This book's theme is unconventional leadership, taking a cause or idea and gathering support without a firm institutional foundation by finding like-minded individuals and connecting them. If that's a new idea to you, you will find the book to be flattering in its encouragement and motivational in its tone. If you are an unconventional leader already or know a lot about how to do this, you will search in vain for anything new in Tribes.
The book's substance is rather thin beyond the few examples and rants.
Here it is:
People are turned into a tribe by "a shared interest" and "a way to communicate" ("leader to tribe, tribe to leader, tribe member to tribe member, and tribe member to outsider"). A leader increases effectiveness for the people by
"transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change;
"providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
"leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members."
As you can see, he's describing the way causes, nonprofits, political pressure groups, and save the world organizations operate.
Some will be offended by the rants. For example, he takes off rather hard on all religions while being all in favor of faith that you can accomplish whatever you want. There's no real basis for his position other than generalities about how no religions ever favor any changes. Well, if that were the case, there would still be rampant slavery in many nations. It was religious organizations that led the antislavery movement from the beginning.
Mr. Godin is very well informed about things that happened recently on the Internet (or in his own life), but he doesn't seem to have a broader understanding of leadership or change leadership. If either subject interests you, I suggest that you read better informed authors like John Kotter (Leading Change, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, and A Sense of Urgency), John Maxwell (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, and Developing the Leader Within You), and Peter Drucker (Innovation and Entrepreneurship).
I found his commentary that getting ideas is unimportant to be particularly unhelpful. He feels that leadership is all about passion and communication. But with the wrong ideas, you can be passionate about communicating harmful changes.
Ultimately, this is a book that will be enjoyed by those who cannot stop admiring themselves enough. Mr. Godin will encourage them to take actions so they can admire themselves even more. Whatever happened to servant leadership?
Seth Godin fans can't seem to get enough exhortations and rants directing them to be bigger, bolder, and more assertive than ever before about anything that occurs to them. I suppose I should review these books by comparing them to what New Age gurus suggest rather than serious books about accomplishing useful things.
I was intrigued to see that Mr. Godin addressed those who give his books critical reviews by noting that he's pleased that anyone takes the books seriously. Perhaps they aren't meant to be taken seriously. My mistake.
Seth Godin's books and blog provide a wealth of information, observations, opinions, and (especially) challenges that can help others to overcome what James O'Toole so aptly characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." In this, his most recent book, he urges his reader to consider and then take full advantage of unprecedented opportunities to become a leader. He cites five different but related reasons: "everyone in an organization - not just the boss - is expected to lead," in today's workplace "it's easier than ever before to change things [and] individuals have more leverage than ever before," those and their organizations that "change things and create remarkable products and services" are rewarded in the marketplace, change initiatives are "engaging, thrilling, profitable and fun," and most of all, there is a "tribe" of other people waiting for a leader "to connect them to one another and lead them where they want to go."
In this context, I am reminded of a passage from Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching:
"Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves. "
This is precisely what Godin has in mind when asserting that great leaders "create movements by empowering the tribe [i.e. those with a shared interest] to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow." The communication to which he refers is between and among the leader and members of a tribe who are connected by a shared interest, a common cause (i.e. "a passionate goal"), and a determination to create things that did not exist before, to achieve something that could happen but hasn't yet. Godin stresses the need for leaders with imagination. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, those who "dream things that never were and say why not."
In his recent published book, Iconoclast, Gregory Berns examines a number of leaders, each of whom was a "breaker or destroyer of images," who in recent years accomplished what others claimed could not be done. When doing so, these modern iconoclasts attacked orthodox beliefs and, in some cases, institutions. "The overarching theme of this book is that iconoclasts are able to do things that others say can't be done, because iconoclasts perceive things differently than other people." Berns goes on to explain that the difference in perception "plays out in the initial stages of an idea. It plays out in how their manage their fears, and it manifests in how they pitch their ideas to the masses of noniconoclasts. It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits." One of Godin's most important points is that almost anyone can be an iconoclast if she or he creates a movement by empowering a tribe and motivating its members to attack and then destroy the status quo, meanwhile connecting them to each other to leverage their combined strengths.
I agree with Godin that leaders "make a ruckus." So did Alcibiades' drunken seamen who, while ashore and roaming the streets of Athens late one night, smashed sacred icons. It is important to keep in mind that Godin's "tribe" is not a mob, not is it a crowd. "A crowd is a tribe without a leader. A crowd is a tribe without communication." It is easy to collect a crowd. The objective, Godin, suggests, is to create a tribe. Will it be easy? Of course not. That requires more time and effort to motivate, connect, and leverage its members. Also, it is necessary for leaders to overcome fear, not of failure but of blame. "We chose not to be remarkable because we're worried about criticism." Recent research conducted by the Gallup Organization indicates that 29% of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic, and productive) whereas 55% is passively disengaged. That is, they are going through the motions, doing only what they must, "mailing it in," coasting, etc. What about the other 16%? They are actively disengaged in that they are doing whatever they can to undermine their employer's efforts to succeed. They have a toxic impact on their associates and, in many instances, on customer relations.
Godin would describe the passively disengaged as "sleepwalkers," those who "have been raised to be obedient" and are comfortable "with brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep in line." For at least some of them, leaders provide the will to make something better happen. I could be wrong but I doubt of he would characterize actively disengaged as "heretics," those who are "engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than anyone else." Yes, they threaten the status quo but demonstrate what Joseph Schumpeter describes as "creative destruction." With effective leadership, they support and are supported by their tribe to achieve, together, beneficial change whereas the actively disengaged seek only disruption and destruction.
In my opinion, this is Godin's most important book thus far because he challenges his reader to accept full responsibility for becoming a tribal leader of principled and productive agents of positive change. "No one gives you permission or approval or a permit to lead, You can just do it. The only one who can say no is you." But he doesn't stop there. He also challenges his reader to share his book with others. "Ask them to read it. Beg them to make a choice about leadership. We need them. We need you. Spread the word. Thanks."
Now what? Read this book. Then what? That's up to you.
on December 16, 2008
My favourite line from the book states "If he wasn't willing to be wrong, he'd be unable to be right as often as he is"...referring to a successful polster. The bottom line is that people should stick their necks out more and challenge the status quo. Because the status quo exists because we don't do anything about it. We must believe that it's probably better than changing to something else, so we just carry on.
The second best line in the book is "Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't to escape from."
He challenges us to step up, and lead the change away from status quo. He also challenges us to rethink what it means to be a leader.
I think that is a great concept. And, I think it's a message worth spreading even though I really don't believe that everyone should be a leader. But I do believe that change is good, and we need more change, especially inside many of the organizations in the country (auto manufacturers maybe?!).
If you've never read Seth Godin's work before... don't start with this book. "The Dip", "The Purple Cow" and even the free one "Bootstrapper's Bible" are better reads.
That said, every books speaks to every person different depending on where they are in their lives. So, if you're a fan of Godin, read the book. And, maybe it will speak to you more than it spoke to me.
on February 9, 2011
A heretic, as defined by Merriam Webster's dictionary is: 'a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially, a baptized member of the Church who disavows a revealed truth; one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine; a nonconformist'
If you understand why this actually a very good thing, and not a very bad one, you'll understand where tribes come from. In a way, it's Heretical to start a new religion. But that's what great leaders do. Let me explain.
We've seen a lot of marketing trends in the past 10-20 years. The question is obvious: how do you get people excited about buying stuff? Well as it turns out, people aren't really exciting about stuff, they're excited about human achievement, like breaking rules, changing the world, it turns out people don't care about buying stuff, what they really want is to be inspired.
And what's inspirational about doing the laundry with Brand X over Brand Z. Not much. It's not exactly William Wallace taking on the English.
So ask yourself this question: What evil empire are you trying to overthrow? If you don't know, or can't answer that, you just answered why your job/company is so dull, and why it's so hard to get your customers amped. We have to have big huge massive hulking challenges here: Think Death Star huge. Think Microsoft huge. Think Egypt huge.
This book is not about getting 'tribes' of people (eg. lunatic customers) talking about the TVs your company makes. Forget it. It doesn't make sense, and wouldn't work. What you want them to do is carve the company logo in the back of their heads, because being a customer means being part of a group of cool, smart, confident, independent people. Or maybe it means something completely different.
We are hard-wired to belong to a group. Think of a fraternity. It's exclusive, it's important, and you have to go through an embarrassing/painful test to get in. It actually means something to be on the inside, and it means something to be on the outside. It means something qualitatively whether you're in or out. And we wanna be in. Why? Because there's something exciting going on. THere's a group of people that are fired up. They're going somewhere exciting and groundbreaking. That's why you want to join the journey.
So who gets these crazies together? Godin discusses huge difference between Leaders and Managers. I could have sworn Manager was a cool job title. Turns out, according to Seth, it's totally lame. Organizing things so that nothing gets out of control. Keeping people in check, making sure they're doing the same thing (essentially) they did last month. Mediocrity.
Instead, as a leader, your responsibility as the leader is to:
a) transform a shared interest into a super passionate goal. Specific. Not just wild arbitrary angst.
b) Give people the tools to do this, and tighten communications. Yes you can sell them the tools, if you must, but remember, any barrier to entry is gonna keep the tribe small.
c) Help the tribe grow.
As a leader you don't just tick these 3 boxes, done, done, got it. Nope. You keep pushing your tribe to do something bigger, and better. You exist not to keep the tribe 'managed' or 'status quo' but to keep the passion alive, so the tribe can grow.
As I said, it's a Heretocracy out there. We need nutjobs like Arnold Schwarzzenegar, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. People with principles are considered crazy, because humans are expected to break, to trip, to have weaknesses. Great leaders may have weaknesses, they may be unattractive, they may be ditzy, but they do not break when it comes to character. Their tribe aspires to have that resilience, and thus keep coming back for more.
Heretics don't ask for permission, as for forgiveness. They are needed not just for their electricity and their energy. They are needed because they are solutions to a problem that the status quo can't solve!
They don't ask for money (unless they're selling books, making movies, touring around the country giving speeches). Heretics don't even ask for credit (even though much is given). Credit isn't the point, Change is. As long as the Heretic is trying to change the world, the crowd of supporters, the fans, the tribe will follow. Not because they have to, but because they have faith.
In sum, to get your team inspired, take a look at your target. Are you just another laundry detergent? Or are you changing the world, one customer at a time? Your tribe will fight for you, given just the right enemy.
More reviews like this at
Books. Biz. Asia
on October 28, 2008
If you are a business owner like me, you better hope your competitor hasn't read Tribe already, this book has made me pay more attention to my own tribe and re focused my energy on what really matters "them" and "the world we are trying to change."
If you haven't read any of Seth's books. Seth is superhuman, just look at his head. He seems to have a way of communicating what's coming next in the marketing world in such a simple way. I've read everyone of his books and he can't keep up with my reading. Now that's a marketer that walks the walk.
on October 6, 2013
Even though the book is small, it is a pain to read.
The author is great, but this is not the best of his work ( IMHO ).
The same theme and message is being repeated over and over, without much of elaboration.
on February 4, 2012
Tribes, is an interesting way of looking at movements, teams and leadership. From cover to cover Godin challenges the reader's thinking and beliefs about teams, leaderships, communciation and movements. I found the book easy to read, and noted a number of tips I will utilize in leading new initiatives and movements.
I enjoyed Godin's comments about the importance of communiction, and the distinction between leadership and management. I still hear these titles used interchangably, and Godin effectively summizes the key differences.
Best Selling Author On Toby's Terms
on March 27, 2016
First Seth Godin book I've read yet, will defiantly be going back for more! Seth clearly states the importance of leaders and their benefit on society and the status quo.
My biggest take away from the book was that we need to stop worrying about credit. We should be trying to create movements that people want to pass on to others, not trying to create a name for ourselves that people will pass onto others (tho that is defiantly a good side affect of doing it right). So stop being the face of nothing and be the leader of something.
on May 24, 2009
The take home message is very very light. The message is simply: we need leaders and you can be one, you should be one.
on September 15, 2014
This is one of the worst written books ever. There is no beginning, middle, or end. There is no structure and the author rambles on and on about the same thing jumping from topic to topic. Seth godin is a great marketer but not a good writer.