Thoughts on Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’ #personalmba

Over the last few years I have toyed with the idea of doing, and not doing, an MBA. In one of my ‘not doing’ phases last year, I bought a book called ‘The Personal MBA’ by Josh Kaufman. At the time I probably made the mistake of trying to read it like a novel, chapter by chapter, and only got a quarter of the way in before getting distracted, and leaving behind a lot of the gold embedded in the later chapters.

This week I happened to pick it up again because I’m back in an MBA phase, but thought it couldn’t hurt to fast track some of the concepts I am wanting to learn more about. This time I went straight to the section of the book that was most relevant to me right now, and suddenly I stumbled upon the real value of the book. It is amazingly cross-referenced so you can find yourself jumping back and forth to read about different concepts and how they relate to each other, and how it’s relevant to you right now. I’m now convinced this is the only way to truly get the benefit out of a fantastic book like this - it was written to be a practical alternative to formal study and therefore must be used in practice.

Drilling further into the book sent me back to the Personal MBA website, where the author has compiled a list of 99 of the best business books across every category imaginable from sales to creativity and innovation to leadership. Just reading the titles made me feel smarter and I got that little heart thump of possibility that comes from the excitement of new learning. So I’ve decided to tackle the list and work my way through the titles in no particular order other than the way they become available to me. The first one I found was Tribes, by Seth Godin, Josh’s copy which now sits on the pallet bookshelf at Home/work. I thought to really get the most out of this reading, I should write a quick post summarizing what I got out of each book. So here goes:

While I have been aware of Godin’s work and thinking for a while, this is actually the first book of his I have read (other than dabbling in Linchpin a little while ago). I typically like something a bit more meaty and thought his books were a bit light on, so have never gone any further.

Having said that, Tribes has come to me at the perfect time, especially in relation to my current work with Collaborative Consumption and the power of this tribe to grow the movement. The central idea is around the power of individuals to break away from traditional ideas of what work is and to create something meaningful that connects to our passions. I feel lucky enough to already be on a path that’s not traditional, and avoiding the notion of ‘sheepwalking’ and following the status quo, but even still it’s important to be reminded as often as possible that this is a choice, and that it needs fostering and nurturing lest even this choice become stale.

There were some nice little takeaways in the book that got me thinking, specifically around leadership and making a commitment to be different. The notion that the art of leadership being an understanding of what you can’t compromise on - as good a start as any when figuring out where you want to make a difference. Also remembering that an organization or idea that requires success before commitment will generally get neither. Finally, something that resonated with me was the difference between reacting, responding and initiating - while responding is generally good and more challenging than just reacting without thinking strategically, initiating action is really what sets leaders apart.

The book also contains some good bullet point lists that create a sort of model for building a movement - on pages 23-24 and 88 - which could easily be read on their own as a quick reference guide. The rest of the book is really a series of little vignettes and examples that support Godin’s thesis, but the name dropping is a little frustrating where there is an assumption that the example is well-known and needs no further explanation and come across more like something that’s written about friends than a well-researched anecdote - but I gather that is Godin’s style and it certainly makes for a quick, easy read which is probably the appeal.

Looking forward to the next book on the list - perhaps finishing the Lean Startup by Eric Ries!