As regular readers know, I typically start off these reviews with a little bit about how I came to be reading the particular volume under consideration. This one had a somewhat odd appearance in my to-be-read pile, having been obtained in response to a post that author Seth Godin had made in his blog to the effect that he was once again opening up membership in a closed Ning site to anybody who had read either Tribes or Linchpin. As I had not previously encountered either, I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of the former via Amazon's new/used guys, and reasonably quickly got it into the reading mix. Unfortunately, it was not quick enough, as by the time I'd finished this and went to go sign up, the offer had already expired.

However, Godin's Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us was hardly a waste of time and money on my part. Over the past year I've become somewhat of a fan of Seth's, and catch up with his frequent (if generally rather brief) blog postings via my Twitter stream on a daily basis. This is (from those I've read) a much more “inspirational” sort of book, as it looks at belonging, leading, and how groups (tribes) form around various points of attraction. Tribes is not a large book (in either dimensions or, at 151 pages, length), but it is a rather enthusiastic examination on its subject. Organized in a hundred or so sections (each from a few sentences to a few pages long), most of this looks at people who did something to change the game, redefine the discussion, or emerge as leader. The concepts of “leading” and “tribe” are important here, and while Godin doesn't do a carved-in-stone defining of how he means these terms to be taken, he leave many clues: “The skeptical among us look a the idea of leadership and we hesitate. We hesitate because it feels like something we need to be ordained to do. That without authority, we can't lead. That big organizations reserve leadership for the CEO, not for us.” … this coming from a section where one person, initially with one PowerPoint presentation, instigated sweeping changes in the Pentagon (does an organization get more bureaucratic and formalized?). The concept of “tribe” is everything one would typically associate with the word, but spread out to include corporations, religions, fans of bands, etc.: “Tribes … aren't about stuff. They're about connection.”, a Tribe is a crowd with a leader and internal communication.

Concepts of fear (which is the most common block to being a leader), and curiosity come into play … leaders are typically quite curious, always willing to ask the questions that lead to change … and if you ask enough questions, you get to be a heretic! As one might expect, the subject of heretics works its way around to faith and religion:
Faith leads to hope, and it overcomes fear. … Faith is critical to all innovation. Without faith, it's suicidal to be a leader, to act like a heretic. Religion, on the other hand, represents a strict set of rules that our fellow humans have overlaid on top of our faith. Religion supports the status quo and encourages us to fit in, not to stand out.”
What Godin looks at here aren't just the “big R” Religions, but “religions” of companies, countries, educational specialties, neighborhoods, etc. … another great line here is “If religion comprises rules you follow, faith is demonstrated by the actions you take.”

Another couple of images spun out in Tribes are those of “the Balloon Factory” (and its unicorn) and “Sheepwalking” (the activity of “people who have been raised to be obedient” when given “brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line”). “The balloon factory is all about the status quo. And leaders change the status quo.” Godin talks about encountering “sheepwalkers” everywhere, even where you might expect them to not be (such as Google!). The “sheepwalkers” are not the people you need in your organization (or tribe): “When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff. And the sheepwalkers and their bosses watch and shake their heads, certain that this … is way too risky.” Perhaps opposite of these folks are the “positive deviants”: “Managers stamp out deviants. That's what they do. … Great leaders embrace deviants by searching for them and catching them doing something right.”

As you can tell, I found all this quite engaging, and was very enthused with the whole concept, up until the point where Godin challenges his readers to establish their own “Micromovement” (with six Principles and a five point action plan) using the Internet for leverage … that's when the Fear hit and parts of my psyche went scurrying for cover, which is why I haven't slogged into Point 1 - “Publish a Manifesto”! I guess one thing's missing: “Every tribe leader I've ever met shares one thing: the decision to lead” … I'm sill working on that.

Anyway, I heartily recommend Tribes to all and sundry … it's quite a manifesto in its own right for being something other than that “normal” out there which is constantly crushing out all things of real value. This came out a couple of years back, but it's sufficiently popular that I'm pretty sure you'd have no problem finding it at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor. It's a bit pricey for it's size, but if you take it to heart, it's certainly worth the cover price (although I did get mine via the used channels). If I had the resources, I'd have bought a half a dozen copies to give to associates to read … it really is a remarkable book!


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Comment by fantumofthewinds on November 29, 2010 at 7:52am
sounds interesting , I always said it was the do'ers and not the thinkers but putting them both together now that's a team . Thanks have a very good season , and tips on the books [ to read and not's to read lol ] . BB

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