Derek Sivers
Tribes - by Seth Godin

Tribes - by Seth Godin

ISBN: 1591842336
Date read: 2008-11-17
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Inspiring look at what it takes to organize and mobilize groups of people.

my notes

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.

A group needs only two things to be a tribe : a shared interest and a way to communicate.

Tribes need leadership. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change.

Humans can't help it : we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanismsis to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can't resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new.

Some tribes are stuck. They embrace the status quo and drown out any tribe member who dares to question authority and the accepted order. Big charities, tiny clubs, struggling corporations - they're tribes and they're stuck. I'm not so interested in those tribes. They create little of value and they're sort of boring. Every one of those tribes, though, is a movement waiting to happen - a group of people just waiting to be energized and transformed.

A movement is thrilling. It's the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better.

Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.

Here's what's changed : some people admire the new and stylish far more than they respect the proven state of affairs. More often than not, these fad-focused early adopters are the people who buy and the people who talk. As a result, new ways of doing things, new jobs, new opportunities, and new faces become ever more important.

Marketing, the verb, changed the market. The market is now a lot less impressed with average stuff for average people, and the market is a lot less impressed with loud and flashy and expensive advertising. Today, the market wants change.

Jack, an "occasional restaurant" run by Danielle Sucher and Dave Turner in Brooklyn. They open the restaurant only about 20 times a year, on Saturday nights. By appointment. Go online and you can see the menu in advance. Then, you book and pay if you want to go. Instead of seeking diners for their dishes, they get to create dishes for their diners. Instead of serving anonymous patrons, they throw a party. Danielle is the food columnist for the popular Gothamist website, and she and Dave run the food blog Habeas Brûlée. That means they already interact with the tribe. It means that once the restaurant is up and running, it becomes the central clearinghouse, the place to hang out with the other tribe members.

Leaders don't care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them.

There's a difference between telling people what to do, and inciting a movement. The movement happens when people talk to one another, when ideas spread within the community, and most of all, when peer support leads people to do what they always knew was the right thing.

Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them.

It only takes two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:
- A shared interest
- A way to communicate

The communication can be:
- leader to tribe
- tribe to leader
- tribe member to tribe member
- tribe member to outsider

So a leader can help increase the effectiveness of the tribe and its members by:
- transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change
- providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications
- leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members

At SxSW, Scott Beale was tired of waiting in line to get into the Google party, so he walked down the street, found a deserted bar, grabbed some tables in the back, and used Twitter to announce, "Alta Vista Party at Ginger Man". Within minutes, 8 people showed up. Then 50, then a line out the door.

Organizations are more important than ever. It's the factories we don't need.

Organizations give us the ability to create complex products. They provide the muscle and consistency necessary to get things to market and to back them up. Most important, organizations have the scale to care for large tribes.

Organizations of the future are filled with smart, fast, flexible people on a mission. Thing is, that requires leadership.

We choose not to be remarkable because we're worried about criticism. We're worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.

Watch a few people get criticized for being innovative and it's pretty easy to convince yourself that the very same thing will happen to you if you're not careful.

How can I create something that critics will criticize?

All great leaders are generous - they enable the tribe to thrive.

The most powerful way to enable is to be statueworthy : by getting out front, by making a point, by challenging convention, and by speaking up.

It's easy to hestiate when confronted with the feeling that maybe you're getting too much attention. Great leaders are able to reflect the light onto their teams, their tribes. Great leaders don't want the attention, but they use it to unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose.

When you abuse the attention, you are taking something from the tribe. When a CEO starts acting like a selfish monarch, he's no longer leading. He's taking.


The first thing a leader can focus on is the act of tightening the tribe. 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.

A tighter tribe is one that is more likely to hear its leader, and more likely still to coordinate action and ideas across the members of the tribe.

This tightening can happen without technology, and it can happen when there's no profit motive. Keith Ferrazzi leads a tribe of smart celebrities and opinion leaders - from Meg Ryan to Ben Zander - and he leads this unleadable group merely by tightening the tribe. He introduces people. He invites them to dinner. He finds areas of common interest then gets out of the way.


It's uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.
It's uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.
It's uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.
It's uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.
When you identify the discomfort, you've found the place where a leader is needed.
If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader.


Blind sheep do nothing but mindlessly follow instructions.
They don't do the local leadership required when tribe members interact.
They're not going to do a very good job of recruiting new members. Evangelism requires leadership.

People eagerly engage when they want something to improve. This microleadership is essential.
It's the microleaders in the trenches and their enthusiastic followers who make the difference, not the honcho who is ostensibly running the group.

Leaders work hard to generate movement that can transform a group into a tribe.

The posture of leaning in is rare and valuable.

When looking to hire - I set up a private Facebook group for the applicants and invited each one to participate. 60 of them joined immediately. No tribe existed yet - just 60 strangers. Within hours, a few had taken the lead, posting topics, starting discussions, leaning in and leading. They called on their peers to contribute and participate. And the rest? They lurked.

Whom would you hire?

Not all leadership involves getting in the face of the tribe. It takes just as much effort to successfully get out of the way. Jimmy Wales leads Wikipedia not by inciting, but by enabling others to fill the vacuum.

The one path that never works is the most common one : doing nothing at all.

The difference between backing off and doing nothing may appear subtle, but it's not. A leader who backs off is making a commitment to the power of the tribe, and is alert to the right moment to step back in. Someone who is doing nothing is merely hiding.

Leadership is a choice. It's the choice to not do nothing. Lean in, back off, but don't do nothing.

Others will scoff and move on, wondering what the obsession is all about. That's what makes a tribe, of course. There are insiders and outsiders.

Curious is the key word. It has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope is interesting. Leaders are curious because they can't wait to find out what the group is going to do next. The changes in the tribe are what are interesting, and curiosity drives them.

In order to lead a tribe, all you need to do is motivate people who choose to follow you.


Imagine two classrooms with similar teachers. One has 15 students, the other, 32. Which group gets a better education? The smaller class - because the teacher has more time to spend customizing the lesson to each student. She has fewer students, hence fewer disruptions as well.

Great leaders don't try to please everyone.
Great leaders don't water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger.
Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be.

Some tribes do better when they're smaller. More exclusive. Harder to get into. Some tribes thrive precisely because they're small. Push to make one of these tribes bigger and you might just ruin the entire thing. "No one goes there anymore - it's too popular."

Leaders who set out to give are more productive than leaders who set out to get.

The tribes can sniff out why someone is asking for their attention.


If you watch kids learning dyno (rock climbing) you'll see that the secret to developing the skill isn't about building their muscles or learning some exotic technique. It's merely about developing the faith that it'll work. Without faith, the leap never works.

There are countless religions in our lives.
The religion of Broadway determines what a musical is supposed to look and feel like.
The religion of the MBA standard curriculum and perceptions of what is successful.

Religion gives our faith a little support when it needs it.

Religion at its best is a sort of mantra, a subtle but consistent reminder that belief is OK, and that faith is the way to get where you're going.

Religion at its worst reinforces the status quo, often at the expense of our faith.

Sticking, without variation, to principles prevented them from turning it into a new better kind of experience.

Heretics challenge a given religion, but do it from a very strong foundation of faith. In order to lead, you must challenge the status quo of the religion you're living under.

Successful heretics create their own religion. New group of friends, new supporters, new rituals.

Recognize the need for faith in your idea. Find the tribe you need to support you and create a new religion around your faith.

When you fall in love with a system, you lose the ability to grow.


Leadership almost always involves thinking and acting like the underdog. That's because leaders work to change things, and the people who are winning rarely do.

Leaders go first.
Initiating : see something others are ignoring and jump on it.
Cause the events that others have to react to.
Make change.

Everyone believes that what they've got is probably better than the risk and fear that come with change.

At first, the new thing is rarely as good as the old thing was.
If you need the alternative to be better than the status quo from the very start, you'll never begin.
Soon enough, the new thing will be better than the old thing. But if you wait until then, it's going to be too late.

This isn't about having a great idea. The great ideas are out there, for free, on your neighborhood blog. This is about taking initiative and making things happen.

Getting out first and staking out the new territory almost always pays off.

When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff.

The biggest step comes from anyone who teachers or hires. Embrace non-sheep behavior. Reward and cherish it.


1. Publish a manifesto.
Give it away and make it easy for the manifesto to spread far and wide. It doesn't have to be printed or even written. Bit it's a mantra and a motto and a way of looking at the world. It unites your tribe members and gives them a structure.

2. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.
It could be as simple as visiting you or emailing you or watching you on TV. Or it could be as rich and complex as interacting with you on Facebook or Ning.

3. Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another.
There's that little nod that one restaurant regular gives to another recognized regular. Or the shared drink in an airport lounge. Even better is the camradarie developed by volunteers on a political campaign or insiders involved in a new product launch. Great leaders figure out how to make these interactions happen.

4. Realize that money is not the point of a movement.
Money exists merely to enable it. The moment you try to cash out is the moment you stunt the growth of your movement.

5. Track your progress.
Do it publicly and create pathways for your followers to contribute to that progress.


1. Transparency really is your only option.
Every failed televangelist has learned this the hard way. The people who follow you aren't stupid. You might go down in scandal or more likely from ennui. People can smell subterfuge from a mile away.

2. Your movement needs to be bigger than you.
An author and his book, for example, don't constitute a movement. Changing the way people applly to college does.

3. Movements that grow, thrive.
Every day they get better and more powerful. You'll get there soon enough. Don't mortgage today just because you're in a hurry.

4. Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push the other direction.
Movements do less well when compared to other movements with similar goals. Instead of beating them, join them.

5. Exclude outsiders.
Exclusion is an extremely powerful force for loyalty and attention. Who isn't part of your movement matters almost as much as who is.

6. Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up.

The customer service staff shows up and follows the handbook and treats every customer the same, then can't figure out why they're being disrespected in return.

Be willing to be wrong.
Realize that wrong isn't fatal.

The secret of leadership : paint a picture of the future. Go there.

It's OK to abandon the big, established, stuck tribe. It's OK to say, "You're not going where I need to go, and there's no way I'm going to persuade all of you to follow me. So rather than standing here watching the opportunities fade away, I'm heading off. I'm betting some of you, the best of you, will follow me."

You can build a bigger, faster, cheaper tribe than you used to be able to. Transaction costs are falling while the costs of formal organizations (offices, benefits, management) keep increasing.

Many big organizations are getting bigger as a way of fighting off the power of the tribes. Hoping that formal nature of their bigness will somehow successfully fight off flexible, fast, and sometimes free power of the tribe. (Very unlikely.)

If you hear my idea but don't believe it, that's not your fault - it's mine.
If you are a student in my class and you don't learn what I'm teaching, I've let you down.

It's really easy to insist that people read the manual.
It's really easy to blame the user/student/customer for not trying hard, for being too stupid to get it, for not caring enough to pay attention.
It's tempting to blame those in your tribe who aren't working as hard at following as you are at leading.
But none of this is helpful.

If no one cares, then you have no tribe. If you don't care - really and deeply care - then you can't possibly lead.

Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.

People want to be sure you heard what they said. They're less focused on whether or not you do what they said.
Listen. Really listen. Then decide and move on.

Find one person who trusts you and sell him a copy. Does he love it? Is he excited about it? Excited enough to tell 10 friends because it helps them, not because it helps you?

Tribes grow when people recruit other people. That's how ideas spread as well. The tribe doesn't do it for you, of course. They do it for each other.

A big part of leadership is the ability to stick with the dream for a long time. Long enough that the critics realize that you're going to get there one way or another - so they follow.

People don't believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
Then often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.
What leaders do : give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.