Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review (#69 of 2014) Tribes by Seth Godin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
This is a fantastic look at leadership in the 21st century.

"How was your day? If your answer is 'fine," then I don't think you were leading" (P. 133). 

One criticism is that it's a little bit too repetitive, it could have been even shorter with a few less name-drops and anecdotes.
One unusual insight is that Godin may hit the nail on the head for why we see an increasingly polarized culture. Godin remarks that your tribe should be exclusive. If someone else wants something slightly different, you shouldn't compromise. Let them go start their own tribe; keep yours exclusive. By not compromising you'll have fewer, but more hard-core and committed followers. Don't care about numbers, focus instead on "fans." Sound a little bit like the Republican Party (and various other organizations happy to be made up of an increasingly small but "pure" group) lately to anyone? 

The book: 
Godin is exhorting the reader to step out and lead, motivated by a particular idea (or set of ideas) that people can understand and get behind. To set forth on a Jerry Maguire-like manifesto that people can rally behind, assuring the reader that there are plenty thinking the same things you are that are just waiting for someone else to step out and lead. "Leadership...is about creating change that you believe in"  (47).
It's easier than ever to form a tribe and bind them together. "Local" is relative. Examples are given from Facebook and Twitter, it's easier than ever for your tribe to communicate with one another and to work together to promote the tribe and attract more interested followers. People are also increasingly looking for "the thrill of the new," which is also essential to understanding leadership today (p.16). Gone are the days when stability and consistency were the way to go.
Factories focusing on routine, rote activity, and standard practices used to provide life-long careers, but no longer. "What you won't find in a factory is a motivated tribe making a difference.  And what you won't find waiting outside the factory is a tribe of customers, excited about what's to come" (p. 112).

Now, people (like Godin) start little companies fully expecting them to fail, or expecting them to have a brief period of glorious success before the world/market/technology changes and it's time to move on. Godin encourages fearlessness, writing that most people actually fear criticism rather than failure. Failure and being wrong aren't fatal, they're helpful. "The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness to be not great along the way" (p. 286).
Marketing has also never been easier or cheaper; it's easy to spread your idea and your tribe's story. Don't try to market to your rivals or enemies, focus instead on those who are likely to come over to your side. Focus your efforts on those who are already in your tribe, making others eager to join the tribe themselves. (Sound a little like Jesus in John 17:20-23?)

There are plenty of overt messages for the Church and faith-based entities in this book:
"Tribes are about faith--about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader of the tribe and for other members as well" (p. 35). But, the best leaders "reflect the light onto their teams...don't want the attention, but they use it...to unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose" (p. 140).

Godin contrasts a "fundamentalist" and a "curious person." The fundamentalist will reject any new information that might not fit into his religion, whereas the curious explores first and embraces the tension between new information and his religion before making an informed judgment (p. 174). Curious people are the ones who lead the "brainwashed masses" who have stopped moving.

Religion is a two-edged sword to Godin. Religion is the structure that helps support the idea of the tribe and helps to unite them in their common beliefs. But religion is also self-serving in that it is designed to prevent change and adaptation, even at the expense of our faith. Once established, it becomes easy to label as "heretic" anyone who challenges the status quo (p. 217-218). "Challenge religion and people wonder if you're challenging their faith," how many times have I run into that in my life? (p. 219). Godin's examples of creating religion around faith are Steve Jobs and Apple, Phil Knight and Nike.

Godin is careful to contrast leadership and management. Management reacts, while leaders respond or, better yet, initiate (p. 230). The only truly distinguishing characteristic of a leader is a decision to step out and lead.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Highly recommend it.

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