Tribes

In the RSA Journal, Summer 2009, Seth Godin talks about Tribes – not too surprising since his new book is Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. But what is surprising is his contention that "The reason that every newspaper is going out of business is because the friction and barriers they used to rely on (trucks, printing plants, paper, etc) have switched from assets to enemies overnight. Because they relied on these physical entities, they never bothered to build a tribe, and they are being rapidly replaced by organizations that didn't have that luxury."

Assuming Godin means the luxury of physical assets – though that is not totally clear. Surely the demise of the newspaper industry is much more complex than not building a tribe? It is as much to do with an outdated business model, an unwillingness or inability to adopt new technologies, a lack of swift adaptation to new events, a sudden switch of consumer interest to other ways of getting information, a collapse in advertising revenue, to name some of the other factors.

The article is a quick read, and makes some points that a Wired interview with Seth Godin develops. But to a line manager trying to make his or her part of an organization work better – what does Godin offer? The assertion from him, for example, that "Leaders no longer have the power to yell or bully", does not ring true for people working in a call center, neither is there a whole lot of evidence for his opinion that "there's a new partnership here, one in which the enthusiastic participation of the tribe is at least as important as your goals or your profits". But it would be wonderful to believe that he's right and the world is a place where tribal leaders work in for the greater good of all and organizations are designed as 'movements for change'.

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