Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

TribesTribesSeth Godin’s latest book Tribes follows his successful formula of being short and like many good books, based around a set of stories.

The key points of the book, as indicated by the title, are tribes and leadership.  But, leadership delivered very differently from say Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit.  Seth’s perspective of leadership is the leader as a heretic – which fits with his Big Moo (be/represent something remarkable) approach.

A heretic here is someone with unconventional beliefs, someone who has an opinion that doesn’t confirm to the status quo.  If you add to that passion for their heretical view, you have the core makings of a leader.

The reason that passionate heretics should lead is that they are a force for change and their very heresy is a reason they will be listened to – or at least listened to by a key set of people who like their particular flavour of heresy.  And if the passionate heretic leads those people who want to listen, they become a tribe… and even a small tribe of say a thousand people can create change; and change is what makes the world go around.

In fact, Seth’s view is that stability is an illusion and that the ‘fad focused early adaptors’ are the people that buy and the people that talk.  The fad focused early adaptors inspired by the heretic become partisans – passionate tribe members supporting the shared purpose of the tribe.

So the two key elements of a tribe are a shared purpose and a way to communicate.

It’s important that the communication happens not only from the centre or leader to the tribe, but from tribe members to tribe members.  It’s this element that really differentiates this new style of marketing.  Even in the current digital marketing world with permission email marketing and pay-per-click, the centre is the source of the communication.  Whereas a tribe of partisans communicating with each other will create a much stronger bond and so momentum for the cause.

The ‘cause’? – what happened to ‘product’?  I think the point here is that if the passion comes first, passion for a new way, a new style of product, a new ‘thing’, the product sales will follow.  And one way to describe that, is as a cause or a movement.

This passion/cause/movement first approach is also what defines a great leader - along with authenticity, able to create a culture, inclusive, curious, committed, able to communicate their vision and connect their followers to each other.  Oh, and that inclusiveness is at the expense of those that are excluded.  Excluded because they don’t get it, or don’t revolve in the right circles or… whatever.  Include passionate partisans and exclude everyone else.

Seth clearly points out that being a leader isn’t the same as being a manager; far from it.  A good leader can come from anywhere in an organisation – in The 8th Habit Stephen Covey uses the term ‘trim-tabbing’ to describe leaders in a company who lead from outside the management chain (the trim-tab is a small ‘rudder’ on the end of the big rudder that turns an entire ship – also check out the Buckminster Fuller description on Trim-Tab).

A leader could be an individual with no connection to an existing organisation at all. Gandhi is commonly sited as a model for leadership.  He had no given authority, no business or firm to back him up.  Yet, his leadership lead to India’s independence.

There’s much more to TribesTribes.  I really enjoyed it and as usual with a Godin, it’s the snap that brings into focus a concept or in this case a trend that is happening right in front of you, but just outside of conscious awareness.

It’s also a call, as is apparent by the title, to would-be leaders, to start leading.

Format: BookBook 147 pages, Audio 3hrs 42 mins
Author: Seth Godin


Seth Godin - The London Session


Seth has a following.  At he is worthy of his own store... and I suspect this will be one of very many blog posts about Seth's visit to the UK and his London Session.

But that's OK.  Seth's following is proof of the concepts he writes about.  I guess you might guess that I'm somewhat of a Seth fan - after all, I paid money to go and spend three hours with him (and a few hundred other people) and I've read (listened to actually) six of his books (my view of the core topic in parenthesis):

  • Tribes (leadership)
  • Meatball Sundae (new marketing doesn’t mix well with old)
  • The Dip (it’s there to make success worthwhile)
  • The Big Moo (Seth + 33 others on remarkable ideas, beyond the purple cow to the big moo)
  • Unleashing the Idea Virus (get a free electronic copy) (it’s implementations of remarkable ideas that get attention)
  • All Marketers are Liars (the point of this one is precisely the opposite of the title, tell interesting authentic stories)

So what are his concepts?  As far as I can tell he invented the term 'permission marketing' as distinct from 'interruption marketing' - he wrote the book (Permission Marketing).  TV advertising is a simple example of interruption marketing - you're watching your favourite show and just at a critical point, it's interrupted with an advert break.  You didn't want the break, your show was interrupted.  Whereas with permission marketing you provide permission to receive communication from whoever asked - when you buy something from Amazon you expect to get email from Amazon promoting stuff similar to whatever your bought.

So permission is Seth's base concept for modern day marketing.  Building on that marketing that is 'anticipated, personal and relevant' is likely much more effective than anything that interrupts.  The ultimate test for your marketing in this mould is 'if a recipient didn't receive your communication would they complain?'  if they would, you've cracked it.

Hang on - is getting a blog post via an rss feed, or an email that you are looking forward to or some form of communication that passes this test marketing?  Sure it is, it's the very best kind of marketing.

And the test for the end product of the marketing - if your marketing causes the recipient to do something that they are pleased they did, then you're in a good place.  so, ethical marketing that people want to receive, that sells a product that people want to buy.  Actually when put in such a pithy sentence, it sounds obvious; it's a shame reality isn't always so simple - and that I guess is a key reason Seth still sells lots of books.

Finally, Seth talks about 'new marketing.'  Starting with Permission Marketing his approach has always been against the status quo of traditional marketing (actually, going against the status quo is a key topic of Tribes, I'll write about that shortly).  "In the middle of a revolution it's weird.  The rules are changing but most people don't realise."  In America there were 1000's of car companies building cars by hand at the time Henry Ford was changing the world through mass production - in that revolution there were two sets of rules - build one at a time or build using mass production.

Today, we are still in the transition between interruption marketing and new marketing - and Meatball Sundae tackles that topic head on.

Having read most of his books, I can't say I learned a great deal of new information - but it was a great way to spend three hours - one hour of Seth presenting and two hours of Q&A.  The audience weren't all marketeers either.  The lady I sat next was a dance teacher, she was a 'fan' too.  If you get the chance I'd recommend Seth Godin live.

Late addition: with thanks to John Welsh there’s blow-by-blow account of the session at These Digital Times.