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Quotes from Seth Godin’s “Tribes”

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I just finished reading Seth Godin’s “Tribes”. It is a short inspirational book, with bite size chapters to help you realize leaders aren’t that special. To kick off the new year, and celebrate heretics, here are some of my favorite quotes.

The anatomy of a movement:

Senator Bill Bradley defines a movement as having three elements:

1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build.
2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe.
3. Something to do – the fewer limits the better.

Too often organizations fail to do anything but the third.

On expecting (not avoiding) criticism:

If I had written a boring book, there’d be no criticism. No conversation. [Ask yourself:] How can I create something that the critics will criticize?

Leader’s aren’t all that special other than being able to chose to standing up, and stick with their cause.

Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. If everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens. It’s discomfort that creates the leverage that makes leadership worthwhile.

Leadership requires thinking outside the box, and having faith (not the religious kind). The climber described here invented a technique of releasing the wall with all limbs at the same time – literally taking leaps of faith to get out of stuck positions.

Here’s a simple way to think about it: Obe Carrion, former U.S. rock climbing champion, won a tournament in an unusual way. Obe was one of four finalists, and each had to climb a very difficult route up a steep wall. The first three finalists did the same thing. They entered the roped-off area, inspected the route, and then slowly began climbing, on hold at a time, working their way up to the top. Two made it (with a slip or two), one fell.

Obe was scheduled to go last. He came out of the isolation area, inspected the route, took twenty steps back and he *ran* up the wall. he didn’t hesitate or interpolate or hedge his bets. He just committed.

It turns out that this was the easiest way up the wall. Leaning into the problem made the problem go away.

I really like this next one. Invention often seems small and big at the same time. The most interesting enhancements are the tiny ones that end up changing the game.

The first rule the music business failed to understand is that, at least 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.

Yes, I know, failure is good. Stop rubbing it in:

The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness to be not great along the way. The desire to fail on the way to reaching a bigger goal is the untold secret of success.

I can’t help but read this in terms of what we call “user experience” in software design. It reminds me of how Microsoft used to argue that Internet Explorer was really faster than Firefox, it was just that users *perceived* Firefox to be faster. However, in this case Godin was referring to leadership being in the eye of the follower.

Adam Gopnik quotes Jamy Ian Swiss as saying, “Magic only happens in a spectator’s mind. Everything else is a distraction… Methods for their own sake are a distraction. You cannot cross over into the world of magic until you put everything else aside and behind you – including your own desires and needs – and focus on bringing an experience to the audience. This is magic. Nothing else.”

This is striking because it is against conventional wisdom, but makes perfect sense:

Sternin went to Vietnam to try to help starving children. Rather than importing tactics that he knew would work, or outside techniques that he was sure could make a difference, he sought out the few families who weren’t starving, the few moms who weren’t just getting by but were thriving. And then he made it easy for these mothers to share their insights with the rest of the group.

And this makes a good reminder for the new year. To those of us who are blessed, our opportunities are obligations.

I don’t think we have any choice. I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game, and to play it better than anyone has any right to believe is possible.

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  1. Very interesting post. I have been thinking a lot about leadership, so these quotes resonate. I think many have the potential to lead, but balk at the discomfort stepping up entails.

    Going to pick up this book.

    Thanks for posting!

  2. I read “Tribes” and found it to be very interesting. Turned out to be great dinner conversation for me and a group of friends. Nice post…keep up the good work. I enjoy your blog!

  3. He thanks! I read something about Godin’s book Purple Cow today.. now I don’t know which one to read :)…Tribes vs Purple Cow.. hmm..

  4. I know that I could improve quite a bit by following more of Seth’s suggestions. I really like the last quote :
    I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game, and to play it better than anyone has any right to believe is possible.

  5. I have been working in the field of leadership and management development for 15 years and so often I see leaders and managers who have grown up into thier roles.

    They’ve never been trained, coached or developed and so it’s little wonder achieving high performance comes at such a painful, stressful and often personal price. Yet it still happens.

    I call it the player manager syndrome. The player becomes the manager and really wants to be the manager but is a good player nevertheless. When the pressure’s on and he struggles to know what to do as a manager (cos he’s never been trained) he reverts to doing more of what he knows best, playing!

    In organisation’s we call it Occupational Hobbies, the things we want to do and are able to do, but the organisation needs us to be doing different things. I see so many people who are operating at a level lower than they should be because of poor training and coaching. So if they are operating at a level lower, then so must everyone beneath them and so performance is constricted.

    Never seen a book yet that really tackles this or creates hype on a mass scale for organisations to sit up and pay attention. I’ll keep looking.


  6. Adam!
    Thanks for sharing these quotes! I am seeing Seth speak in Orange County tonight, but I was having a hard time finding quotes that weren’t all about marketing and products. These fit the bill perfectly. I am going to include a link to your blog.
    All the best in being remarkable.

  7. This was a great post. It is really revealing to me that hardest part of being a leader is not his or her qualification in terms of intelligence but how he or she faces the discomfort on taking a leap of faith to take actions on his or her not so ordinary ideas or what Seth Godin said as thinking outside the box.

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