Review: Tribes

Title: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us Author: Seth Godin Published: October 2008 Length: 160 pages, or 3:40 spoken

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

This book is self-described by Seth as a book that was supposed to be about leadership that happens to have a lot of marketing information, or a book about marketing that happens to have a lot of leadership information. The main point is that with the advent of tools to facilitate interactions between groups of people with common interests, being a leader is easier but even more important than ever. Tribes can be smaller and more precise because geographical limitations are mostly gone now. Apart from others’ need for leaders, being a leader increases your happiness because you are in control of your destiny and are constantly challenging yourself. Seth makes an even bigger point: we need YOU to be a leader, and there are huge benefits to be gained from doing this. Sometimes the going can be tough, but if everyone were doing it, then it wouldn’t be worth as much when someone provided true leadership. Godin emphasizes creating a movemen and working with it to allow it to thrive.

Seth makes a distinction between managers and leaders, stating that the former are risk-averse because they are trying to meet goals and are typically rooted in the “factory” mindset. The latter go against the status quo by having a vision and passion for what they are working for. Seth consistently describes these people as heretics because they have a vision and are willing to commit to that vision, challenging authority and old ways of doing things if necessary. Deciding to lead and not manage is a critical choice that you must make in your life.

Being a leader is not about talking. It’s about listening and sometimes even stepping out of the way so that your tribe is empowered. Seth is clear several times that if you are not passionate about what you are trying to do, you should not lead. Just sit this one out and wait until it is your time. But if you need to and want to, then you must step up. The only thing holding you back are your own fears.

One of my favorite parts of the book (not necessarily a revelation) is when Godin describes the safest thing being the riskiest, and the riskiest as being the safest. With the world as connected, fast-moving, and ever-changing as it is now, it is actually less risky to innovate and be proactive. There might have been a time when a large establishment or bureaucracy could have been seen as a positive, but now it’s seen as restrictive. But Seth is clear that organizations are critical to getting important things done in a timely manner.

Tribes is kind of like Who Moved My Cheese for grownups. Seth constantly talks about not settling and rising above the status quo. He warns about “what everyone knows.” Often the best innovations are created when people disregard what “everyone knows.”

Godin also discusses risks, whether real or perceived, associated with assuming a leadership role. In the end, it boils down to there being little true risk and a large possible upside. Most of the time risks are all in your head. People don’t start things because they are afraid of failure or of being criticized by others. However, Godin makes it clear than anything worth criticizing is worth doing. It would be much worse to do something and be ignored than to do something and have half of the people hate it. At least they are talking about what you did. To further show that most risks have little foundation, let’s say that you are leading a project and things go horribly wrong. More than likely you will not be fired for having a cause go awry, and you will definitely learn from the experience. In the event that you get let go, it must be easier to find a job knowing that you have been trying to innovate and change things up.

It’s not all about companies though. Seth talks about local leadership and non-profits, as he has been involved with working with those groups. Another nugget that I enjoyed was the discussion of faith and religion and how they parallel leadership and management. Indeed, leadership takes a great deal of belief in what you are striving for.

Seth makes the point several times that everyone is now a marketer, whether you think you are or not. You need to be able to sell, whether for your personal ideas or for your company. Jeff Atwood describes a nice analogy for seeing how more balance can increase your effectiveness. I listened to the Steve Yegge podcast that Atwood references, and I’m inclined to agree with his Yegge quote: “If there was one thing I could teach every engineer, it would be how to market.”

There are numerous concrete examples in the book, which makes internalizing the concepts easier. I highly recommend reading or listening. It definitely fired me up. There is a whole lot that I’m missing, you can see an outline that I created for Tribes.

I learned about this book when Seth put links to an audio recording of him reading the book available for free or nearly free in his blog. Seth practices what he preaches, so he asked me to pass this information along. :)

Categories: reviews

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