Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tribes: Emergent and Deliberately Formed

Seth Godin and David Logan have both given talks at different TED conferences this year on the subject of Tribes. Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, spoke about tribes that we deliberately form to accomplish change in the world. The process for their formation running something like this:

  • We tell a story of change to people who want to hear it.
  • We connect all the people who wanted to hear the message with others like them.
  • You then lead those people towards the change in the story.
  • Finally the change is accomplished and the tribe becomes institutionalized.

The part of Godin's talk that caught my attention the most was his remark that mass marketing is now dead because of the internet, and that this is what necessitates the formation of these tribes. I'm not sure that I agree with the argument, not just because when people declare things dead they don't seem to actually die, but because large portions of the consumer audience is still subjecting itself to media channels besides the internet - so, mass marketing is still alive and kicking, but certainly it's not the shiny new marketing consultation bauble it used to be.

But, his point about mass marketing being an archaic tool on the internet is certainly true. When forming these tribes, you certainly cannot aim towards the center of the bell curve, you want to be aiming instead for highly influential people with a strong passion for your message (the more otaku the better.)

David Logan, co-author of Tribal Leadership, focused more on tribes that are emergent in society, he classified them into five 'stages' defined by verbal phrase that summarizes their socialization theme.

  • Stage 1: "All Life Sucks" - these tribes cut ties with other functioning tribes and band together excluding everyone. Examples include: cults, street & prison gangs.
  • Stage 2: "My Life Sucks" - these tribes are formed of people with common problems and situations. Examples include: People in a DMV line, People together during power outage.
  • Stage 3: "I'm Great, you're not" - these tribes are formed by people of comparable lives: professionally, academically, athletically, etc. They engage in a competitive "topper game" where each person in the group tries to out compete the other. Examples include: Stock brokers comparing returns, students comparing grades, players comparing wins in sports, etc.
  • Stage 4: "We're Great" - these tribes are formed by people of common values who are working together for a mutual goal. Examples might include: businesses that give high levels of autonomy to their employees, Churches, volunteer members of non-profit organizations, etc.
  • Stage 5: "Life is Great" - these are tribes that bring together large numbers of tribes in cooperation towards a mutual goal.

Logan, in his talk, urged people to become tribal leaders and push the tribes they end up in towards higher 'stages' of functionality. This would increase the inter-connectivity of the group and the influence and reach of it as well.

Neither of Godin's or Logan's explanations seem to be entirely satisfying, they both seem to be arguing that people should take a more deliberate hand in the structure of their social lives, pushing them towards organization and change seeking goals. Not an entirely bad idea in a world where people seem to be drifting further apart despite superficial telecommunications connections, but as many people commenting on TED have asked: how do you get people to move? A few people have answered with something I have already been thinking about lately, don't concern yourself with those who aren't moving, find the ones that are moving first and work with them.

TED Video - Seth Godin: On The Tribes We Lead

TED Video - David Logan: On Tribal Leadership

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