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JOEL SPOLSKY IS CHANGING THE WORLD.

Maybe not your world, but the world of programmers and software companies and the people who work with them. The way Joel is changing the world, though, is something every single one of us needs to pay attention to.

While Joel runs a small software company in New York City, his real passion is talking about how to run a small software company. Through blogs and books and conferences, Joel has changed the way many smart people think about finding, hiring, and managing programmers. Along the way, Joel has assembled a large and influential tribe of people who look to him for leadership.

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate. Joel provides both. He runs a profitable job board that attracts the very best programmers (and the best jobs) in the world. He even created the widely used Joel Test, which is a measure of how programmer friendly a job might be. A Google search on “Joel” returns seventy-six million matches, and Joel Spolsky is first, right where he belongs.

Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change. Joel’s leadership provided change. He’s given this tribe a lever to dramatically alter the way business is done in their industry. Along the way, he’s found his passion (and grown his company).

You can’t have a tribe without a leader—and you can’t be a leader without a tribe.

Long, Strange Trip

Forty years ago, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead made some decisions that changed the music industry forever. You might not be in the music business and you may never have been to a Dead concert, but the impact the Dead made affects almost every industry, including yours.

In addition to grossing more than $100 million during their career, the Dead helped us understand how tribes work. They didn’t succeed by selling records (they only had one Top 40 album). Instead, they succeeded by attracting and leading a tribe.

Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like- minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new.

When one Deadhead says to another, “2-14-70,” it’s like a secret code. The smiles and the hugs and handshakes define who we are—being in a tribe is a big part of how we see ourselves.

We want to belong not to just one tribe, it turns out, but to many. And if you give us tools and make it easy, we’ll keep joining.

Tribes make our lives better. And leading a tribe is the best life of all.

Tribes Used to Be Local

Jacqueline Novogratz is changing the world. Not by leading everyone in her town, but by challenging people in twenty countries to join a movement. One at a time, Jacqueline is inspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world to create enterprises that enrich the people around them. She’s helping create organizations that deliver clean water, ambulances, and reading glasses…and doing it in a scalable way that challenges expectations.

Jacqueline doesn’t just love her job leading the Acumen Fund; she’s also changing the very face of philanthropy. Her tribe of donors, employees, entrepreneurs, and supporters counts on her leadership to inspire and motivate them.

Geography used to be important. A tribe might be everyone in a certain village, or it might be model-car enthusiasts in Sacramento, or it might be the Democrats in Springfield. Corporations and other organizations have always created their own tribes around their offices or their markets—tribes of employees or customers or parishioners.

Now, the Internet eliminates geography.

This means that existing tribes are bigger, but more important, it means that there are now more tribes, smaller tribes, influential tribes, horizontal and vertical tribes, and tribes that could never have existed before. Tribes you work with, tribes you travel with, tribes you buy with. Tribes that vote, that discuss, that fight. Tribes where everyone knows your name. The professionals at the CIA are a tribe and so are the volunteers at the ACLU.

There’s an explosion of new tools available to help lead the tribes we’re forming. Facebook and Ning and Meetup and Twitter. Squidoo and Basecamp and Craigslist and e-mail. There are literally thousands of ways to coordinate and connect groups of people that just didn’t exist a generation ago.

All of it is worthless if you don’t decide to lead. All of it goes to waste if your leadership is compromised, if you settle, if you don’t commit.

Many tribes. Many tools. I’m writing to you about both. The market needs you (we need you) and the tools are there, just waiting. All that’s missing is you, and your vision and your passion.

In Search of a Movement

Some tribes are stuck. They embrace the status quo and drown out any tribe member who dares to question authority and the accepted order. Big charities, tiny clubs, struggling corporations—they’re tribes and they’re stuck. I’m not so interested in those tribes. They create little of value and they’re sort of boring. Every one of those tribes, though, is a movement waiting to happen, a group of people just waiting to be energized and transformed.

A movement is thrilling. It’s the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better. The new highly leveraged tools of the Net make it easier than ever to create a movement, to make things happen, to get things done.

All that’s missing is leadership.

Tribes Aren’t So Squishy Anymore

Before the Internet, coordinating and leading a tribe was difficult. It was difficult to get the word out, difficult to coordinate action, difficult to grow quickly. Today, of course, instant communication makes things taut, not squishy. In today’s world, Barack Obama can raise $50 million in twenty-eight days. In the nonsquishy tribal world of this decade, Twitter and blogs and online videos and countless other techniques contribute to an entirely new dimension of what it means to be part of a tribe. The new technologies are all designed to connect tribes and to amplify their work.

Please note! Throughout this book, I’m pretty quick to use examples based on the Internet and some of the astonishing new tools that are showing up to enable tribes to be more effective. But the Internet is just a tool, an easy way to enable some tactics. The real power of tribes has nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with people. You don’t need a keyboard to lead…you only need the desire to make something happen.

And if you don’t have that desire, don’t panic. Sometimes it’s okay not to take the lead, sometimes it’s okay to let someone else speak up and show you the way. The power of this new era is simple: if you want to (need to, must!) lead, then you can. It’s easier than ever and we need you. But if this isn’t the right moment, if this isn’t the right cause, then hold off. Generous and authentic leadership will always defeat the selfish efforts of someone doing it just because she can.

How Was That Syrah?

Gary Vaynerchuk runs Wine Library TV (http://tv.winelibrary.com/), and he has a tribe. Millions of people around the world turn to him to narrate their passion for wine. He helps them discover new wines and better understand the wines they love. But Gary doesn’t market to this audience, and he doesn’t manage them either. He leads a tribe instead. It’s an act of generosity and the fuel for a movement, not a marketing stunt. He doesn’t push; he leads.

Were people writing about or talking about wine before? Of course. Information has never been difficult to come by. What makes Gary so successful is the way he uses a new medium and new techniques to communicate his passion, to connect people, and to create change. And so a movement grows.

The Tribe Inside

Mich Mathews is the senior vice president of Microsoft’s Central Marketing Group. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have relied on her to market Microsoft for about a decade.

You’ve never heard of Mich. She’s not a pundit or a touring personality. Instead, she leads a tribe of thousands of people inside Microsoft who create and shape the company’s marketing. The tribe listens to Mich; they respect her and they follow her. The attention paid by this internal tribe is a hard-earned privilege and a valuable responsibility.

This is a book for anyone who chooses to lead a tribe. Inside or out, the possibilities are huge.

The Opportunity

It’s simple: there are tribes everywhere now, inside and outside of organizations, in public and in private, in nonprofits, in classrooms, across the planet. Every one of these tribes is yearning for leadership and connection. This is an opportunity for you—an opportunity to find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The question isn’t, Is it possible for me to do that? Now, the question is, Will I choose to do it?

For a long time, I’ve been writing about the fact that everyone is now a marketer. The explosion in media channels, combined with the increased leverage of individuals within organizations, means that just about anyone can influence the marketing of just about everything.

This book says something new. Everyone is not just a marketer—everyone is now also a leader. The explosion in tribes, groups, covens, and circles of interest means that anyone who wants to make a difference can.

Without leaders, there are no followers.

You’re a leader.

We need you. 

Something to Believe In  

Tribes are about faith—about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader of the tribe and for the other members as well.

Do you believe in what you do? Every day? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.

Three things have happened, pretty much at the same time. All three point to the same (temporarily uncomfortable, but ultimately marvelous) outcome:

  1. Many people are starting to realize that they work a lot and that working on stuff they believe in (and making things happen) is much more satisfying than just getting a paycheck and waiting to get fired (or die).

  2. Many organizations have discovered that the factory-centric model of producing goods and services is not nearly as profitable as it used to be.

  3. Many consumers have decided to spend their money buying things that aren’t factory-produced commodities. And they’ve decided not to spend their time embracing off-the-shelf ideas. Consumers have decided, instead, to spend time and money on fashion, on stories, on things that matter, and on things they believe in.

So here we are. We live in a world where we have the leverage to make things happen, the desire to do work we believe in, and a marketplace that is begging us to be remarkable. And yet, in the middle of these changes, we still get stuck.

Stuck following archaic rules.

Stuck in industries that not only avoid change but actively fight it.

Stuck in fear of what our boss will say, stuck because we’re afraid we’ll get into trouble.

Most of all, we’re stuck acting like managers or employees, instead of like the leaders we could become. We’re embracing a factory instead of a tribe.

The irony is that all of this fear used to be useful. Fear of change is built into most organisms, because change is the first sign of risk. Fear of change in a huge factory is appropriate when efficiency is the order of the day. Today, though, the fear that used to protect us at work is now our enemy; it’s now the thing standing in the way. Imagine having worked at AOL or a mortgage broker or Sears. It might have been fun for a while, but it’s no fun at all when the factory fades.

“How was your day?” is a question that matters a lot more than it seems. It turns out that the people who like their jobs the most are also the ones who are doing the best work, making the greatest impact, and changing the most. Changing the way they see the world, sure, but also changing the world. By challenging the status quo, a cadre of heretics is discovering that one person, just one, can make a huge difference.

Jonathan Ive is having a ball working at Apple, but he’s also making a difference. He’s leading their design team and feeding the Macintosh tribe with ideas they embrace.

Micah Sifry doesn’t just enjoy the work he does every day at the Personal Democracy Forum; he’s leading a fundamental change in the way we think about politics. Thousands of people depend on Micah’s leadership, and in return, he spends his day engaged in work that matters.

Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.

The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretics. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, it’s also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that.

This shift might be bigger than you think. Suddenly, heretics, troublemakers, and change agents aren’t merely thorns in our side—they are the keys to our success. Tribes give you leverage. And each of us has more leverage than ever before. I want you to think about the ramifications of the new leverage. I’m hoping you’ll see that the most profitable path is also the most reliable, the easiest, and the most fun. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to give you a push on the path to becoming a heretic yourself.

Why Should You Lead? And Why Now?

This book weaves together a few big ideas, which, taken together, form an irresistible argument.

With tribes flourishing everywhere, there’s a vast shortage of leaders. We need you.

My thesis:

  1. For the first time ever, everyone in an organization—not just the boss—is expected to lead.

  2. The very structure of today’s workplace means that it’s easier than ever to change things and that individuals have more leverage than ever before.

  3. The marketplace is rewarding organizations and individuals who change things and create remarkable products and services.

  4. It’s engaging, thrilling, profitable, and fun.

  5. Most of all, there is a tribe of fellow employees or customers or investors or believers or hobbyists or readers just waiting for you to connect them to one another and lead them where they want to go.

Leadership isn’t difficult, but you’ve been trained for years to avoid it. I want to help you realize that you already have all the skills you need to make a huge difference, and I want to sell you on doing it. The best thing is that you don’t need to wait until you’ve got exactly the right job or built the right organization or moved up three rungs on the corporate ladder. You can start right now.

Leadership Is Not Management

In a classic I Love Lucy episode, Lucy and Ethel are working on a candy assembly line. As the candies come faster and faster, the two of them panic, stuffing truffles into their mouths to keep up with the onslaught.

They had a management problem.

Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done. Burger King franchises hire managers. They know exactly what they need to deliver and they are given resources to do it at low cost. Managers manage a process they’ve seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in.

My thesaurus says the best synonym for leadership is management. Maybe that word used to fit, but no longer. Movements have leaders and movements make things happen.

Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.

Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.

Change? Change is frightening, and to many people who would be leaders, it seems more of a threat than a promise. That’s too bad, because the future belongs to our leaders, regardless of where they work or what they do.

It’s Good to Be King

In fact, in a stable world, it’s great to be king. Lots of perks. Not a lot of hassles.

Kings have always worked to maintain stability because that’s the best way to stay king. They’ve traditionally surrounded themselves with a well-fed and well-paid court of supplicants, each of whom has a vested interest in keeping things as they are.

The monarchy has had a huge impact on the way we see the world. Kings taught us about power and about influence and about getting things done. A king assembles his own geographically based tribe and uses power to enforce compliance.

From royalty we learned how to build corporations. And from royalty we learned how to build nonprofits and other organizations as well. Long live the king.

Corporations are traditionally built around the CEO, with all his perks and power. The closer you get to being king/CEO, the more influence and power you have. The goal of the corporation is to enrich the king and to keep him in power.

And then, recently, something happened.

Marketing changed everything. Marketing created leverage. Marketing certainly changed the status quo. Most of all, marketing freed and energized the tribe.

If the tribe doesn’t like the king, they’re now free to leave.

The changing status quo isn’t such good news for the CEO, just as the changing face of warfare and politics wasn’t good news for the crowned heads of Europe a century ago.

Marketing is the act of telling stories about the things we make—stories that sell and stories that spread. Marketing elects presidents, and marketing raises money for charity. Marketing also determines if the CEO stays or goes (Carly Fiorina learned this the hard way). Most of all, marketing influences markets.

Marketing used to be about advertising, and advertising is expensive. Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.

Today, the market doesn’t want the same thing it wanted yesterday. Marketing, a hundred years of incessant marketing, has drilled into us a thirst for what’s new. And new isn’t so stable, is it?

Stability Is an Illusion

Marketing changed the idea of stability. It’s human nature—we still assume the world is stable, still assume that Google will be number one in five years, that we’ll type on keyboards and fly on airplanes, that China will keep growing, and that the polar ice cap won’t really be melted in six years.

And we’re wrong.

We’re wrong because the dynamics of marketing and storytelling and the incessant drumbeat of advertising have taught us to be restless in the face of stability. And the Internet just amplifies this lesson.

No one watches a mediocre YouTube video they’ve seen before. No one passes on a boring e-mail. No one invests in a stock that’s boring, with few prospects for big growth.

Here’s what’s changed: some people admire the new and the stylish far more than they respect the proven state of affairs. And more often than not, these fad-focused early adopters are the people who buy and the people who talk. As a result, new ways of doing things, new jobs, new opportunities, and new faces become ever more important.

Marketing, the verb, changed the market. The market is now a lot less impressed with average stuff for average people, and the market is a lot less impressed with loud and flashy and expensive advertising. Today, the market wants change.

“Established 1906” used to be important. Now, apparently, it’s a liability.

The rush from stability is a huge opportunity for you.

Partisans

It’s a criticism when you throw that word at a politician, but all tribes are made up of partisans, the more partisan the better. If you’re a middle-of-the-roader, you don’t bother joining a tribe.

Partisans want to make a difference. Partisans want something to happen (and something else not to happen). Leaders lead when they take positions, when they connect with their tribes, and when they help the tribe connect to itself.

Making a Ruckus

The old rule was simple: The best way to grow an organization was to be reliable and consistent and trusted, and bit by bit, gain market share. The enemy was rapid change, because that led to uncertainty and to risk and to failure. People turned and ran.

Take a look at the top fifty charities on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s top four hundred charity list. During the last forty years, only a handful of charities on this list have changed. Why? Because donors didn’t want to take risks.

The business world has a long history of conservative tribes, of groups of people who relish the status quo. The big news is that this has changed. People yearn for change, they relish being part of a movement, and they talk about things that are remarkable, not boring.

Take a look at the Yugo and the Renault and the Sterling—manufactured by companies that decades ago tried to bring new ideas to the U.S. car market and failed. Why? Because drivers then didn’t want to buy a car that might disappear. It was no fun to work at these companies because they were fighting an uphill battle. Better to go work for General Motors.

New rule: If you want to grow, you need to find customers who are willing to join you or believe in you or donate to you or support you. And guess what? The only customers willing to do that are looking for something new. The growth comes from change and light and noise.

The Tesla Roadster is a $100,000 electric supercar, built in Silicon Valley. Impossible to consider thirty years ago. Now, it’s sold out. The company has assembled a tribe—eager customers, cheerleaders, and vicarious fans.

The Prius Hybrid is a new car based on a hundred-year-old technology that no domestic carmaker cared enough about to develop. Today, there’s a long list of brands following Toyota. The tribe has turned into a movement. This is astounding—the biggest, staidest consumer product industry turning itself upside down in just a few years.

If struggling, high-overhead car companies can launch a technology and find market acceptance, imagine what you can do with this new leverage.

What do you do for a living? What do you make?

Leaders make a ruckus.

Leading from the Bottom

The skeptical among us look at the idea of leadership and we hesitate.

We hesitate because it feels like something we need to be ordained to do. That without authority, we can’t lead. That big organizations reserve leadership for the CEO, not for us.

Perhaps you work at a big organization. Perhaps you feel as though there’s just too much resistance to change. Here’s a question: Is your organization stiffer than the Pentagon? More bureaucratic or formalized?

Thomas Barnett changed the Pentagon. From the bottom. No, he wasn’t on KP duty, but he was close. He had no status, no rank—he was just a researcher with a big idea.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said:

Mr. Barnett overhauled the concept to address more directly the post-9/11 world. The result is a three-hour PowerPoint presentation that more resembles performance art than a Pentagon briefing. It’s making Mr. Barnett, 41 years old, a key figure in the debate currently raging about what the modern military should look like. Senior military officials say his decidedly controversial ideas are influencing the way the Pentagon views its enemies, vulnerabilities and future structure.

It’s simple, really. Barnett led a tribe that was passionate about change. He galvanized them, inspired them, and connected them, through his idea.

One man with no authority suddenly becomes a key figure. Tribes give each of us the very same opportunity. Skill and attitude are essential. Authority is not. In fact, authority can get in the way.

The Grateful Dead…and Jack

It’s worth taking a second to think about what it really means to be a tribe.

In Permission Marketing, years ago, I wrote about how marketers must earn the right to deliver anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who want to get them. And that’s still correct, as far as it goes.

But tribes go much further. That’s because in addition to the messages that go from the marketer or the leader to the tribe, there are the messages that go sideways, from member to member, and back to the leader as well.

The Grateful Dead understood this. They created concerts to allow people not just to hear their music, but to hear it together. That’s where the tribe part comes in.

I just heard about Jack, an “occasional restaurant” run by Danielle Sucher and Dave Turner in Brooklyn. They open the restaurant only about twenty times a year, on Saturday nights. By appointment. Go online and you can see the menu in advance. Then, you book and pay if you want to go.

Instead of seeking diners for their dishes, Danielle and Dave get to create dishes for their diners. Instead of serving anonymous patrons, they throw a party.

Danielle is the food columnist for the popular Gothamist Web site, and she and Dave run the food blog Habeas Brûlée. That means they already interact with the tribe. It means that once the restaurant is up and running, it becomes the central clearinghouse, the place to hang out with the other tribe members.

If the food is daring and the service is generous, Jack can’t fail.

The Market Requires Change and That Requires Leadership

If leadership is the ability to create change your tribe believes in, and the market demands change, then the market demands leaders.

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Leadership doesn’t always start at the top, but it always manages to affect the folks at the top. In fact, most organizations are waiting for someone like you to lead them.

What Does It Take to Create a Movement?

If we look at two Nobel Prize winners and their movements—Muhammad Yunus and Al Gore—some parallels become clear, and they directly relate to the tactics available to you as you lead your tribe.

Microfinance as a tool to fight poverty and the effort to recognize and stem global warming have both become movements. But as Yasmina Zaidman, at the Acumen Fund, told me, both problems (and their solutions!) were recognized more than thirty years ago. We weren’t lacking the answer—Muhammad Yunus had it all along. So why did it take thirty years for the idea to gain steam?

The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, is that there’s a difference between telling people what to do and inciting a movement. The movement happens when people talk to one another, when ideas spread within the community, and most of all, when peer support leads people to do what they always knew was the right thing.

Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them.

This is how Skype spread around the world. Cofounder Niklas Zennström understood that overthrowing the tyranny of the phone companies was too big a project for a small company. But if he could empower the tribe to do it themselves, to connect to one another and to spread the word, he would be able to incite a movement.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it involved much the same dynamic. The collapse of East Germany wasn’t the work of one hardworking activist. Instead, it was the gradual but inexorable growth of the tribe, a loosely coordinated movement of activists that gained in force until it couldn’t be stopped.

One after another, intractable problems fall in the face of movements.

Improving a Tribe

As we saw earlier, it takes only two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:

  • A shared interest

  • A way to communicate

The communication can be one of four kinds:

  • Leader to tribe

  • Tribe to leader

  • Tribe member to tribe member
  • Tribe member to outsider

So a leader can help increase the effectiveness of the tribe and its members by

  • transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change;
  • providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and

  • leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members.

Most leaders focus only on the third tactic. A bigger tribe somehow equals a better tribe. In fact, the first two tactics almost always lead to more impact. Every action you take as a leader can affect these three elements, and the challenge is to figure out which one to maximize.

The American Automobile Association has millions of members, but it arguably has far less impact on the world than do the two thousand people who go to the TED conference each year. One is about big and the other is about change.

The National Rifle Association has a huge impact on the political culture of the United States, far in excess of the organization’s actual size. That’s because the tribe is extraordinarily well connected, communicating up, down, and sideways, and because they have a passionate mission, not just a common idea.

The new tools and technologies available to groups are transforming what it means to think of tribal communication. Smart leaders are grabbing those tools and putting them to work.

What Tribes Leave Behind

 

Build a company and you’ll leave a trace. A factory, advertising, the nonrecyclable junk produced as a result of your efforts.

Thinking about stuff is easy because we can see and touch and hold stuff. Stuff seems to matter, because it’s here, right now.

Tribes, though, aren’t about stuff. They’re about connection.

One of my favorite organizations, the Acumen Fund, just celebrated its seventh anniversary. This nonprofit funds entrepreneurs in the developing world, using trade and ownership and commerce as a replacement for achievement-stifling aid.

Acumen makes connections. It is growing a tribe of committed, talented people who are spreading a message of empowerment, respect, and growth. Here’s what amazed me, though: unlike the residue of stuff, the tribal connections you can create with leadership grow; they don’t fade. As the organization matures and touches more people, those connections lead to more connections. The tribe thrives; it delivers value and it spreads. Internet folks call this viral activity, or a virtuous cycle. The better you do, the better you do. Connections lead to connections. Great ideas spread.

Anatomy of a Movement

Senator Bill Bradley defines a movement as having three elements:

  1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build

  2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe

  3. Something to do—the fewer limits, the better

Too often organizations fail to do anything but the third.

Wikipedia

How did Wikipedia become one of the top ten sites on the Internet? It has only about a dozen full-time employees and had no source of revenue other than small donations.

The way that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s cofounder, built the tribe is instructive. He attracted a small group of people (only five thousand people account for the vast majority of work on the articles on the site) and engaged them in a vision. He didn’t tell them what to do. He didn’t manage the effort; he led it.

Wales connected the tribe members to one another with ever-evolving technology that made it easier and easier for them to engage and communicate. And he gave the tribe a platform they could use to engage the outside world.

That’s it—three steps: motivate, connect, and leverage.

Leading from the Bottom (with a Newsletter)

In 1984, at the age of twenty-four, I joined a tiny software company called Spinnaker. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we were crazy enough to embrace the audacious goal of inventing the first generation of educational computer games. I was the thirtieth employee.

After my summer internship, Spinnaker offered me a job starting a new brand. They wanted me to acquire science fiction stories and turn them into literary adventure games. Byron Preiss had already sold us the rights to Fahrenheit 451 and a few other novels, and I had to acquire others and turn them all into products ready for stores nationwide. The problem was that no one worked for me. No secretary, no staff, no programmers.

Spinnaker was busy building dozens of products, and about forty programmers in the Engineering Department were allocated on a rotating basis to various projects. I was lent precisely three programmers. I needed more, a lot more, if I was going to make my Christmas ship date.

So I started a newsletter. The newsletter highlighted the work of every person who worked on one of my products. It highlighted their breakthroughs and talked about the new ground we were breaking (music! in a game!). I made photocopies and distributed the newsletter to the interoffice mailbox of every person in the company—by then about a hundred people.

Twice a week, the newsletter went out. Twice a week, I talked about our quest. Twice a week, I chronicled the amazing work of our tiny tribe. The newsletter connected the tribe members. It turned a disparate group of career engineers into a working community.

Within a month, six engineers had defected to the tribe, working with me in their spare time. Then it was twenty. Soon, every person in the entire department was either assigned to my project or moonlighting on it. We shipped five products in time for Christmas, and every one went Gold, selling millions of dollars’ worth of copies and saving the company.

Did engineers switch because of the newsletter? Of course not. They switched for the journey. They wanted to be part of something that mattered. Twenty years later, people on that team still talk about what we built. And I, the twenty-four-year-old with no experience and no staff, got to go on the ride of a lifetime.

Is that all I did? Launch a newsletter? Of course not. I did difficult things, pushed obstacles out of the way, lived and breathed the project, and injected it with a soul. Thirty of us slept in the office every night for a month to make the ship date. Twenty-nine highly skilled technical people and me. Everyone had a job to do that month and mine was to help everyone else communicate.

Everything I did was for us, not for me. I didn’t manage; I led.

Crowds and Tribes

Two different things:

A crowd is a tribe without a leader.

A crowd is a tribe without communication.

Most organizations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organizations assemble the tribe.

Crowds are interesting, and they can create all sorts of worthwhile artifacts and market effects. But tribes are longer lasting and more effective.

Marketing Changes Everything, but It Mostly Changes the Market

The market wants you to be remarkable. The most important tribes are bored with yesterday and demand tomorrow. Most of all, the market has demonstrated that ideas that spread win, and the ideas that are spreading are the remarkable ones.

For fifty years, established brands with efficient factories and effective marketing carried the day. Pepsi, the Salvation Army, and the local hardware store were the cornerstones of the marketplace. Suddenly, though, the oldest brands are no longer the fastest-growing ones. Suddenly, the most experienced businesspeople are no longer the most successful ones. And suddenly, the safest jobs are not so safe anymore.

The marketplace has raised its voice. It’s now clear that we want novelty and style and, most of all, stuff that’s great. If you want us to follow you, don’t be boring.

“Good enough” stopped being good enough a long time ago. So why not be great?

The Difference Between Average and Mediocre

Management often works to maintain the status quo, to deliver average products to average people. In a stable environment, this is exactly the right strategy. Build reliability and predictability, cut costs, and make a profit.

Traditional marketing, the marketing of push, understands this. The most stable thing to do is push a standard product to a standard audience and succeed with discounts or distribution.

But for tribes, average can mean mediocre. Not worth seeking out. Boring.

Life’s too short to fight the forces of change. Life’s too short to hate what you do all day. Life’s way too short to make mediocre stuff. And almost everything that’s standard is now viewed as mediocre.

Is there a difference between average and mediocre? Not so much. Average stuff is taken for granted, not talked about, and certainly not sought out.

The end result of this is that many people (many really good people) spend all day trying to defend what they do, trying to sell what they’ve always sold, and trying to prevent their organizations from being devoured by the forces of the new. It must be wearing them out. Defending mediocrity is exhausting.

How Many Fans Do You Have?

In an article posted on his Technium Web site, Kevin Kelly brilliantly described the world of “1,000 True Fans.” A true fan, he argues, is a member of the tribe who cares deeply about you and your work. That person will cross the street to buy from you or bring a friend to hear you or invest a little extra to support you.

An individual artist needs only a thousand true fans in her tribe. It’s enough.

It’s enough because a thousand fans will bring you enough attention and support to make a great living, to reach more people, to do great work. It’s enough because a thousand fans, true fans, form a tribe.

A true fan brings three friends with him to a John Mayer concert or to the opening of a Chuck Close exhibit. A true fan pays extra to own the first edition, or buys the hardcover, instead of just browsing around on the Web site. Most important, a true fan connects with other true fans and amplifies the noise the artist makes.

A corporation or a nonprofit or a church may need more than that—perhaps a million fans if you’re Starbucks, or fifteen million if you’re running for president. But it’s beyond doubt that there’s a number—you can figure out what it is—and it’s probably fewer people than you imagine.

Too many organizations care about numbers, not fans. They care about hits or turnstile clicks or media mentions. What they’re missing is the depth of commitment and interconnection that true fans deliver. Instead of always being on the hunt for one more set of eyeballs, true leaders have figured out that the real win is in turning a casual fan into a true one.

Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious. Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.

Twitter and Trust and Tribes and True Fans

Most people who see Twitter.com don’t get it. It seems invasive or time consuming or even dumb.

The converts, though, understand the true power of Twitter. Twitter is deceptively simple: it’s a Web protocol that makes it easy to instant-message people with short notes like “going to the gym.” In fact, the limit is 140 characters, about half the length of this paragraph.

The difference between an instant message and twits, though, is that your instant message goes to one person and a twit goes to anyone who has chosen to follow you. Example: Laura Fitton, a young mom in Boston, has thousands of people following her on Twitter. Every time she types in a short blurb, they see it.

Over time, twit by twit, Laura has built trust, which has led to a successful career as a consultant and a worldwide speaking practice. She’s met fascinating people and changed the way her tribe sees the world. She now has true fans, people who seek her out and talk about her.

Laura couldn’t have done this with one speech or one blog post. But by consistently touching a tribe of people with generosity and insight, she’s earned the right to lead.

Personally, I can’t imagine the technology mattering much. Blogs and Twitter and all manner of other tools will come and go, possibly by the time you read this. The tactics are irrelevant, and the technology will always be changing. The essential lesson is that every day it gets easier to tighten the relationship you have with the people who choose to follow you.

The Status Quo

Organizations that destroy the status quo win.

Individuals who push their organizations, who inspire other individuals to change the rules, thrive. Again, we’re back to leadership, which can come from anyone, anywhere in the organization.

The status quo could be the time that “everyone knows” it takes you to ship an order, or the commission rate that “everyone knows” an agent ought to be paid. The status quo might be the way everyone expects a product to be packaged or the pricing model that everyone accepts because it’s been around so long.

Whatever the status quo is, changing it gives you the opportunity to be remarkable.

Initiative = Happiness

Look around. You’ll see that the marketplace (every marketplace) rewards innovation: things that are fresh, stylish, remarkable, and new.

The fastest-growing churches are the newest ones. The best-selling books are always the surprise hits that come out of nowhere. The tax shelter that everyone is talking about is the one based on the latest rulings.

Products and services like those require initiative to produce. You can’t manage your way to initiative.

Interesting side effect: creating products and services that are remarkable is fun. Doing work that’s fun is engaging. So not surprisingly, making things that are successful is a great way to spend your time.

There you go: initiative = happiness.

Crowbars

With a long enough crowbar, you can rip nails out of a board.

With a long enough teeter-totter, you can lift a sumo wrestler off the ground.

With enough leverage, you can change your company, your industry, and the world.

The levers just got longer (for everyone). The Web and word of mouth and viruses and outsourcing and the long tail and the other factors involved in social media mean that everyone (every person, all six billion of us) has far more power than ever before. The king and the status quo are in big trouble.

Wait. You might have glossed over that last paragraph—perhaps because it’s so short but especially because it’s so challenging.

What I’m saying is that one person can make a video that reaches fifty million viewers.

What I’m saying is that one person can invent a pricing model that turns an industry upside down.

What I’m saying is that one person—okay, what I really mean is you—has everything. Everything you need to build something far bigger than yourself. The people around you realize this, and they are ready to follow if you’re ready to lead.

Scott Beale’s Party

Here’s a simple example of a tribe enabled by new technology. Scott Beale is an impresario with a long history of innovation and leadership. His company, Laughing Squid, does everything from Web hosting to T-shirts, from laser engraving to arts listings. In short, he leads an eclectic tribe.

At the SXSW conference in 2008, Scott got tired of waiting in line to get into the Google party. So he walked down the street, found a deserted bar, grabbed some tables in the back, and fired up his cell phone. Using Twitter, he announced: “Alta Vista Party at Ginger Man.” Within minutes, eight people showed up. Shortly thereafter, fifty. Then there was a line out the door.

No, it’s not a political movement. Sure, it’s a tribe. The energy and connection of the tribe are palpable. Multiply this effect by a million similar tribes and now you understand what’s happening. Tribes are just waiting to be turned into movements. (And occasionally to stop to have a beer together.) It’s important to note that Twitter merely enabled the event; it didn’t cause it to occur. Unless Scott had earned the respect and permission of the tribe that follows him, he would have been all alone at the bar. The party didn’t take four minutes to organize; it took four years.

A Brief History of the Factory, Part 1 (the Beginning)

Two things conspired to bring us the factory.

The first is pretty obvious: factories are efficient. Starting a factory and filling it with factory workers is a good way to make a profit.

By “factory,” I don’t necessarily mean a place with heavy machinery, greasy floors, and a din. I mean any organization that cranks out a product or a service, does it with measurable output, and tries to reduce costs as it goes. I mean any job where your boss tells you what to do and how to do it.

The second reason we have factories has nothing to do with efficiency and a lot to do with human nature. Part of us wants stability. We want the absence of responsibility that a factory job can give us. The idea of “I’m doing what you told me to” is very compelling, especially if the alternative is foraging for food or begging on the streets.

So when factories showed up, we ran to join them.

On a recent trip I took to India, this mind-set was made crystal clear. Ask almost anyone there what the perfect job would be, and the answer is: working as a government bureaucrat. Not only do you have air-conditioning, but you aren’t even asked to take initiative. The job is steady, the pay is good, and there are no surprises.

The factory is part of the fabric of our lives. It’s there because it pays, and it’s there because it’s steady, and it’s there because we want it. What you won’t find in a factory is a motivated tribe making a difference. And what you won’t find waiting outside the factory is a tribe of customers, excited about what’s to come.

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