I decided to pick up Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us. I don’t generally read business or leadership books any more but I have enjoyed Seth Godin’s books in the past so I decided to grab a copy while I was in Indigo.
A tribe is a group of people connected around an idea, dream or a vision (it was also a great video game in it’s time but that’s off the topic). Note that I didn’t say vision statement. Everyone has a vision statement. Marketing campaigns for Old Spice have vision statements. Godin is talking about a group of true believers. Think Apple fanatics or followers of Barack Obama. The vision needs to be passionate and paint a picture of the future. Believing in that vision of the future is critical to getting things done and innovating. Since the vision of the future is often different than what most people see it as (or hope it will be), it puts the members of the tribe out of the mainstream and at odds with the status quo. Godin (and the western church) refers to them as heretics. These heretics undermine established systems, question the way things are and constantly push everyone around them now towards into what they believe the future will be like and what’s needed in that future.
In other words they are are pain to be around because in many organizations because they chafe against the established norms. The heretics don’t appreciate most systems or established organizational procedures or structures. In these ways the book echoes what Malcolm Gladwell is talking about in Outliers. It is often harder for those inside organizations (and therefore harder to buck the system they are familiar with) to bring out (or even see) the change needed to innovate.
Heretics don’t need the blessing of the sanctioning body (corporate headquarters or a denomination) to lead. The vision of the future and passion for the community around it is what gives them permission to lead. They care more about the idea than the market. In many ways it reminded me of an article I read about Steve Wozniak talking about the Mac. He took the lack of market penetration as a sign of the Mac’s supremacy. Apple didn’t need the adoration of the market to make a computer, they needed the adoration of the tribe, those who got what a superior computer was all about.
Tribes are easier to start today because communication barriers have drop. With the web it is easier to create a wider geographical tribe (Resonate, Emergent Village, or even something like what Robert Scoble is doing with Fast Company.tv – he is a one person network). The ease that it takes to spread an idea is exponentially easier than it was a generation or even a decade ago. Not only that but if you look at something like Wikipedia, it is easier to bring people together around an idea irregardless of geography. It’s more than communication, it’s also about the community that grows around the idea. Nurturing that may well determine whether or not an idea thrives or dies.
Software companies have slit their own throats but upsetting their developers (which are occasional competitors). Sometimes the good of the idea may be at odds with the good of the tribe. Learning to balance, resolve, or address this tension is a leaders hardest task at times.
I generally give away books on leadership but this one I plan to tuck away to read again another day. My tribe deserves that. That and I have something big to start.