Tribes, by Seth Godin

Why I read it…  In 2010, my friend Dave gave me a copy of Seth Godin’s Tribes while we were working on some business and philanthropic projects. I read it, found it fascinating, made notes, and then it went onto the shelf, hopefully influencing some of my decisions forthwith; in fact, it’s that passive process which prompted me to start this site. I recently re-read Tribes, and came across the final words: ‘Give this copy to someone else. Spread the word.’ Well, Mr Godin, Dave succeeded and I failed. I hope this post reaches at least as many people as would have benefitted from it if I had passed it on a decade ago.

In summary:

Godin is a marketing and business guru who has written an array of books and has an excellent, long-running blog. Tribes are described as a group of people connected to each other, a leader, and an idea. Godin sets out how in the 21st century, technology and shifting values have propelled individuals to be able to make a huge impact on society and business with modest resources; we can become leaders of tribes with an idea, courage, and initiative alone, if we so choose.

Rather than dividing the book thematically or with a certain narrative (Godin himself acknowledges the book’s organisation), Tribes is a series of headings, hundreds of them, each offering a paragraph or page-long insight into a thought about leadership. Usually I enjoy order and sections (!), but here every page is a surprise, every heading prompts a different reaction; many resonated, some didn’t. But each one evoked the feeling that I was sat with Godin as he unleashed his wisdom over a coffee.

Key takeaways:

I’ve picked out a small number of headings to get you started. I should add that these ideas were penned in 2008, and that it is not Godin who is late to the party, but I, in sharing them 12 years later.

  1. Something to believe in – tribes, Godin argues, are about faith – about belief in an idea and a community, and are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader and the group. Do you believe in what you do? Every day? These days, more people are turning to the things in their lives that they can believe in, for instance when they buy products or apply for a job – the factory-centred model of churning out products or services for profit alone, doesn’t satisfy and will no longer suffice.
  2. Scott Beale’s Party when Scott Beale got tired of lining up for a Google after-party at a conference, he went to a bar, fired up Twitter and started his own party. Eight people arrived, then fifty, and then his party had the line. Scott didn’t wait for permission, authority, or an existing audience.
  3. Curiosity counts – curiosity comes naturally to some, but is nurtured in others over years as they find themselves and their voice. Whether you are broadening your own experience and wisdom, or seeking out new or alternative views, curiosity can drive change.
  4. How to create a micro movement Godin explores 11 different ideas, some of which include: create and publish your own manifesto, make it easy for your tribe to communicate with you and each other, realise that money is not the point of a movement / idea, remember that transparency is key, and that the movement should be bigger than you.
  5. Charisma – a 2015 programme on BBC Radio 4, The New Corinthians, presented research that shows how banking on the ‘charisma’ of a leader, actually leads to some toxic and counterproductive traits. Godin gets in first in this 2008 reflection: ‘being charismatic doesn’t make you a leader. Being a leader makes you charismatic.’
  6. Elements of Leadership – these include: leaders challenge the status quo, have an extraordinary amount of curiosity, communicate their vision of the future, connect their followers to one another, create a culture around their goal and involves other in that culture. Godin also proposes that you don’t need to be powerful in an organisation to lead, but committed.

Favourite quote:

‘Every tribe is different. Every leader is different. The very nature of leadership is that you’re not doing what’s been done before. You can choose to lead, or not. You can choose to have faith, or not. You can choose to contribute to the tribe, or not. Once you choose to lead, you’ll be under huge pressure to reconsider your choice, to compromise, to dumb it down, or to give up. That’s the world’s job: to get you to be quiet and follow. But once you choose to lead, you’ll discover it’s not so difficult.’

Favourite moment:

Godin champions each and every one of us to lead. If we have an idea and belief, we can create a tribe, a movement, and change the world. Under the heading ‘Leading from the Bottom’, he challenges the notion that without authority, you can’t lead.

Godin cites the story of Thomas Barnett, who was a Department of Defence researcher in the US, when he created a huge PowerPoint of musings which addressed defence and the threats of the post-9/11 world. Without ‘authority’ or a place in the upper hierarchy of the Pentagon, he lead with ideas that brought a welcome wave of change and a tribe of people eager to embrace it. Soon the Pentagon hierarchy were consulting him, and he wrote books about his view of international defence strategies. One person suddenly becomes a key figure, and our tribes give us the same opportunity. Skill, attitude, experience, courage, ideas are essential – authority is not. Any of us can take the lead and make change.

Question and reflect

  • I was really challenged and motivated by Godin urging the reader not to wait for authority, resources, or permission to pursue an idea or change. Do we spend too long seeking status or ‘value’ before we chase our dream?
  • Tribes dedicates a lot of time to exploring how a group and leader are built on the belief of an idea. I wonder if we spend enough time reflecting on our own values, beliefs and ideas, instead of accepting or following ones that others have already put in place?

Read this if…

You like many-a-musing from a writer who knows his mind and shares a breadth of ideas

You want a variety of perspectives on leadership, teams, and making change.

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