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On Reading “Tribes”

February 1, 2010

Seth Godin - TribesSo, I finished the book this morning. Reading it again didn’t quite help me sort out my thoughts, but I’ll do my best.

These are the passages that jumped out at me:

Page 55 — Discomfort

Leadership is scarce, because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity make leadership valuable. […] If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.

When I was working as the Techincal Director for a little local community theatre, I was supposed to be a leader. I was supposed to be the one in charge of making sure this, that, and the other thing all got built, painted, and prepared in time for the open of the show. I was responsible for coming up with the plan for each show, and, on occasion, the actual set design and light plot for a show. I had worked in theatres for several years, but I had never been the person who made the final decision; I had never been the person who had to motivate everyone else to get the job done, well, and on-time.

It was intensely uncomfortable, a majority of the time. And while I was doing it, I frequently thought, ‘Who am I to lead these people? I don’t know anything! If I had more experience, or more knowledge, or more something, this wouldn’t be this hard, this wouldn’t be this uncomfortable.” But reading Godin’s thoughts on the discomfort of leadership, and knowing that I was trying to get people to buy into what I was doing and why, maybe what I was experiencing was leadership, and I just didn’t have a frame of reference to know that that’s what it was.

Page 63 — Curiosity

Curious is the key word. … It has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope in interesting.

I don’t know if I was always curious. I don’t know if I was one of those kids who would constantly as “But… why?” I do know that somehow, I guess unusually, my sixteen years in school didn’t deprive me of my curiosity. I always want to know why, or what something means, or where something came from. The internet certainly helps. If you’re curious and you have access to the internet, the world is your playground.

pg 78 — Who Settles?

Settling is no fun. It’s a malignant habit, a slippery slope that takes you to mediocrity. […]
Heretics don’t settle. They’re not good at that. Managers who are stuck, who compromise to keep things quiet, who btatle the bureaucracy every day–they’re the ones who settle. […]
The art of leadership is understanding what you can’t compromise on.

This really resonates with me, because I almost settled, when I was working my last job. Almost.

It was my first “real job,” my first 40 hours a week for more than minimum wage job. It was an “adult” job. When I signed on, it was supposed to be for two years. I have worked only two (of eleven, total) jobs for two years, and one of them didn’t count, because it was broken up: I worked a year and a half with the company, and then I worked six months with the company about a year later. My average is six months. I have never really been the settling type, because if I wasn’t getting what I needed or wanted from a job, and there wasn’t a way to get it, I would move on.

During my two year commitment at this job, I was supposed to learn all about the financial industry (and maybe even get certified as a financial professional), and develop valuable skills that would get me hired at any other business I ever applied to. It was supposed to make me marketable.

What I really learned what what it’s like to work with someone with whom I cannot communicate, and whom I don’t in any way understand. It was hard, and it was degrading, and near the end it was getting pretty impossible to motivate myself to get up and go to work in the morning. If I was a slightly different person, or I really had had no options for paying my bills without working at this job, then I might have stayed. I might have settled, even though it was awful.

But because my husband and I can still pay our bills with out my income, I was actively looking for something different, and I was going to give it until the middle of February, which would be six months from when I started. If it didn’t get better then I was going to quit. Fortunately, my boss did it for me, when he had to let me go, a full month before I reached my limit. Thank god.

If I had stayed, if I had settled, it would have ruined me. It’s definitely taken some seriously hard work to get past all the damage that job did to my self-esteem. But every day that I’m working for myself, and working on building something that I love, little bits of my self-esteem come trickling back.

Page 92 — Leaders Go First

“Everyone will think it’s stupid!”
“Everyone says it’s impossible.”
Guess what? Everyone works in the balloon factory and everyone is wrong. […]
Over and over, everyone is wrong — unless you believe that innovation can changes things, that heretics can break the rules, and that remarkable products and services spread.
If you believe that, then you’re not everyone. Then you’re right.

I wrote this down on a 3×5 note card and stuck it to the bulletin board above my computer, where I will see it everyday. I know it, I know that it’s true, but I often don’t remember, and I let my fears get in the way of me doing what I want to do.

Page 108 —

The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!
The secret is being willing to be wrong.
The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.

This is something that I have had so much trouble with, in recent years. But the thing is, I didn’t always. When I was in high school, I was wrong all the time. I didn’t care, because it didn’t matter. If I got it wrong, what would they do? Give me a B? Maybe a C? The idea that I might get an F was so foreign to me, it didn’t even cross my mind. I’ve been good at school since about the first grade. And so I took risks and my teachers ate it up. (That should have been my first clue.)

But then I got to college, it was hard (I wasn’t as good right off the bat), and it was expensive and I could flunk out (not actually likely, but fears are rarely reasonable) and then my dad would have paid all of that money, and I’d be in all of that debt, for nothing. And that would suck.

And then came the jobs after college, where if I didn’t do well, they could fire me, and my fear of being wrong and making mistakes grew. I found, interestingly, that when I had two jobs, my fear of making mistakes and being wrong was lessened, because I knew that if they kicked me out on my butt, I would have a small safety net to keep me going until I found the next job.

Slowly but surely I’m re-learning that being wrong isn’t the end of the world; it doesn’t mean I’m going to DIE.

Page 108

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there.
People will follow.

I love this idea more than I can possible say. One of my strengths is that I can very clearly envision the future; I’ve always been able to. Most people don’t like to think about having a five or a ten-year plan. I’ve had one, and been revising it, since I was twelve. Thinking about the future energizes me; it makes me excited and happy and wanting to spread the word about how awesome I know it’s going to be.

The big question, though, is what do I believe in? What do I want to lead people towards? One of my passions has always been education, especially primary and secondary education, and the fact that the system is broken and desperately needs to be fixed.

Someone (it might have been Jonathan Fields), I don’t remember where I read this, but someone was asking their blog readers about what they wanted to be known for. Many of the comments were things like “Being an honest person,” and “Always doing the right thing,” or whatever, which are really awesome things to be known for. But when I read that question, I thought, ‘I want to be known for helping to reform the education system in America.’ I’m not entirely sure that’s what he meant, but that’s the first place my brain went.

So maybe education is where I want to lead people. Something to think on.

Page 113

The organizations that need innovation the most are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening. It’s a bit of a paradox, but once you see it, it’s a tremendous opportunity.

I love this thought, just by itself, but the example that leads to it (about a woman trying to sell her designs to a company that could produce them) is all about taking initiative and not asking for permission. I’m positive that Godin says, somewhere else in the book (I don’t know why I didn’t mark it), that age-old phrase, “Ask forgiveness, not permission.” My dad taught me that when I was thirteen years old, much to his later dismay. 😉 And it was fun, and it made my life interesting.

But then I went to Germany, and I was with a host family who were lovely, but did everything in their power to beat the idea out of my head. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was in former-east Germany, and they’d been living there all of their lives. Who knows. But I somehow became convinced that you shouldn’t just do it, and apologize later. That you should always get approval first. And it grated against my way of wanting to do things, but I thought that’s what responsible adults do, so I did it.

Fortunately, I’m relearning the advice my dad gave me all those years ago.

Page 126 — The Elements of Leadership

Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another.

Another piece that I wrote down and stuck to my bulletin board, just to have it up and in my space on a daily basis.

Page 134 — Positive Deviants

…[F]ind leaders (the heretics who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers — and things get better. They always get better. […]
It might be simple, but it works.

This is effectively the solution to any situation where you’re trying to solve a problem. Find the people (or schools, or companies) who are thriving, despite the adversity they face, and figure out how to help them teach others what they’re doing that works so well.

All in all, one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve come across in a while.

Next up: Purple Cow.

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