Monday, January 12, 2009

Book Review: "Tribes" by Seth Godin

This weekend I just finished reading Seth Godin’s latest book, "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us". It was... hum… interesting…

First, it is almost perplexing to see how a book can lack the qualities of so many other books. Although the content flows well, there's no real structure to it (actually, Godin is the first to admit this shortcoming!). I found the arguments supporting the ideas of the author rather sparse and often weak. And while it is very easy (and quick) to read, I wouldn't say it is particularly well written – it feels more like the transcript of a speech or the kind of stuff you’d find on my blog ;-)

Second, I loved some of Godin’s ideas as much as I disagree with others. For instance, I am fundamentally at odds with his view of management and managers (but I will reserve further comments on this topic for my next big paper which will focus on management and leadership).

By contrast, I find his message about tribes timely, powerful and well in-line with what some federal public servants are trying to do with PS Renewal. In fact, I could draw many parallels between what he says and my own experience. Much of what Godin talks about is similar to some of the messages I've been trying to communicate through my writing and presentations.

For example, he discusses encountering thousands of people who shared with him ideas (as I told in one of last week’s posts) and argues that there is no shortage of ideas out there. "Ordinary folks can dream up remarkable stuff fairly easily", he points out. He then explains that unfortunately, only a fraction of these ideas ever come to life.

The reason, he believes, is fear: “The only thing holding you back is your own fear. Not easy to admit, but essential to understand.” My favourite quote in the entire book is his paraphrasing of the Peter Principle: “In every organization everyone rises to the level at which they become paralyzed with fear.” So true!

Godin cleverly states that people do not fear failure as much as they fear criticism. As he says, “fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse”, but "fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent because the criticism doesn't actually have to occur for the fear to set in.”

Towards the end of the book, Godin offers a few tips to start your own micromovement, such as publishing a manifesto!

Verdict: “Tribes” is not a great book, but one with an important message nonetheless. As an alternative, it seems you can download the audiobook for free.

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