Seth Godin: Tribes Book Summary





The best synonym for leadership is management. That used to fit, but perhaps no longer. Movements have leaders and movements make things happen. Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.  Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.

It takes only two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:

  • A shared interest
  • A way to communicate


The communication can be one of four kinds

  • 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; and
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and in new members

The anatomy of a movement

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

Too often organisations fail to do anything but the third.

The Peter Principle Revisited

  • Laurence Peter is famous for proposing that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” In other words, when you do a great job, you get promoted. And that process repeats itself until finally you end up in a job you can’t handle.
  • What actually happens is that “in every organisation everyone rises to the level at which they become paralysed with fear.”
  • The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear (and seeing it in the people you wish to lead). No, it won’t go away, but awareness is the key to making progress.


  • 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 leaders, and more likely still to coordinate action and ideas across the members of the tribe.


  • 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.
  • In other words, if everyone could do it, they would, and it wouldn’t be worth much.
  • 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.

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 realise that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far move powerful than a larger group could ever be.

Change isn’t made by asking permission

  • Change is made by asking for forgiveness, later.

The Easiest Thing

  • The easiest thing is to react.
  • The second easiest thing is to respond.
  • But the hardest thing is to initiate.
  • Managers react. Responding is a much better alternative. You respond to external stimuli with thoughtful action.
  • But both pale in comparison to initiative. Initiating is really and truly difficult, and that’s what leaders do. They see something others are ignoring and they jump on it. They cause the events that others have to react to. They make change.

Things to do to create a micro-movement

  1. Publish a manifesto
    • Give it away and make it easy for the manifesto to spread far and wide. It’s a mantra, a motto, a way of looking at the world. It unites your tribe members and gives them structure.
  2. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you
    • It could be a simple as visiting you or emailing you or watching you on television or on YouTube, or Facebook.
  3. Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another
    • Develop camaraderie between volunteers or insiders involved in a new product launch or event. Great leaders figure out how to make these interactions happen.
  4. Realise 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.

Principles of a micro-movement

  1. Transparency really is your only option
    • The people who follow you aren’t stupid. People can smell subterfuge from a mile away.
  2. Your movement needs to be bigger than you
    • An author and his book doesn’t constitute a movement. Changing the way people apply to college does.
  3. Movements that grow, thrive
    • Every day they get better and more powerful. 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

Every tribe is a media channel

  • Tribes are the most effective media channels ever, but they’re not for sale or for rent. Tribes don’t do what youwant; they do what they Which is why joining and leading a tribe is such a powerful marketing investment

People don’t like to switch tribes

  • To switch sides is to admit that we made a mistake

Ronald Reagan’s Secret

  • People want to be sure you heard what they said – they’re less focused on whether or not you do what they said

How to sell a book or any new idea

  • Find one person who trusts you and sell him a copy. Does he love it? Is he excited about it? Excited enough to tell ten 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.
  • Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.
  • If the book doesn’t spread you need a new book or a better platform.

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 mom’s who weren’t just getting by but thriving. And then he made it easy for these mothers to share their insights with the rest of the group.


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






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