2008/10/16 Andreas Jungherr

Tribes in a Sea of Change

To Seth Godin we are living in a new world. A world where success does not depend on doing things the way they were done in the past. A world where playing it safe actually means betting the house. A world where the best way to success is to break with everything that seemed true yesterday and to do exactly the opposite today. In this world only through embracing the chance of failure one can achieve success.

This is the background for the new book by Seth GodinTribes: We Need You to Lead Us“. In this book Godin declares the tribe to the next successful form of social organization and demands of his reader to rise to the challenge and form a tribe around an idea.

To Godin tribes are:

“a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” (Tribes 2008: 1).

This is a fairly wide definition, but Godin differentiates further between tribes that embrace change and those that oppose it.

To him tribes that formed in the past around an idea run the danger of perpetuating an institution in the hope of keeping an old idea alive in spite of changing times. In his eyes these tribes are doomed.

Instead, to Godin, a tribe has to become a micromovement to be successful.

Godin identifies six principles for a micromovement:

1. Transparency
2. The Movement has to be bigger than its leader
3. Movements that grow thrive
4. Movements are most successful if they clearly differentiate themselves from the status quo
5. Excluding Outsiders
6. Enabling Followers to be more successful

Only through this openness to change and the active participation of its members a tribe can be successful, so Godin.

To become and remain a micromovement tribes need leaders. In Godins eyes these leaders are we, the readers. To Godin leaders differentiate themselves through the conscious decision to lead a tribe, instead only to participate in a movement. They are motivated by curiosity and a desire for change. Their ability to lead, their charisma, is derived from their uncompromising faith in the core of their movement. The narrative of this faith gives the followers something to believe in and something to work for. With his short manifesto Godin tries to infuse the reader with the passion and confidence to make that decision and to step up and lead his own tribe.

For Godin, today is the time for heretics in leadership positions. A chaotic present and a future where seemingly anything goes, lead the market to embrace change. In the past curiosity and the desire to change the status quo seemed frightening because this attitude lead to the possibility of failure and with this it threatened success. Today it’s different. Godin argues, that since success is more and more based on change of the status quo and unpredictable factors, the market demands heretics as leaders. Heretics whose radical challenge to the status quo were in the past anathema to investors are in Godins eyes necessary.

In this short book Godin thinks out loud about leadership in a time of change and the ties that bind subgroups in a society which differentiates itself ever increasingly along the long tails of interest, practice, place and ideas. This book is not so much an analysis of leadership, small group behavior or organization in times of the social web (try for this “Herd” by Mark Earls and “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky), it is clearly a book of ideas. Herein it reminds of the short books by Tom Peters on leadership and talent. Godin tries to inspire the reader and move him to action.

A great shortcut to the ideas of “Tribes” is this interview between Seth Godin and the blogger and cartoonist Hugh MacLeod.

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