Tribes, Niches, Movements and What Matters

(Originally posted June 18, 2009 on Igneous Quill.)

Seth Godin calls them "tribes." They are groups of people gathered around a particular idea or interest. I've thought in terms of "niches" and the communities that form around them, but I hesitate to refer to these as "tribes." Why? A tribe in ancient times was normally fairly exclusive (you're either a member or not, and no divided loyalties) and were based on necessity. In contrast, a person can participate in multiple modern niche communities (except, of course, that it might pose a challenge to be a Windows fanboy and a Linux geek at the same time) and normally none of these groups are truly life-or-death (we hope) for those who join.

In any event, Mr. Godin makes it sound compelling, exciting and perhaps even essential that we form more and more of these "tribes." He gives examples of people striving to serve others and thus making their lives more meaningful. He closes with a challenge to form a movement in 24 hours.

Could you do that? I couldn't. At least, not in 24 hours!

Given the capacity for networking we now have via the Internet, it isn't impossible for someone to find people who share a passion and bring them together for a purpose. It might take longer than 24 hours, but I believe it can be done. It has been done and continues happening.

What do you think?

Not too long ago I mulled over what motivated people to start new efforts and bring people together to do good things. It gets a little preachy at the end (you've been warned), but have a look at Three Cups, Leaving Microsoft and the Book of Acts. I'm trying to think long and hard over what I might do.

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Comment by Buddy Ray on July 22, 2009 at 11:52am
All I could think of while listening to Godin's presentation again was: "He's describing Jesus."

Jesus built a Tribe. He challenged the Status-quo. It became a movement. He led and still leads his movement.

The question for me is how do we get the Church to recognize the power of today's social media to spread the movement further. How do we create "sub" movements that further and empower the church.

I think this video and book should be required material for the General Board of the Christian Church. Some denominations are beginning to wake up - the Catholic Church in particular is exploring the power of social media and the internet. It's time we Disciples and our Seminaries seriously jump in and start preparing our leaders and pastors, not for the future but for TODAY.
Comment by John E. Smith on July 20, 2009 at 9:14pm
Hi, Adam - interesting question.

I appreciate your analytical approach to this distinction between "Tribes" and "Niches" and definitely agree that the level of connection and community required for a tribe is not something that normally occurs in a day's time. True community is bound together by common experience and that requires an ongoing mutual experience.

I do think that we are and will continue to see creative ways of being in community as the various formats and permeations of online life continue to develop. Not everyone I interact with is as sold on the Internet as a vehicle for community, but I believe that as our globe continues to shrink and our common humanity becomes more and more obvious, we'll see things that we cannot even envision yet.

I have connections of greater or lesser strength with others throughout the world. Some of these ties are around leadership and organizational behavior, others are more faith-based or spiritual in nature. Some are intentional and some have come about through serendipitous events and interchanges.

The common factor, in my opinion, is the willingness of individuals to share openly and honestly in a non-physical environment. That is not something everyone is prepared to do yet.

I'll check out your "preachy" link - I like preachy:).

Comment by Rebecca Woods on July 20, 2009 at 6:49am
Fascinating and very relevant. Seth Godin's a great presenter and although I haven't yet managed to read Tribes, I hope to later this summer. Two thoughs I had, while listening to his talk:
- The church has its favorite leadership gurus, (Heifetz is one that I hear mentioned everywhere) but you don't often hear people like Godin mentioned in church circles. Yet he's hugely popular in tech and corporate circles (tribes?) right now.
- Are we as church hesitant to think of ourselves as a tribe, let alone a movement? Does that terrify us, at least a bit?

I'd love to hear more about the transition from "tribe" to "movement" -- one seems to be about gathering and connecting, the other about working together toward change. I don't think all tribes become movements (i.e. think about all the Facebook groups just based on liking the same TV show or music group). Having said this, maybe building the tribe first is essential to a movement being effective.

On another note, do you (Adam, or other readers) think that there's a limit -- can we become maxed out on movements?

Great post, Adam. You've made me determined to get Godin's Tribes and read it.



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