Tribes book coverThanks to Tara Dalrymple of Mission Possible for giving me a loan of Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’ a few weeks ago. The book, published November 2008, is contemporary – it is becoming even more relevant as time passes.


It is a fascinating book, I was half way through it before I realised that it does not have chapters. It is extremely well structured with each point following the one before and leading to the next. It is 125 pages of though provoking ideas with a serious call to action.


Without leaders, there are no followers.
You’re a leader
We need you


From the back cover, which adds:


In this fascinating book, Seth Godin argues that today everyone has an opportunity to start a movement – to bring together a tribe of like-minded people and do amazing things. And yet too many people ignore the opportunity to lead because they are ‘sheepwalking’ their way through their lives and work, too afraid to question whether their compliance is doing them – or their company – any good.


Tribes is for those who don’t want to be sheep and instead have a desire to do fresh and exciting work. If you have a passion for what you want to do and the drive to make it happen, there is a tribe of fellow employees, or customers, or investors, or readers, just waiting for you to connect them with each other and lead them where they want to go.

This is not a Checklist type book


The conclusion which is the second from final heading of the book [page 123] is brilliant and typical of the style of the book: (extracts in italics)


You made it to the end. And it’s possible you missed the checklists, the detailed how-to lists, and the For Dummies –style instruction manual that shows you exactly what to do to find a tribe and lead it. …  All I can hope for is that you’ll make a choice. Every leader I’ve ever met has made the choice, and they’ve been glad they did.


At the time I was reading Tribes, I happened to see Kung Fu Panda II for the first time (on TV as not easy to get to cinema anymore). The central plotline of the movie is that ‘you can choose who you want to be’ …



Other nuggets from Tribes


Click to expand text for each item – trying not to include whole passages but it is so well written that it is difficult to avoid – but before I start I suppose I better ask Seth to explain what a Tribe is


“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”


Something to believe in


Page 8 asks a fundamental question: Do you believe in what you do? Every day? The author holds that ‘people who like their jobs the most are also the ones doing the best work, making the greatest impact, and changing the most’. By challenging the status quo, one person, just one, can make a huge difference. Seth talks about ‘Heretics’ as being the new leaders. So you may not like the word heretic (Seth uses it on purpose but the word does grow on you as you read the book). Easier to digest may be ‘change agents are key to our success’.


Leadership is not management


Page 19 explains that Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them.

You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organisational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organisation works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Leadership doesn’t always start at the top, but it always manages to affect the folks at the top. In fact, most organisations are waiting for someone like you to lead them.


The Peter Principle Revisited


On page 37, Seth explains that Dr Laurence Peter is famous for proposing that ‘in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence’. In other words, when you do a great job, you get promoted. And that process repeats itself until finally you end up in a job that you can’t handle.


Seth provides his updated version of the Peter Principle.

I think what actually happens is that ‘in every organisation everyone rises to the level at which they become paralyzed with fear’.

The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear (and seeing it in the people you wish to lead). No, it won’t go away, but awareness is the key to making progress.


Fear of failure is overrated


On page 39, the author makes a wonderful argument that ‘fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse. Why? Because if you work for someone, then, more often than not, the actual cost of the failure is absorbed by the organisation, not by you. If you product launch fails, they’re not going to fire you. The company will make a bit less money and will move on.

What people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism.

Seth adds that we choose not be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism, but really there is no need to fear criticism. Criticism may make you feel bad but its wears off and has no real or long term impact. If you agree that the potential benefits of being remarkable outweigh the disadvantages, the author suggests that we need to answer:

How can I create something that critics will criticise?


The Easiest Thing


I thought that Page 73 contained one of the most brilliant in the entire book – in three very powerful lines:


The easiest thing is to react
The second easiest thing is to respond
But the hardest thing is to initiate.

How was your Day?


Page 85 tells a somewhat controversial parable of how Seth was on holidays in Jamaica and answering emails at 4AM (as he could not sleep). A couple walks by, and a lady says to her friend, ‘Isn’t that sad? The guy comes here on vacation and he’s stuck checking his email. He can’t even enjoy his two weeks off?’

Seth has a classic retort. ‘I think the real question was ‘Isn’t it sad that we have a job where we have to spend two weeks a year avoiding the stuff we have to do fifty weeks a year?” He adds that the reason that he was happy to be reading his emails was that he had passion for his work – because I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get to make change happen.

He concludes that life is too short to stay in a job that wears you down (where you are both unhappy and mediocre). The best way to be successful and happy is to set up your life so that you don’t need a holiday to escape.

I really like the logic as long as it is not taken too far (which I probably do) so as long as you are not affecting anyone else (family also on holiday) a little work is no harm if it gives you peace of mind.


The Thermometer and the Thermostat


On page 87, we learn that a thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer. The thermometer reveals when something is broken. Thermometers tell us when we’re spending too much on gaining market share or not answering the phone quickly enough. Organisations are filled with human thermometers. They can criticise or point out or just whine.

The thermostat, on the other hand, manages to change the environment in sync with the outside world. Every organisation needs at least one thermostat.

Your Micromovement


This is probably the central section of the book. On page 88, the author states that Marketers and organisers and people who care are discovering is that they can ignite a micromovement and then be propelled by the people who choose to follow it. The key elements in creating a micromovement consist of five things to do and six principles [not going to repeat here but the final principle is interesting … Tearing down others is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up.]


How to be wrong?


Steve Jobs was wrong about the Apple III, wrong about the NeXT computer, wrong about the Newton. Insanely wrong. You know the rest.

The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!

The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realising that wrong isn’t fatal.


Mark Rovner, Nonprofit Heretic


This section talks about the future of charities. It points out the old traditional big winning tactic of direct mail for attracting donations is losing its effectiveness in terms of economic return, and that online donations is not the answer as it not simply like Direct Mail with free stamps. The real answer lies in engaging to turn donors into patrons and activists into participants. The biggest donors are the ones who not only give, but also do the work.


Not Now, Not Yet


On page 101, the author declares that the largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a ‘no’. It’s a ‘not yet.’ ‘Not yet’ is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. ‘Not yet’ gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put off the inevitable for just a little while longer.

Curve of Innovation

This figure, presented on page 101, shows the benefit of almost any innovation over time.

Curve of Innovation


There’s a small price for being too early, but a huge penalty for being too late. The longer you wait to launch an innovation, the less your effort is worth.

Understanding the Trick


The Art of Leadership is discussed on page 102. The point is made that a lot of people understand how a magician does a trick and can indeed learn the method of undertaking any particular trick but the magic is in the experience and the performance. Leadership is very much an art (learning the trick won’t do you any good), one that’s accomplished only by people with authentic generosity and a visceral connection to their tribe.


Which Would You Prefer: Trial or Error?


Page 111 reminds us that ‘It’s a myth that change happens overnight, that right answers succeed in the marketplace right away, or that big idea happen in a flash. They don’t. Improvements happen a bit at a time, not as grand-slam home runs that are easy to get. This leads to this powerful point

If your organisation requires success before commitment, it will never have either


The Obligation


On page 115, the author argues that given all the people who are disadvantaged (hungry, poor, oppressed) in the world that we have an obligation not to settle for mediocre, to defend the status quo or worry about politics.


I don’t think we have any choice. I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game, and to play it better than anyone has the right to believe is possible.

The look of the Leader


On page 123, Seth asks, ‘What does a leader look like?
and his answer is intriguing.


I’ve met leaders all over the world, on several continents and in every profession. I’ve met young people and old ones, leaders with big tribes and little ones.

I can tell you this: leaders have nothing in common.

They don’t share gender or income level or geography. There’s no gene, no schooling, no parentage, no profession. In other words, leaders aren’t born. I’m sure of it.

Actually, they do have one thing in common. Every tribe leader I’ve ever met shares one thing: the decision to lead.



More from Seth Godin : sign up to the blog email


I read Seth’s blog by email every single day. I would recommend it highly to include this Q&A blogpost about Tribes.


And here are 26 quotes from the book selected by Goodreads (some overlap)


And finally,  Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin (free eBook available here) is also a good read.


As always I hope you enjoyed this post. Comments welcome.


donncha (@donnchadhh)

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