Book Review: Seth Godin’s Tribes

October 28, 2008 at 12:05 am | Posted in book reviews | Leave a comment
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With many thanks to The Web Pitch for this review.

Tribes is the newest addition to Seth Godin’s ongoing work of easily readable ideas on “Changing The World”. Godin uses a number of real world examples and a number of short stories to underpin the ideas within Tribes.  There is nothing in the book that many of us don’t already know, at least on a subconscious level.  In certain situations, we must find the initiative to lead. Many of us lead tribes, even if we don’t always see it that way.

The book leads the reader into thinking about how we can all challenge the status quo in our everyday personal and professional lives by taking the lead. Godin is a master at dusting off conventional concepts and presenting them in an enlightening and refreshingly new way. He demonstrates the importance of not only leading a tribe of followers, but also nurturing the relationships within it. One of the most powerful aspects of the book is how it is written to speak directly to the reader.

Tribes is not written as a conventional book with chapters. The book is written more in the style of a conversation, resulting from ideas and conversations from Godin’s blog. The book is essentially a collection of those thoughts, presented beautifully in print. It is a quick read and does inspire the reader to look at ways where he/she can make a real difference and empower groups of people.

Controversially, Godin describes most people within organisations as “sheepwalkers” – those who “have been raised to be obedient” and those that are comfortable “with brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep in line.” For at least a few, leadership brings empowerment and brings opportunities to challenge traditional ways of doing things for the better.

There is a feeling that Godin is in fear. Fear of a world without “everyday” leaders who continue to change things for the better. These everyday leaders are not big CEOs, but rather people like you and me. The book is indeed a call to action.
Godin cites five different reasons as to why people should look for everyday opportunities to lead:

1. “Everyone in an organisation, not just the boss is expected to lead”.
2. [Today] “it’s easier than ever before to change things [and] individuals have more leverage than ever before”. (Especially with tools such as Facebook and Twitter.)
3. Individuals, and their organisations that “change things and create remarkable products and services” are rewarded in the marketplace.
4. Change is a catalyst and can empower each of us to do something truly remarkable. It is “engaging, thrilling, profitable and fun”.
5. Finally, 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.”

Godin states that great leaders “create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate” and “they establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow.”  Powerful leaders connect members of a tribe by a common interest (e.g. by sharing a passionate goal), and a determination to create things that did not exist before.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Tribes is a technical manual, or a practical step-by-step guide. Because while it encourages you to “lead”, it doesn’t go into specifics, (which is a good thing). Godin challenges the reader to accept full responsibility for becoming a tribal leader:

“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.”

Critics may argues that the book lacks “concrete data”. However, long-time Seth Godin readers will understand that his books are a presentation of ideas. Ideas that spread and win. Tribes is no different. The book could also be criticised for being too short. However,  it is extremely well written and in my opinion the right size for the material it covers.

After reading the book, I was left thinking that Tribes was Volume 1. Certainly, another book could soon become a follow up. For example, what effects are realised when tribes collaborate with other tribes forming a “Super Tribe”?  Or, what does the leader do when his role is challenged within the tribe?

It’s hard to escape the religious metaphors in the book. References to “heretics” and “fundamentalists” echo throughout. In centuries past, heretics were burned for their religious views. However, in Godin’s 21st Century world, heretics may just be the ones that save us from an unremarkable world.

Overall, Tribes is an inspiring read and well worth adding to your Seth Godin collection!  Get your copy of Tribes from Amazon

[UPDATE]

Seth was kind enough to answer my three quick questions below:

Q.  What inspired you to write Tribes?

A. I see a world where just about everyone is pushed to conform, to fit in, to do what we’re told. A workforce filled with sheepwalkers… at the same time, I see people desperately in search of leadership, eager to be connected and to matter. I was hoping to point those two things out and encourage people to take a breath and lead.

Q.  How does Seth Godin spend his day?

A. I write, answer email, bother people, notice things, and run my company, Squidoo.com and my closed online site, triiiibes.

Q.  For readers who haven’t read Tribes, can you explain the general themes of the book and why you think everyone should buy it?

A. The best thing to do is visit www.squidoo.com/tribesbook and see what other people had to say!

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