in the past, for a ridiculously low cost and with great convenience: no need to all be gathered exactly in the same place and exactly at the same time to be part of a tribe.
Tribes help improve our existence. All human beings seek a sense of belonging, a way to contribute to a group with whom we share a point of view; they seek growth; they seek novelty. Moreover, tribes need leaders and common ideas.
With the Internet and the thousands of tools at our disposal to connect tribal members to each other, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs or emails, it has never been easier to become a leader and bring people together as a tribe. In fact, the question is not whether you can lead, but if you are going to lead. We want to belong to many different tribes, and some people are waiting to follow you, your vision and your passion.
Many people use the Internet to assemble a tribe around them, such as Gary Vaynerchuck, who has created a passionate wine tribe around his Wine TV Library website (see an excellent introduction to him, “do what you love”), or Greg Glassman, a sports coach who has assembled a tribe of fitness fanatics on his CrossFitwebsite.
That said, others have created a tribe without the Internet, in some case, years before there was the Internet: the Grateful Dead, who have created a tribe of fans going to their concerts, allowing them to earn more than $ 100 million in their careers while only one of their albums found itself in the Top 40, Jacqueline Novogratz, who created the Acumen Foundation, which uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the many problems related to poverty (see her numerous TED presentations ), or Mich Mathews, Microsoft marketing manager whom no one knows apart from his internal tribe of thousands of people who devote attention to him and develop his company’s marketing.
This is because the Internet is just a tool, an easy way to gather and communicate with your tribe. That said, the true power of tribes does not lie in the Internet, it lies in people. You don’t need a keyboard to navigate; you just need to want something to happen. Furthermore, thousands of people are waiting for you because you are a leader.
How to be a good leader? This is the subject of Tribes. Find out through this review.
Being a heretic and questioning the status quo
Three things happened at about the same time:
- Many people are starting to realize that they work a lot and that it’s better to work for something for which you believe rather than receive a salary while waiting to be fired.
- Many organizations have discovered that the traditional business model of producing goods and services is not the be all and end all for the economy.
- And many people have decided to buy things that are not factory-produced, different things that tell them a story that they care about.
However, we live in a great world where we have the leverage to make things happen and to do a job that we believe in, and that has a market that begs us to be remarkable. And yet, we remain stuck. We embrace factories rather than tribes, out of fear of change. Yet, although fear of change can be useful in a huge factory, it stands in our way when it comes to living in an ever-changing world, and especially when it comes to leading a tribe.
The people who love their work the most are the ones who do the best job, have the greatest impact and change the world the most. Heretics are the ones who challenge the status quo and discover that one person can make a huge difference, without necessarily having the hierarchical power that gives them approval to do so at the outset.
Jonathan Ive is responsible for the design of Apple products and feeds the tribe of fans the ideas which they embrace. Micah Sifry leads a fundamental change in the way thousands of people see politics, with the Personal Democracy Forum.
Jonathan and Micah are heretics, they question the status quo, step out of line and create a movement by getting out in front of their tribe, and in return, the market rewards them.
YOU are a leader
Today, tribes are flourishing everywhere, creating a huge demand for leaders. It has never been easier to lead. Rather, leading is not difficult, but you have been trained for years to avoid it. YOU already have the skills to make a difference and convince others to follow you. Furthermore, anyone in an organization can lead, regardless of their hierarchical level.
To convince us of this, let’s examine the example of Thomas Barnett, who yet works in a structure that is definitely hierarchical and bureaucratic: he works at the Pentagon.
Thomas Barnett was one of the Pentagon’s 26,000 employees and almost at the bottom of the hierarchy. He was just a 41-year-old researcher with a big idea, an idea he reworked after September 11, 2001 and summed up in the form of a 3-hour PowerPoint presentation, The Pentagon’s New Map, describing his conception of the military role of the United States in a world profoundly transformed since the cold war. This simple presentation made him a respected leader and heard by soldiers who significantly outranked him. He then developed his ideas in a book, and one man without authority became a leader, all because of his talent and attitude.
How to create a movement
There is a difference between telling people what to do and starting a movement. For the movement to happen, people need to talk to each other, ideas need to spread, and a community needs to allow its members to do together what they always knew was the right thing.
Leaders allow members of their tribe to connect with each other rather than command them to follow them. This is how Skype has become the reference in Internet telephony. Its co-founder, Niklas Zennström, realized that it would be impossible to overthrow the power of the big telephone companies without allowing the members of the tribe to interconnect and get the message across. He incited a movement by doing this.
A movement has three components:
- A common story that tells who we are and the future we are trying to build together.
- A connection between the leader and the tribe, and among the members of the tribe.
- Something to accomplish: the fewer the limits, the better.
Once the movement is launched and the tribe is created, a leader can help increase its effectiveness in three ways:
- Transforming the common interest into a passionate goal and a great desire for change.
- Providing tools that allow members to communicate more effectively.
- Influencing the tribe to allow it to grow and attract new members.
These three parameters are all very important. Most leaders neglect the first two and focus only on the third. This is wrong. A large tribe that does not have a strong desire for change, such as the American Automobile Association – which has millions of members – has less impact than a small tribe with a strong desire for change, such as two thousand people who come together at TED each year.
What is needed, then, is to motivate, to connect and to create leverage in order to maximize the result of the efforts of the tribal members. This is how Jimmy Wales created and developed Wikipedia: he gathered a small number of people around a motivating vision – only 5,000 people contribute to the majority of articles on the site – he connected them with the each other, not by telling them what they should do, but by leading them. He gave them a platform to engage the outside world. Wikipedia has only 12 employees, yet it is one of the most visited sites in the world.
There are two big differences between a crowd and a tribe:
- A crowd is a tribe without a leader.
- A crowd is a tribe without communication.
Most organizations spend time selling to crowds. Smart organizations spend their time assembling a tribe.
How many people to create a tribe?
In a famous article posted on his blog, Kevin Kelly says that an artist or blogger only needs 1,000 “true fans” to make a good living from their art or their pen. A true fan is someone passionately interested in what you do, who will talk about you to everyone around them, and who will buy everything you do. A true fan comes with three friends to your show or concert and pays more to have the luxury edition of your book or a hard copy of your best articles rather than browsing them on your website. Most importantly, a true fan contacts other true fans and amplifies the noise around you.
A thousand true fans make up a tribe. Yet, too many organizations care more about numbers than fans. They pay attention to the number of people who follow them and neglect the depth of commitment and interconnection of these people. Instead of chasing more and more followers, true leaders have realized that the real challenge is turning a casual fan into a true fan.
True fans are hard to find, and they are precious.
Though, what they want is generosity and courage.
Another characteristic of a tribe is the fact that there are people who will see the concept, they will laugh and be on their way. That’s perfectly fine. This is what constitutes a tribe: there are some who are, and others who are not. Your tribe is as much defined by those inside as by those outside.
To win an election, you must have more than half of the votes. To lead a tribe, these kinds of rules don’t apply. All you need to do is motivate the people who choose to follow you. All the rest of the population is free to ignore you or to disagree with you. The association of knitters in your city attracts only a very small percentage of people. That’s perfectly fine. In this association, you only want the people most motivated by knitting.
Some tribes work best when they are small and difficult to integrate, when they are exclusive. If you let them grow too much, you risk tearing it down, because your members who are the most motivated will leave it saying, “this is becoming nonsense, it’s too popular”.
Therefore, it’s important not to aim to please everyone, in order to bring the most people in. You can worry about most people all day, but they don’t worry about you, regardless of how loud you yell. And you aren’t most people, and the members of your tribe aren’t either. You want to attract people who are not most people.
The biggest obstacle to creating a tribe: Fear
Seth Godin has met thousands of people with great ideas, some great and some just good. According to him, ordinary people can easily think of rather remarkable things. However, they usually lack something: the will to put the ideas into practice.
Too often we believe there is a Bureau of Idea Approval- a BIA – that judges ideas and gives its blessing to the best ones. Unfortunately, the BIA doesn’t exist. In a match between two ideas, it’s the one that gains the support of the greatest number of heretics that wins.
Since the BIA doesn’t exist, there is nothing that can help you overcome your fear other than yourself. Seth Godin believes that you can overcome fear by building a strategy to make it obsolete. That is to say, you will experience fear, but you will act anyway. For that, you must understand that the world demands that we change, and very quickly.
This point is key. Everyone today can assemble their own tribe and leader. You can do it. Only fear prevents you from doing so. Fear is the first obstacle that will prevent you from reaching your full potential.
One of the greatest fears is that of failure.
Often, it’s not the fear of failing itself, but the fear of being criticized, being blamed. We choose not to be remarkable because the criticism scares us. Just to imagine someone hating our point of view and resenting us for it makes us worried.
Constructive criticism is great; however, most criticism isn’t. Yet, even negative criticism that hurts you should not hurt you entirely: it reveals that what you are doing is getting noticed. A popular book that gets some criticism is better than a book that is ignored.
Note: Learning how to handle criticism and to distinguish constructive criticism from other criticism, you can read my article, How to Handle Criticism in 4 Steps.
Leadership is rare because few people want to go through the feeling of discomfort needed to become a leader because we feel uncomfortable in front of strangers. We feel uncomfortable when we come up with an idea that can be refused or that can fail, and when we question the status quo.
This feeling of unease is great: when you have identified it, you have found the place where you need to lead. This is because if you don’t feel uncomfortable in your leadership work, it’s almost certain that it’s because you have not reached your full potential as a leader.
How to set up a tribe
Some of the readers are probably dying to ask the wrong question, which is:
“What is the risk-free method that would allow me to infiltrate the system to get approval for making changes?”
In fact, there is a method: having faith. Faith that you can do it, that it is worth it, and that failure will not destroy you.
Because nobody will listen to your idea, nod and say “Of course, go ahead and do it!”. Nobody will anoint you with holy oils to make you a leader. The truth is that, before, going to see a big shot like Bill Gates or Jack Welch to submit to them an idea was more likely to work. However, nowadays, most of the time the top of the pyramid is too far away from the action for this approach to be useful.
Faith is crucial for any innovation.
Without faith, it’s suicidal to be a leader and to be a heretic.
Faith is different from religion. Religion works well when it amplifies faith, but most religions reinforce the status quo, to the detriment of faith. There are innumerable religions that are spiritual, cultural or corporate: the IBM religion of the ’60s, with its ultra-standardized workplace protocols and dress codes, the religion of MBA, of the standard CV, and so on.
Too often people think that their faith is criticized when their religion is criticized. They are two distinct and separate things. Religion is a set of protocols and rules to be respected. Heretics question a religion on the basis of deep faith.
These religions exist in the first place for a reason: to reinforce faith. And you can do it purposely. You can recognize and identify the need for your tribe to have faith in your ideas, and you can create a new religion around your faith. Steve Jobs did it to Apple, Phil Knight did it to Nike, and Tim Ferris defined the new religion of the New Rich in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek.
A recent study has shown that about a third of Americans have abandoned the religion in which they were raised. In fact, the study uses the word faith, but these people did not lose faith: they just changed the system that they use to reinforce their faith.
However, too many people focus on the system, the rules and norms of religion, rather than faith itself. Be a heretic. Create your system to allow others to reinforce their faith.
Even in big business, the days when heretics were demoted, disgraced or fired, as described in The Age of Heretics, are over. Nowadays, senior executives are looking for heretics who want to create change before change comes down on them.
An example of an industry that did not apply the model of tribes and died from it: the music industry
In a decade, this hyper-profitable industry collapsed on its own for two simple reasons: 1) they did not have the heretics they needed, and the change came down on them, and 2) they forgot to become one with their tribe.
It’s unbelievable that intelligent and experienced people knowingly ignored the world around them to use a head in the sand approach. And yet, that’s what happened, and it’s a lesson for all industries.
5 pillars of the music industry:
- Free radio promotion of hit songs.
- A limited number of competing labels.
- High production costs that force musicians to get financing from these labels.
- The charts.
- High-margin technology that made reproduction impossible (the 33 rpm).
Does any of these 5 pillars have anything to do with tribes or leadership? Not at all. And each of these 5 pillars crumbled one after the other. With the arrival of the cassette, then the CD burner, the MP3 and the Internet, everything has changed. And rather than adapt to it, the labels preferred to try and bring to a halt that speeding train and to cut themselves off from their tribes by suing them. So, the heretics of Apple and other companies jumped on the bandwagon and gained a bigger piece of the pie that the labels so stupidly rejected.
Create your micromovement
Every leader is involved in a movement and supports it. Your movement doesn’t have to draw huge crowds: it might just simply gather a few thousand people on the web. Here are five things to do to create your micromovement:
- Publish a manifesto.
- Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.
- Make it easy for your followers to connect with each other.
- Understand that money is not the whole point of a movement.
- Keep track of the progress.
And here are 6 principles for your movement to continue and develop:
- Transparency is really your only option.
- Your movement must be bigger than you.
- Growing movements thrive.
- The purpose of a movement becomes clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that are moving in the other direction.
- Exclude tourists.
- Tearing others apart is never as helpful as building a positive network of people following you.
How not to be wrong
It’s impossible. Isaac Newton was totally and spectacularly wrong about alchemy, a science to which he devoted most of his life. And yet, he’s one of the greatest mathematical geniuses of all time.
Steve Jobs was wrong about the Apple III, about the NeXT and about the Newton. You know the rest.
The secret in avoiding making mistakes is that it’s impossible. The secret is willing to be wrong, and to realize that it’s not fatal.
Most people think that you have to be charismatic to be a leader.
This is not the case. The very fact of being a leader makes you charismatic.
Book critique of “Tribes”
After All Marketers Are Liars, Tribes is the second book by Seth Godin that I have read, and I can say that the same criticism I made about the first book apply to this one. What’s good is that Seth Godin anticipates this criticism by stating at the end of the book:
“I can tell you that I will be criticized by most people for what you have just read. People might say that it’s too disorganized and or not practical enough and that this book requires you to do too much to actually accomplish anything.”
I completely agree on this point with the author, Seth Godin 🙂. As I said in my first review, “The message delivered by Seth Godin is clear and seems relevant to me, but I find Tribes too long and his style too disjointed.”
The message of Tribes in 5 points:
- It’s easier today to assemble a tribe and develop it through the Internet.
- Those who create tribes are heretical leaders who question the status quo.
- YOU are a heretic leader.
- If you aren’t, it’s because you’re afraid.
- You can face this fear and choose to say YES to your desire to change the world as a leader.
Its content is relevant and develops an excellent approach on the nature of leadership and what it means to lead a group of people who share a common goal. It’s more of a motivational manifesto or a philosophical meditation on leadership than a how-to guide. However, and this seems to be the case for the author’s other books, Tribes is a do-it-yourself book, from which we have to ourselves draw a list of practical actions to learn from in order to actually change through it.
Nonetheless, I found it inspiring and well-suited to the Internet age, and I think any blogger with a minimum of ambition should read it and think about how to apply it to develop their own tribe with their formidable tool of assembly and communication that is their blog. In fact, on this blog, I am myself trying to assemble a tribe of people motivated by entrepreneurship, the 4-Hour Workweek lifestyle and lifelong learning, notably through books, and Tribes gave me some ideas for which I now have to find concrete applications 🙂.
In any event, similar to All Marketers Are Liars, this book could have benefited from being shorter; and I think he could have simply written a blog post. That being the case, it goes without saying the perceived value of ideas would not have been the same; (content for which we have paid is valued more than content that we read for free; that’s just how it is 😉).
17-minute long TED presentation
You can still get an excellent overview of its content by watching this 17-minute long TED presentation.
In conclusion, it’s an interesting book; however, it would have benefited from being shorter in length; from being better organized and from having more examples of the practical implementation of the imparted knowledge.
- The key ideas found in Tribes provide instructions for practical use.
- Good examples and counter-examples.
- Disjointed and muddled.
- Too dense with respect to the message conveyed.
- You have to really fish for the methods, the steps, the how-to for practical use.
My rating :
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