In today’s global village, the concept of a ‘tribe’ has become very important. As a word, ‘tribe’ means a group of people that come together (physically or virtually) due to a shared cause, under a leader or leaders who organize and represent the group. A ‘tribe’ is an essential unit of social organization. It can drive change and even resist it. Most importantly, a tribe helps an individual, a company, and a society grow.

How does a tribe have relevance in the corporate world?

Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, explains the importance of creating tribes in the corporate world. The book shows organizations how to create a loyal customer following towards their products and services and thereby creating a new status quo in the market.

Tribes by Seth Godin
Tribes by Seth Godin

Why Do We Need Tribes?

Humans have a need to socially connect and belong to a larger collective than a family unit. This need stems from the fact that man is social and needs to expand that social circle. Since the beginning of time, man has been a part of a tribe. 

While in the ancient days, tribes were groups of people in the immediate vicinity which slowly grew to include community, language, and ethnicity. Later it included cultural, religious, and political tribes. Today, a tribe is as far and wide as the Internet, and yet as close and accessible as the smartphone in your hand.

The definition of the word ‘tribe’ gives us its three main factors – a group of people, shared cause, and a leader. These factors are common to all tribes – big or small – in the world. The shared cause that binds a tribe is the most important factor, because it enables members to internalize their values, ideas, and feelings towards that cause, thus making them driven believers instead of mere followers.

If we look at Wikipedia that was co-founded by Jimmy Wales, we can see that it is a tribe of over five thousand editors and contributors, who work towards a common vision of communally created, freely available information.

Today, with the advent of the Internet, tribes have become global eliminating geography as a barrier. Simultaneously, the emergence of social media has shifted the relevance from the size of the tribe to the cause and its method of communication. Therefore, tribes are essential in the corporate world to enable social media to market one’s cause and promote one’s values.

Creating A Meaningful And Exclusive Tribe

Why did Nokia not do as well with smartphones as it did earlier?

The answer is simple. In their success of creating a product that appealed to the masses, they missed out on exclusivity and creating meaning (technological advancement). While in the past Nokia focussed on creating a phone that was cheaper and easily available to everyone. They created a product that would be mediocre and not truly resonate with people, making them love it. Creating a product that is appealing to the masses has been a marketing mantra of the past. 

Today, the answer lies in exclusivity, a trend that Apple found success in; that works even today. They chose to make a phone that would appeal to a select few. These few loyal customers would promote the product for the sheer love of it, creating a tribe of people who would have a shared cause – to believe in the superiority of the product they use.

Any product or service needs to have a meaningful story and should resonate and connect with the story of their users. A tribe around a new, exclusive product forms only when a user can meaningfully and personally identify and connect with it.

Anyone Can Create A Tribe

When we look at the third component of a tribe – a leader or a chief – we instantly think of a leading figure with exemplary qualities of leading people. However, today, creating a tribe has become as simple as opening a YouTube account and posting videos online.

Therefore, anyone can create and lead a tribe.

However, to lead it successfully, there needs to be intense communication not only between the leader and the tribe members but also between individual members of the tribe. Today social media platforms, blogging sites and websites, have made the technology available for the members of a tribe to communicate, share their ideas, and organize. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, Pinterest, allows the sharing of ideas, updates as well as discussion boards where all members can align their interests to a common goal.

If we see the example of Greg Glassman of, we can see that he created a tribe by making one single platform for fitness fanatics to connect, exchange fitness ideas and programs, and even opt for certification and open CrossFit gym franchises. 

Meaningful Cause + Will To Lead = Followers

The formula is simple!

A person with a ‘willingness to lead’ that finds a group of people who yearn for the same common ‘meaningful’ cause, will be able to gather a group of members or followers. Once a person taps into that existing yearning and creates an opportunity for them to connect, it results in the creating of a movement.

A movement, as defined by the former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley contains three elements – 

  • The narrative of the future or plan
  • A connection between members and leader, and connection between the members themselves
  • Having something to do.

A movement needs about 1000 invested members to be called a movement at all. At the same time, it needs a great story that creates a buzz among that group.

The success of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth started a worldwide movement about climate change. What made the documentary so influential despite the fact that climate change and its effects were not new knowledge?

Al Gore’s documentary gave like-minded individuals something to talk about, to share, discuss, and have an opportunity to do something. Without a buzzing story and the opportunity to promote change, coupled with Al Gore’s willingness to lead, he would have never created a tribe, let alone be able to lead it.

It’s Not About Growth

The obvious (and age old) belief about leading a group with a common cause is to make it grow. Yet, It’s Not About Growth!!

The most important factor that drives a tribe to success is how close-knit the members of the group are and not how many members are there in it. In comparison to the channel of communication in normal marketing, the channels that tribes offer are much more and thus much more effective. A tribe has 4 main channels of communication – 

  • Leader to members
  • Members to leader
  • Member to member
  • Member to outsider

Of these, member-to-member communication is most important, because it promotes tightness within the group, strengthening bonds and increasing the feeling of exclusivity. This feeling can also be brought in, by focusing on differences between the insiders and the outsiders.

Steve Jobs ended up creating a whole bunch of passive rumor sites that were solely discussing new products, and sharing news, increasing the cult feeling.

Creating Motion From A Vacuum

The need for change or resisting the change emerges when there is something that is missing from the equation. Therefore, the vacuum that has been created needs a shift, a sense of motion. That is when change begins to take place.

The leader of a tribe – or say, in an organization – should first be the promoter of change. He should be able to step into the ‘vacuum’ and generate motion – or create a stir. How does one, therefore, become a tribe leader.

Leaders that generate effective motion, create, mobilize, and maintain a tribe are more than just famous, rich, or great orators, etc. Instead, they are charismatic by the virtue of being generous. The difference lies between being altruistic and authentic or egomaniacal and narcissistic.

They believe in the inherent value of the cause, even if means giving it out for free. That inherent value lies in spreading the cause to the right potential members who can add value to the tribe and its cause. The fact that Al Gore’s documentary was free for all, made it the starting point of the creation of his tribe!

More Leaders, Fewer Followers

Right from the time we are young, we get indoctrinated to follow others. Following parents, teachers, the school rules, are the rules of the society. However, those who always follow never become tribe leaders. 

To advocate change, create a stir, and change the status quo, we need more leaders. Leaders resist rules and ask questions, understand the reasoning behind movements, and to promote questioning. They are the ones who seek change passionately and find those who seek it with them. Leaders create tribes.

Organizations need more leaders to advocate change without fear of retribution and damnation of themselves and their tribe. It ensures that there is more dynamism within the organization, yet it offers consistency when it comes to creating a movement towards a shared goal.