Tribes was an irritating book, and I will probably be re-reading it again within the next few months. There is a particularly astute comment on the Amazon.ca page for it actually: “The book’s substance is rather thin beyond the few examples and rants.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
What made the book worth finishing though, was that it made it easier to go back and face my service industry job once my 30 minute lunch break was over.
Tribes is not just littered, but polluted with references and stories about people you’ve never heard of doing stuff you didn’t realise they were associated with.
As metaphors, they are mildly entertaining literary devices, hindered by the fact that metaphors only work when people know what you’re referring to. The most powerful parts of the book are when he is making statements about leadership, not extolling the virtues of people you don’t know. The reason I take issue with business anecdotes as proof of anything has to do with something called survivor bias.
In his convention-busting book, Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb preaches the danger of survivor bias — a common fallacy in which we emulate people who succeeded without considering those who used similar techniques but failed. Taleb uses the example of The Millionaire Next Door, a popular finance guide in which the authors interviewed a large group of millionaires. As Taleb points out, the habits of these millionaires — accumulating wealth through spartan living and aggressive investments — should not be emulated unless one can determine how many more people followed a similar strategy but failed to hit it big.
Perhaps a more poignant example would be to find and interview the 10 people in the country who had the biggest and fastest overall increase to their finances in the last year. Guess who would dominate this list? Lottery winners. Ignoring the survivor bias, one could conclude: the people who get richest fastest all invested heavily in lottery tickets, so that’s what I should do too!
Just because it worked for so-and-so, doesn’t guarantee that it’ll work for you. Godin’s Tribes has an extremely limited definition of success, which can be summed up like this: The people making the world a better place are leaders, and everyone else is a member of the crotchety old guard keeping us from moving forward.
This is not true.
Some people don’t know what they want to do with their time. Some people are extremely passionate about some extremely destructive ideas. Some people have not yet created their passion in their lives. Some people should not (yet) be leaders- they should (for now) be explorers.
And for those people, of whom there are many more than I believe Godin acknowledges, this book would be of little use. This book would be of further little use for those who are already exploring unconventional ways to be leaders, of which there are even more that Godin acknowledges.
Whether you’ll learn anything new or find anything useful in Tribes outside of the name-dropping depends on how disenfranchised you currently are from any capacity to be a leader. This is why I enjoyed reading it. I work a full-time job at the very bottom of the ladder in my company. After each chapter, I’d go back to work excited to look for ways to be a little less bored. In every other area of my life, I’m actively engaged in work that excites me and allows me to make a difference in ways that I’m proud of. My career is going quite well for someone so young. I believed that my job, however, was stunning in it’s lack of opportunities for creativity and leadership. That’s why I loved Tribes. It helped me recognize that my impressions in this regard were completely incorrect and that in fact, I have many opportunities each day to show leadership, in everything that I do. There is value in that, even if there isn’t very much.
But don’t take my word for it- check it out yourself and let me know what you think.