Tribes by Seth Godin is a self-help book about how to create and lead your own tribe—a group of people who are connected by a leader and an idea. Godin contends that, thanks to the ability to connect easily via the internet, there’s never been a better time to build a tribe (or step up to lead an existing one).
An entrepreneur, as well as a world-renowned author and marketing guru, Godin is perhaps best-known for his book Purple Cow, about how to succeed in business by standing out from the crowd, rather than relying on traditional mass marketing strategies.
Much like Purple Cow, Tribes is about coming up with an exceptional idea, then spreading it to the right people in order to make your vision a reality.
This guide has three parts:
In this guide, we’ll examine Godin’s theories about tribes—including where his ideas originated and any significant criticism of those ideas. We’ll also provide concrete, actionable advice for how to achieve what Godin suggests.
Godin defines a tribe as a group of people who share three important connections:
He adds that tribes exist everywhere people come together, whether in-person or online. For example, a fan club is a tribe; so are the employees of a small business. In fact, it’s all but guaranteed that you personally are in a tribe, and most likely more than one.
The Tuckman Model of Group Formation
Godin goes into detail about what a tribe is, but he doesn’t really explain how they come about.
Educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman developed a four-step model to describe how people come together and form a cohesive group, such as a tribe. While Tuckman’s model is specifically about goal-focused teams (such as in a work environment), it also applies to Godin’s concept of tribes, which must form around a particular belief and vision for the future.
Forming. This is when people first come together (or are brought together) to create the new group. At this stage, the members of the group have little cohesion and need firm guidance from a leader.
Storming. As the members become more comfortable within the group, there will naturally be conflicts among different personalities and ideas. At this stage, people are also frequently frustrated by what they see as a lack of progress toward the group’s objective. The leader must continue to provide guidance.
Norming. The intra-group conflicts are (mostly) resolved; the members respect one another and the group leader. The leader can begin to step back and let the group run itself. However, be aware that the group may briefly revert to Storming when new people or tasks are introduced.
Performing. At this point, the group is fully integrated and self-sufficient. Members understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the goal that they’re working toward. At this point, the leader should let go of the group’s day-to-day business to focus on preventing and solving problems as they come up.
Tuckman later added a fifth step: Adjourning. This step is when the group’s job is done and it’s time to disband. However, this fifth step does not apply to tribes, whose “jobs” have no clear endpoint.
Godin says that, at heart, tribes are about belief: belief in an idea and belief in a community.
It doesn’t matter what the belief is—believing that a particular sports team is the best is just as valid to tribe dynamics as believing in a religion or a social cause. What matters is that all members of the tribe share that belief.
Members of a tribe also believe that they belong with each other; that they’re connected by their shared interests. Godin points out that people have gathered into tribes since the earliest days of human history—previously for survival, and more recently for a sense of belonging.
Not only have humans formed tribes for survival since our earliest days, so have many other species throughout history. In The Selfish Gene, scientist Richard Dawkins explains that many different types of animals band together and help one another.
When it’s an issue of survival, animals tend to support those whom they’re most closely related to. However—since modern humans don’t generally need to worry about survival—we now tend to support those who share our ideas, rather than our genes.
In other words: Many species, including ours, are genetically wired to seek out and form tribes with each other.
Tribes are partisan by nature: That is, they see themselves as an “in-group” and others as an “out-group.” Godin believes that partisanship is part of what motivates a tribe: The members feel special because they’re part of it, and others are not.
While the word partisan has negative connotations (especially in politics), it’s not inherently bad: Partisan groups have strong visions and specific goals that they’re eager to achieve. In other words, partisan groups are naturally motivated.
That motivation is what drives people of a tribe to come together, to share ideas, and to support each other in pursuit of their goal; even if that goal is only to celebrate a favorite sports team or TV show (for example).
If a tribe isn’t motivated, that’s because it’s not committed to a vision—in which case it’s not really a tribe at all.
Partisanship (in-group vs. out-group) is one of the oldest and most powerful motivators in human psychology: We have...
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Every tribe begins with a leader’s vision, usually because that leader sees a problem and wants to solve it. Therefore, to create a tribe, you should first create a vision.
What’s something that bothers you? This could be a problem as serious and complex as global warming, or as trivial as not having people to discuss your favorite TV show with.
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