Tribes, by Seth Godin

@@@ (3 out of 5)

“Leaders have followers,” Seth Godin writes. “Managers have employees. Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.”

Tribes, one of Godin’s recent efforts to enlighten humanity with the wisdom of Silicon Valley, builds on this underwhelming insight to paint a picture of leadership that seems limited to questioning conventional wisdom and making a pest of yourself. There’s insight to be found in Tribes, as there is (more frequently) in Godin’s other books. But the true value of this little essay on making change in the world lies in the innumerable examples and anecdotes liberally scattered throughout.

Oh, yes: that title. “Tribes,” in Godin’s phrasebook, are the apparently random collections of people who follow those he regards as leaders. No leader, no tribe. No tribe, no leader. Get it?

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Seth Godin is a very smart man with a brilliant marketing mind. Here’s how he defines marketing in this little volume: “Marketing is the act of telling stories about the things we make — stories that sell and stories that spread.” It’s hard to find a better contemporary definition of that widely misunderstood concept. And it ties neatly into Godin’s theme in this book because, he adds, “Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.”

There is genuine insight in that statement, but Godin doesn’t develop it sufficiently. In a longer and more carefully written book, he might have explored how networks and networking are pushing aside traditional communications media . . . how celebrity affects the sales of books, music, and clothing . . . how ever-smaller and more specialized subcultures are multiplying like amoebae. Maybe somebody else will take this up someday. Or — who knows? — maybe somebody already has.

Godin is quick to lavish scorn on those he dislikes or disrespects, and apparently the 12 or 13 million people who work in or for the U.S. nonprofit sector are high on his list. (Presumably, that would include me.) For example, he writes, “Take a look at the top fifty charities on the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s top four hundred charity list. During the last forty years, only a handful of charities on this list have changed. Why? Because donors didn’t want to take risks.” Godin’s writing is littered with silly generalizations like this.

So, with all these flaws, is Tribes worth the time and trouble to read? Yes. Here, for example, is how Godin illustrates his highly unconventional definition of faith: “People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves. What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.” You’re not likely to find a simpler or more direct definition of leadership than that.

ISBN-10: 1591842336

ISBN-13: 978-1591842330

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Filed under Business, Nonfiction

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