Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Review - Tribes by Seth Godin

A new book by Seth Godin will be released tomorrow (Oct 16th) - it's called "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us". Seth is a marketing expert who has written "All Marketers are Liars" (interesting irony), "Purple Cow" and "The Dip" (nine best-sellers in all, and author of the most popular marketing blog around.) He spoke at Catalyst Conference 2008 and was kind enough to give out free copies to all those who attended. I read my copy on the flight home and have some thoughts in review.

From the Product Description...  "A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature."  With the internet eliminating barriers or geography and cost, countless new tribes are being born. "And so the key question: Who is going to lead us? The Web can do amazing things, but it can’t provide leadership. That still has to come from individuals— people just like you who have passion about something. The explosion in tribes means that anyone who wants to make a difference now has the tools at her fingertips."

Seth's goal is to encourage ordinary people who have a passion about a cause, a group, a tribe, to be willing to lead. Those who ignore this opportunity he terms a "sheepwalker", a defender of the status quo.  "Tribes will make you think (really think) about the opportunities in leading your fellow employees, customers, investors, believers, hobbyists, or readers. . . . It’s not easy, but it’s easier than you think."

Keep in mind that given the target of this blog, this review is from the perspective of a ministry leader or pastor who wants to understand how people connect and communicate, and what's going on in culture outside the walls of the church. (Which is my tribe :)

On Religion... One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the comparison Seth makes between faith and religion. Faith matters. Faith is a vital part of our nature, and something everyone has. Religion often gets in the way of faith. As a result, he challenges us to be heretics!?!  That's used not in the sense of casting away biblical orthodoxy, but in being willing to challenge religion when our faith burns in our heart to confront the status quo.

On Communication... In discussing "Leading from the Bottom," Seth gave an example of the power of a newsletter. Lots of us get newsletters, and they're not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of power or passion. The key is that a newsletter is not about news, it's not just an information device, rather its effectiveness lies in its ability to build connections between people around a common cause. "The newsletter connected the tribe members. It turned a disparate group of career engineers into a working community." How? By sharing stories, by touting wins for the people, by helping the readers think they could make a difference.

On Curiosity... I really like his discussion about curiosity - "A fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to his religion before he explores it, as opposed to a curious person who explores first and then considers whether or not he wants to accept the ramifications." and "A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it." A friend at the Catalyst conference made a comment very similar to this in describing their reading habits and why it's good to read those you disagree with as well as those you agree with.

On Community... People are asking two questions:  'Who else is going to be there?' and 'Who is going to lead us?' He talks about the importance of being tighter compared to just growth.  ""It's tempting to make the tribe bigger, to get more members, to spread the word. This pales, however, when juxtaposed with the effects of a tighter tribe. A tribe that communicates more quickly, with alacrity and emotion, is a tribe that thrives." Some tools that can be used to foster this include blogging, facebook, and twitter.

Two final quotes I liked: "If your organization requires success before commitment, it will never have either." and "You get to choose what tribe you will lead." At Catalyst he finished with an acronym and question:  4v2. Are you doing something for the tribe, or to it?

My thoughts... I thought 'Tribes' was quite interesting and a thought provoking look at how communities form and grow and the opportunity for ordinary folk to make a difference. There are three points I want to make however. First, the book is very abstract - there's nothing at all in the 'how-to' of leading a tribe. This is intentional, as Seth describes at the end of the book. There's a sense that a real leader will just know what to do. A second related point is that the target of the book seems to be ordinary people who don't think of themselves as leaders. It tries to inspire them with the fact that they are needed to lead a tribe. Either of those two points alone isn't bad, but the combination of the two suggests many might be frustrated by the book. I would have loved to see more about the implications of the concept of tribes for those who are leading an organization, or a small group. The last point should be obvious; this is a book written by a marketer and philosophy major, not a book that recognizes the uniqueness of the Christian faith, the power of God to build His kingdom, and the fact that for us as Christians our goal is to see the body of Christ grow and become tighter. It's His tribe! That's not to say the material is opposed to the Christian worldview; just keep in mind that this aspect is by necessity missing from the book. For example, the emphasis on serving the tribe instead of just attracting followers to yourself is a great point that we would all do well to observe.

"Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us" is a very interesting book that is worth the read. Check it out if you get a chance. (And if you're at Calvary and interested in reading it, let me know.)

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