Tribes Seth Godin
In today’s digital age, the Internet has made it incredibly simple to bring together a group of people united by a shared purpose and to guide them. This book reveals the core qualities of effective tribal leaders and explains why countless individuals look up to YOU for leadership.
By Seth Godin, 2008, 252 pages.
Summary of “Tribes”, by Seth Godin:
Joel Spolsky is making a significant impact on the world. Seth Godin opens his book, Tribes, with this intriguing statement. But who exactly is Joel Spolsky? Is he a renowned scientist, a billionaire, a powerful politician, or the founder of a global humanitarian organization? Not quite. Joel is a former programmer who once worked at Microsoft and started his blog, Joel on Software, in 2000. Through his blog, he shared his evolving perspective and thoughts as he embarked on his entrepreneurial journey.
Joel’s insights into running a small software publishing business have proven highly successful. His initial readers not only shared his writings with their colleagues and friends but also underwent a transformation in their approach to finding, hiring, and managing programmers. As a result, they formed a substantial and influential tribe that holds Joel in high regard and views him as their leader.
What is Seth Godin’s concept of tribes?
A tribe is simply a group of people led by a common interest and a means of communication. Our ancestors formed tribes focused on survival and communicated directly through speech. Nowadays, the Internet has removed geographical barriers, allowing various tribes, large and small, to come together at a minimal cost and with great convenience. You no longer need to physically gather in one place at the same time to be part of a tribe.
Tribes play a crucial role in enhancing our lives. Humans naturally seek belonging, the opportunity to contribute to a like-minded group, personal growth, and novelty. Tribes require leaders and shared ideas.
With the Internet and numerous tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and emails, anyone can become a tribe leader and unite people around a common cause. The question isn’t whether you can lead but whether you choose to. Many individuals use the Internet to form tribes, like Gary Vaynerchuck, who created a passionate wine community on his Wine TV Library website, or Greg Glassman, who built a tribe of fitness enthusiasts through his CrossFit website.
Some tribes according to Seth Godin were formed even before the Internet, like the Grateful Dead fans who attended their concerts, allowing the band to earn over $100 million despite only one Top 40 album. Jacqueline Novogratz created the Acumen Foundation to tackle poverty using entrepreneurial methods, and Mich Mathews, a Microsoft marketing manager, is known primarily within his internal tribe.
The Internet is merely a tool, a convenient way to connect with your tribe. However, the true power of tribes lies in the people, not the Internet. You don’t need a keyboard; you need the desire to make things happen. Many individuals are waiting for your leadership.
To become a good leader, you can explore the insights provided in Tribes, Seth Godin details everything.
Being a heretic and questioning the status quo
Around the same time, three significant things occurred:
- People began realizing the value of working passionately for something they believe in, rather than just earning a paycheck.
- Organizations recognized that the traditional model of producing goods and services isn’t the only way to drive the economy.
- Consumers started seeking unique, non-factory-produced products that resonate with meaningful stories.
Despite the opportunity to work on something they’re passionate about in a world that values uniqueness, many remain stuck in conventional ways due to fear of change. While fear of change may be beneficial in a large factory setting, it hinders our progress in an ever-evolving world, particularly when leading a tribe.
The most passionate workers often excel, make a significant impact, and change the world. Heretics, those who challenge the norm, discover that even without initial hierarchical power, one person can bring about substantial change.
Jonathan Ive shapes the look of Apple products and inspires a dedicated following. Micah Sifry is revolutionizing how many view politics through the Personal Democracy Forum.
Both Jonathan and Micah are heretics—they challenge the norm, lead their tribes, and, in doing so, receive recognition and support from the market.
YOU are a leader
Tribes are flourishing everywhere today, creating a strong demand for leaders. Leading isn’t hard; in fact, you already possess the skills to make a difference and inspire others to follow you. Anyone within an organization can be a leader, regardless of their position in the hierarchy.
To illustrate this point, consider the example of Thomas Barnett, who worked at the Pentagon, a highly hierarchical and bureaucratic organization. Despite being low in the hierarchy, he was just a 41-year-old researcher with a big idea. After the events of September 11, 2001, he summarized his vision in a 3-hour PowerPoint presentation called “The Pentagon’s New Map,” outlining the new role of the U.S. military in a post-Cold War world. This presentation transformed him into a respected leader, even among those with much higher ranks. He later turned his ideas into a book, showcasing how someone without formal authority can become a leader through talent and attitude.
How to create a movement
Starting a movement is different from simply instructing people what to do. To create a movement, people should engage in conversations, share ideas, and form a community where they can collectively pursue what they believe is right.
Effective leaders enable members of their tribe to connect with each other rather than merely giving orders. An example of this approach is seen in Skype’s success as a leader in internet telephony. Niklas Zennström, one of its co-founders, recognized that challenging established telephone giants required allowing tribe members to connect and spread the message themselves. By fostering this sense of community and collaboration, he ignited a movement.
A movement has three components:
- A shared narrative that defines our identity and the future we aspire to.
- Strong bonds between the leader, the tribe, and its members.
- A clear objective, with fewer constraints being preferable.
Once the movement is launched and the tribe is created, a leader can help increase its effectiveness in three ways:
- Turning common interests into passionate goals and a strong desire for change.
- Providing effective communication tools to tribe members.
- Influencing the tribe’s growth and attraction of new members.
All three aspects are crucial, but many leaders focus solely on the third one, which is a mistake. A large tribe without a strong drive for change has less impact than a smaller, highly motivated tribe. Motivation, connection, and leverage are key to maximizing the tribe’s efforts, as exemplified by Wikipedia’s success.
There are two big differences between a crowd and a tribe:
- A crowd is like a leaderless tribe.
- A crowd lacks effective communication.
Many organizations target crowds, but wise ones focus on building tribes.
How many people to create a tribe?
According to Kevin Kelly, an artist or blogger can thrive with just 1,000 “true fans.” These true fans are deeply passionate about your work, promote it vigorously, and support everything you do. They’re the ones who bring friends to your events and prefer premium editions of your work. True fans create a tribe, and instead of focusing solely on numbers, smart leaders understand the value of cultivating genuine, committed fans over sheer quantity.
True fans are hard to find, and they are precious.
In a tribe, what people desire most is generosity and courage.
Another characteristic of a tribe is that not everyone will embrace the concept; some will just move on, and that’s perfectly fine. Your tribe is defined by both its members and those outside it.
Leading a tribe doesn’t require winning over the majority like in an election. You only need to inspire those who choose to follow you; the rest can ignore or disagree with you.
Some tribes – Sethi Godin highlights – work best when they are small and exclusive. If they grow too big, they risk losing their essence, and the most passionate members may leave, feeling it’s becoming too mainstream.
So, it’s important not to try to please everyone to attract the most people. Focus on those who resonate with your values and aren’t “most people.”
The biggest obstacle to creating a tribe: Fear
Seth Godin has met many people with great ideas, some remarkable and others just good. He believes that ordinary people can come up with extraordinary ideas, but what often holds them back is the lack of action.
People often think there’s a Bureau of Idea Approval (BIA) that evaluates and approves ideas, but in reality, there’s no such thing. When two ideas compete, the one that gains the support of more heretics – those willing to challenge the status quo – prevails.
Since the BIA doesn’t exist, the only way to overcome fear is by taking action. Godin suggests building a strategy to render fear obsolete. You’ll still feel fear, but you’ll act despite it. Understanding that the world requires rapid change is crucial.
Anyone can gather their own tribe and become a leader. Fear is the primary obstacle that prevents you from realizing 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 criticism and blame that holds us back from being remarkable. The idea of someone disliking our perspective and holding a grudge against us can be unsettling.
While constructive criticism is valuable, most criticism isn’t. However, even negative feedback, though painful, has a silver lining: it shows that what you’re doing is getting noticed. It’s better to have a popular book with some criticism than one that’s completely ignored.
Leadership is rare because few are willing to endure the discomfort required to become a leader. We feel uneasy around strangers, when presenting ideas that might be rejected or fail, and when challenging the status quo.
Embracing this discomfort is crucial because it signals where you need to lead. If you don’t feel uncomfortable in your leadership role, it likely means you haven’t reached your full potential as a leader.
How to set up a tribe
Some readers might be tempted to ask the wrong question: “Is there a foolproof method to gain approval for making changes within the system?” The answer is having faith. You need to believe in yourself, your idea, and be willing to face failure without it crushing you.
No one will simply grant you permission to lead or implement your idea. There’s no magic formula or direct path to approval. In the past, approaching influential figures like Bill Gates or Jack Welch might have worked, but today, they’re often too distant from the day-to-day operations for this approach to be effective.
Faith is crucial for any innovation.
Without faith, being a leader or a heretic is like courting disaster. Faith is essential, but it’s different from religion. Religion can enhance faith, but many religions actually uphold the status quo at the expense of true faith. Various religions exist in different forms, not just spiritual ones but also cultural or corporate, like the highly standardized protocols and dress codes of IBM in the ’60s, the MBA religion, the conventional CV religion, and more.
It’s important to note that people often confuse their faith with their religion. These are distinct and separate concepts. Religion consists of rules and protocols to follow, while heretics question a religion based on a deep faith in something different.
Religions, whether in the spiritual, cultural, or corporate realm, serve a purpose: to strengthen faith. You can deliberately harness this power. Recognize the need for your tribe to have faith in your ideas, and you can build a new “religion” around that faith. Steve Jobs did it with Apple, Phil Knight did it with Nike, and Tim Ferris defined a new “religion” for the New Rich in his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek.”
Recent research reveals that approximately a third of Americans have left the religion they were brought up in. While the study uses the term “faith,” these individuals haven’t lost faith; they’ve simply shifted the system they use to reinforce their faith.
However, many people fixate on the system, the rules, and the norms of religion rather than the core faith itself. Be a heretic. Create your own system that empowers others to reinforce their faith.
Even in large corporations, the era when heretics were demoted, shamed, or fired, as described in “The Age of Heretics,” is in the past. Today, senior executives actively seek out heretics who aim to instigate change before external changes force their hand.
An example of an industry that did not apply the model of tribes and died from it: the music industry
Over the span of a decade, this highly profitable industry faced its own downfall due to two straightforward reasons: 1) it lacked the necessary heretics to drive change, allowing change to impose itself upon them, and 2) it failed to maintain a strong connection with its tribe.
It’s quite astonishing that knowledgeable and experienced individuals consciously ignored the evolving world and chose to adopt an “ostrich strategy,” burying their heads in the sand. Nonetheless, this is precisely what occurred, and it serves as a valuable lesson for all industries.
The music industry once relied on five key pillars:
- Free radio promotion of popular songs.
- A limited number of competing record labels.
- High production costs that necessitated financial backing from these labels.
- Music charts.
- High-margin technology that prevented easy reproduction (like the 33 rpm vinyl record).
However, none of these pillars had anything to do with tribes or leadership. They all eventually crumbled one by one. The advent of the cassette, CD burners, MP3s, and the Internet brought about significant changes. Instead of adapting to these changes, record labels attempted to stop this rapid transformation and disconnected from their tribes by taking legal actions against them. In contrast, heretical companies like Apple seized the opportunity and claimed a larger share of the market that the record labels had foolishly rejected.
Create your micromovement
Every leader is part of a movement and supports it. Your movement doesn’t have to attract massive crowds; it can simply gather a few thousand people online. Here are five steps to create your small-scale movement:
- Publish a clear manifesto.
- Facilitate easy connections between your followers and you.
- Enable your followers to connect with each other.
- Understand that money isn’t the sole focus of a movement.
- Keep track of your progress.
In addition, here are six principles to ensure your movement thrives and evolves:
- Transparency should be your guiding principle.
- Your movement should be larger than yourself.
- Growing movements tend to succeed.
- The purpose of your movement becomes evident when compared to the status quo or opposing movements.
- Discourage those who are only interested in spectating.
- Focus on building a positive network of followers rather than tearing others down.
How not to be wrong
Mistakes are inevitable. Even brilliant minds like Isaac Newton and Steve Jobs made significant mistakes in their lives. The key isn’t avoiding mistakes altogether; it’s being willing to acknowledge them and understanding that they are not fatal or insurmountable.
Many believe that you need charisma to be a leader, but it’s actually the act of leading that naturally brings charisma.
Book Review of “Tribes by Seth Godin”
I’ve read Seth Godin’s second book, “Tribes,” following “All Marketers Are Liars,” and I have similar criticisms for both. In fact, the author himself addresses some of these criticisms at the end of the book, saying, “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 not practical enough and that this book requires you to do too much to actually accomplish anything.” I agree with this assessment by Seth Godin.
Here are the key points of “Tribes” in five parts:
- It’s easier today to build and grow a tribe using the internet.
- Those who create tribes are heretical leaders who challenge the status quo.
- You have the potential to be a heretic leader.
- If you’re not, it’s likely because you’re afraid.
- You can confront this fear and choose to be a leader who changes the world.
The book offers valuable insights into the nature of leadership and what it means to lead a group of people with a common goal. It reads more like a motivational manifesto or a philosophical reflection on leadership rather than a practical guide. “Tribes” is a self-help book where you must extract practical actions and lessons for change on your own.
Nevertheless, I found it inspiring, particularly in the context of the internet age. I believe any ambitious blogger should read it and contemplate how to apply its principles to build their own tribe using their blog as a powerful tool for connection and communication. I’m personally working on assembling a tribe of people passionate about entrepreneurship, the 4-Hour Workweek lifestyle, and lifelong learning, primarily through books. “Tribes” has given me some ideas to consider and implement.
That said, like “All Marketers Are Liars,” this book could benefit from being shorter. In fact, it could have been condensed into a blog post. However, there’s a certain perceived value in content you’ve paid for compared to freely accessible content.
In summary, “Tribes” is an interesting book but could have been more concise, better organized, and provided more practical examples of its concepts.
Strengths of “Tribes”:
- Relevant concepts.
- Key ideas can be used for practical application.
- Contains good examples and counterexamples.
Weaknesses of “Tribes”:
- Disjointed and cluttered writing style.
- Dense in terms of message delivery.
- Practical methods and steps are not readily apparent; readers need to search for them.
Thank you for reading this Tribes by Seth Godin book summary: