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A Brief History of the Factory, Part II (the End)
Somewhere along the way, perhaps when twenty thousand Ford workers lost their jobs in one day, or when it became clear that soft drink companies were losing all their growth to upstarts, the factory advantage began to fade.
It wasn’t so safe to have a factory job after all.
And in an age of leverage, in an age where smarts and style were beating machines every time, doing what your boss said wasn’t so enticing either.
If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Did you say, “A low-level bureaucrat working in the Social Security office in Yonkers, New York”?
Did you say, “A midlevel supervisor at a struggling GM plant in Ohio”?
Did you say, “Fry cook at McDonald’s”?
Somehow, I doubt it.
Now, it seems, the air-conditioning and the illusion of deniability aren’t worth so much. Now, when we envision our dream jobs, we’re imagining someone who reaps huge rewards as a result of her insight. Or someone who has control over what he does all day, creating products or services that he’s actually proud of. It certainly involves having authority over your time and your effort and having input into what you do.
None of which have anything to do with working in a factory.
So Is It Really a “Free Agent Nation”?
The author Dan Pink coined the term Free Agent Nation to describe a movement of smart people leaving organizations to go out on their own.
That’s not what I’m talking about, though.
Organizations are more important than ever before. It’s the factories we don’t need.
Organizations give us the ability to create complex products. They provide the muscle and consistency necessary to get things to market and to back them up. Most important, organizations have the scale to care for large tribes.
But organizations don’t have to be factories, not anymore. Factories are easy to outsource. Factories can slow you down. The organizations of the future are filled with smart, fast, flexible people on a mission. The thing is, that requires leadership.
If you don’t have a time-tested manual, you can’t manage your way through this. In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from managers who push their employees to do more for less.
The F Word
So if tribes reward innovation…
…and if initiators are happier…
…then why doesn’t everyone do it?
Because of fear.
I’ve encountered thousands (it might be tens of thousands) of people walking around with great ideas. Some of the ideas really are great; some are merely pretty good. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of ideas. Ordinary folks can dream up remarkable stuff fairly easily.
What’s missing is the will to make the ideas happen.
In a battle between two ideas, the best one doesn’t necessarily win. No, the idea that wins is the one with the most fearless heretic behind it.
A lot of us would like to believe that there’s a Bureau of Idea Approval, or the BIA if you like acronyms. The BIA sits in judgment of ideas and blesses the best ones. Go ahead and hone your remarkable concept, submit it to the BIA, and let them do the rest.
Alas, it’s not going to happen like that any time soon.
Thinking Your Way Out of the Fear
Fear’s an emotion, no doubt about it. One of the strongest, oldest, and most hardwired.
The media love to glamorize the rare downfall of the heretic who doesn’t quite make it. We’re already primed to hear about the person who got into trouble, who lost his job, his house, his family—his happiness—because he had the hubris and audacity to challenge the status quo. And since we’re eager for this news, we notice it the few times it happens.
What’s interesting about the folks I meet who are engaged and are clearly heretics is that they’ve actively talked themselves out of the fear. I mean, the fear is still there, but it’s drowned out by a different story.
It’s the story of success, of drive, of doing something that matters. It’s an intellectual story about what the world (or your industry or your project) needs and how your insight can help make a difference.
I believe you can talk over the fear, laying out a game plan that makes the fear obsolete. It’s not about some clever tactic or a better way to write a memo to your boss. It’s about making it clear to yourself (and to others) that the world is now demanding that we change. And fast.
We need to stop again. It’s clear that just a few paragraphs aren’t going to be sufficient to undo a lifetime of having fear beaten into you.
So stop for a second and think about this. The only shortcut in this book, the only technique or how-to or inside info is this: the levers are here. The proof is here. The power is here. The only thing holding you back is your own fear.
Not easy to admit, but essential to understand.
The Peter Principle Revisited
Dr. Laurence Peter is famous for proposing that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” In other words, when you do a great job, you get promoted. And that process repeats itself until finally you end up in a job you can’t handle.
I’d like to paraphrase the Peter Principle. I think what actually happens is that “in every organization everyone rises to the level at which they become paralyzed with fear.” The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear (and seeing it in the people you wish to lead). No, it won’t go away, but awareness is the key to making progress.
When It All Falls Apart
It’s so common, but it doesn’t really have a name. I’m talking about the people who struggle for years but never seem to get anywhere. This lack of traction is often most noticeable in small businesses, but you’ll also find it at well-meaning nonprofits and large corporations.
You work and work, following all the rules, pushing really hard but nothing happens. All pain, no gain.
I think these people are becoming ever better at following, but are never learning to lead. They’re following instructions, following directions, following the pack, and honing their skills—but hiding. Hiding from the fear of leading.
When you are leading a tribe, a tribe that you belong to, the benefits increase, the work gets easier, and the results are more obvious. That’s the best reason to overcome the fear.
A remarkable product or service is like a purple cow. Brown cows are boring; purple ones are worth mentioning. Those ideas spread; those organizations grow. The essence of what’s happening in the market today revolves around creating purple cows.
Here’s the marketing math:
Ideas that spread, win.
Boring ideas don’t spread. Boring organizations don’t grow.
Working in an environment that’s static is no fun.
Even worse, working for an organization that is busy fighting off change is horrible.
So why haven’t you and your team launched as many purple cows as you’d like?
Fear of Failure Is Overrated
Fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse. Why? Because if you work for someone, then, more often than not, the actual cost of the failure is absorbed by the organization, not by you. If your product launch fails, they’re not going to fire you. The company will make a bit less money and will move on.
What people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism.
We choose not to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism. We hesitate to create innovative movies, launch new human resource initiatives, design a menu that makes diners take notice, or give an audacious sermon because we’re worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” “What a waste of money.” “Who’s responsible for this?”
Sometimes the criticism doesn’t even have to be that obvious. The fear of hearing “I’m surprised you launched this without doing more research” is enough to get many people to do a lot more research, to study something to death, and then kill it. Hey, at least you didn’t get criticized.
Fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent because the criticism doesn’t actually have to occur for the fear to set in. Watch a few people get criticized for being innovative, and it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that the very same thing will happen to you if you’re not careful.
Constructive criticism, of course, is a terrific tool. If a critic tells you, “I don’t like it” or “This is disappointing,” he’s done no good at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. He’s used his power to injure without giving you any information to help you do better next time. Worse, he hasn’t given those listening any data with which to make a thoughtful decision on their own. Not only that, but by refusing to reveal the basis for his criticism, he’s being a coward, because there’s no way to challenge his opinion.
I admit it. When I get a bad review, my feelings are hurt. After all, it would be nice if every critic said a title of mine was a breakthrough, an inspirational, thoughtful book that explains how everything works.
But sometimes they don’t. Which is about enough to ruin my day.
But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to ruin my day because I realize that my book got noticed. Most people loved it. A few hated it. But by and large, most books are ignored.
One bad review doesn’t ruin my day because I realize what a badge of honor it is to get a bit of criticism at all. It means that I confounded expectations—that I didn’t deliver the sequel or the simple, practical guide that some expected. It means that, in fact, I did something worth remarking on.
The lesson here is this: if I had written a boring book, there’d be no criticism. No conversation. The products and services that get talked about are the ones that are worth talking about.
How was your day? If your answer is “fine,” then I don’t think you were leading.
So the challenge, as you contemplate your next opportunity to be boring or remarkable, is to answer these two questions:
- “If I get criticized for this, will I suffer any measurable impact? Will I lose my job, get hit upside the head with a softball bat, or lose important friendships?” If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing. Being remarkable is exciting, fun, profitable, and great for your career. Feeling bad wears off.
And then, once you’ve compared the bad feeling and the benefits, and you’ve sold yourself on taking the remarkable path, answer this one:
- How can I create something that critics will criticize?
The Cult of the Heretic
Heretics are engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else. And they have a tribe that they support (and that supports them in turn).
Challenging the status quo requires a commitment, both public and private. It involves reaching out to others and putting your ideas on the line. (Or pinning your Ninety-five Theses to the church door.) Heretics must believe. More than anyone else in an organization, it’s the person who’s challenging the status quo, the one who is daring to be great, who is truly present and not just punching a clock who must have confidence in her beliefs.
Can you imagine Steve Jobs showing up for the paycheck? It’s nice to get paid. It’s essential to believe.
Should They Build a Statue of You?
How much ego is involved in being a leader?
David Chang is a fantastic chef with a loyal tribe. His restaurants are blogged about incessantly and people spend hours trying to get in to them. They take photos of the items he makes and post them online, together with reviews like “David Chang is a genius.” It’s clear to me that if they built statues for chefs, they’d build one for David.
But is David doing it for the glory, or is he doing it for the tribe? I think you know the answer—great leaders focus on the tribe and only the tribe.
Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun working in a monastery in Nova Scotia. Millions of people across the world revere her work, read her books, listen to her recordings, and visit her if they can. Is she a raging egomaniac? Of course not. Listen to her for three minutes and you’ll know that she’s not doing what she does for glory; she’s doing it to help.
Which is true of all great leaders, from David Chang in his New York City kitchen to Nancy Pearl, Seattle’s favorite librarian. They’re generous. They exist to help the tribe find something, to enable the tribe to thrive. But they understand that the most powerful way to enable is to be statueworthy: by getting out front, by making a point, by challenging convention, and by speaking up. Those are brave acts, and bravery begets statues.
It’s easy to hesitate when confronted with the feeling that maybe you’re getting too much attention. Great leaders are able to reflect the light onto their teams, their tribes. Great leaders don’t want the attention, but they use it. They use it to unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose.
When you abuse the attention, you are taking something from the tribe. When Fidel Castro gave six-or seven-hour-long speeches (with mandatory attendance), he was diminishing the energy of his tribe. When a CEO takes the spoils of royalty and starts acting like a selfish monarch, he’s no longer leading. He’s taking.
The World’s Best Coach
Watching Meghan McDonald coach the members of Team Rock is hardly awe-inspiring. Mostly, she just talks quietly, one on one, to someone who needs to hear from her. Over the course of a few hours, Meghan will have dozens of conversations like that. She occasionally talks to the entire team, but she never raises her voice. No one cries, no one is belittled, no one is bullied.
After just a few weeks, amazing things start to happen. The members of the team start coaching each other. A ten-year-old novice offers a pointer to a veteran recently back from the national competition. Meghan leaves the building, and practice continues.
Sports analogies rarely work for me. They’re too unrealistic, too testosterone filled for the real world. Meghan, however, isn’t just a coach. She’s someone who understands authentic leadership, and she realizes what it means to create a tribe.
She doesn’t lead the way other people lead. And that’s fine, because there isn’t a right technique, a proven tactic, a right way and a wrong way. Deciding to lead, not manage, is the critical choice.
Meghan connects and inspires. She doesn’t manage.
The first thing a leader can focus on is the act of tightening the tribe.
It’s tempting to make the tribe bigger, to get more members, to spread the word. This pales, however, when juxtaposed with the effects of a tighter tribe. A tribe that communicates more quickly, with alacrity and emotion, is a tribe that thrives.
A tighter tribe is one that is more likely to hear its leader, and more likely still to coordinate action and ideas across the members of the tribe.
Steve Jobs at Apple has tightened the tribe of Apple fanatics in a variety of ways. By creating substantial new products and announcing them online, he’s made it a ritual for Apple fanatics to “tune in” to hear what’s new. Within hours of a new product announcement, the word has spread to millions or even tens of millions of users—all electronically, all online. At the same time, Apple has enjoyed an interesting side effect of Jobs’s obsession with secrecy about new products: online rumor sites and speculation further fuel the conversations among Apple fans. Users will prototype imagined products and share pictures and even dig up obscure patents to prove their points.
This tightening can happen without technology, and it can happen when there is no profit motive. Keith Ferrazzi leads a tribe of smart celebrities and opinion leaders—from Meg Ryan to Ben Zander—and he leads this unleadable group merely by tightening the tribe. He introduces people. He invites them to dinner. He finds areas of common interest and then gets out of the way.
Tactics and Tools for Tightness
The Internet and the explosion in social media have made it easier than ever to market.
The first kind of marketing, the act of spreading the word and reaching the unreached, allows tribes of all sorts to form. Sites like Meetup.com and Craigslist make it easy for people who aren’t connected to become connected.
I’m more interested in the second kind of marketing, the act of tightening your organization and spreading the word within the tribe. A blog is an easy way to see this method in action. A blogger has a free, nearly effortless tool to send regular (daily? hourly?) messages to the people who want to read them. And with comments and trackbacks, the members of the tribe can talk back—and to each other. Discussions take place, ideas are shared, decisions are made—quickly.
I could write an entire book about the power of a blog to disseminate a leader’s ideas. An unpublished poet, previously doomed to railing against the system, is now published (if he wants to be). If the ideas are great, they’ll spread. The spread of these ideas can attract a tribe, and the poet goes from anonymity to leadership.
Blogs can work within existing organizations as well. I needed a photocopied newsletter to galvanize the engineers I worked with in 1984; you can use a blog and reach more people, more powerfully and for free.
Internet companies have taken the original idea behind blogs and amplified it into a set of tools that anyone can use to tighten a tribe.
With Twitter, tiny driplike updates reach the thousands of people who are waiting to hear from you and follow your lead.
Facebook goes in the opposite direction of Twitter. Instead of forcing you to use just a few characters, it enables a huge range of images, text, and connections to be created. Facebook surfaces what some are calling the social graph. Who you know, how you know them, who knows whom. It takes the hidden world of tribes and illuminates it with bright digital light.
Basecamp is a third form of online interaction, very different from Twitter and Facebook in that it’s quite deliberate, perfect for managing projects and tracking work. By accessing the stuff that used to be in private e-mails or handwritten journals, Basecamp makes it easy for the entire tribe to track progress and feel the momentum that you’re building.
Nothing online is even close to a substitute for the hard work and generosity that comes from leadership. But these tools make leadership more powerful and productive, regardless of who’s in your tribe.
Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. If everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens. It’s discomfort that creates the leverage that makes leadership worthwhile.
In other words, if everyone could do it, they would, and it wouldn’t be worth much.
It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.
It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.
It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.
It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.
When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed.
If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.
Of course, a tribe needs followers too. An organization, any organization, needs people who aren’t just willing to follow, but are eager to follow.
I think, though, it’s a mistake to believe that your best tribe recruits are blind sheep. Folks who do nothing but mindlessly follow instructions let you down in two ways.
First, they’re not going to do the local leadership required when tribe members interact. They’re going to be so busy following the playbook that they’ll hesitate about engaging in the interactions that make a tight tribe such a vibrant organization. People don’t engage merely to remind one another of the status quo. Instead, they eagerly engage when they want something to improve. This microleadership is essential to the health of your organization.
Second, they’re not going to do a very good job of recruiting new members to your tribe. That’s because evangelism requires leadership. Leading someone toward giving up one worldview and embracing yours isn’t easy and it’s not always comfortable. Consider any vibrant group—political activists, nonprofit volunteers, or brand fanatics. In each case, it’s the microleaders in the trenches and their enthusiastic followers who make the difference, not the honcho who is ostensibly running the group.
Leaning In, Backing Off, Doing Nothing
Groups create vacuums—small pockets where stasis sets in, where nothing is happening. Imagine a cocktail party in its early stages, where everyone is standing around, waiting for something to happen. Or a marketplace before it opens, filled with shoppers but with all the stores boarded up, with nothing to create energy or excitement. There are no tribes here, only isolated individuals in groups with no motion.
Leaders figure out how to step into those vacuums and create motion. They work hard to generate movement—the sort of movement that can transform a group into a tribe.
A student can sit in a classroom and accept what the teacher is sending out, then do the work and get by. Or she can take initiative and lead. She can provoke and question and ask for more.
A marketer can offer a product, take orders, and move on. Or he can use interactions with prospects to create something more, to surprise and delight and generate far more than just a customer who got her money’s worth.
This posture of leaning in is rare and valuable. In the spring of 2008, I announced a paid summer internship for students. More than 130 well-educated students from all over the world applied. As an experiment, I set up a private Facebook group for the applicants and invited each one to participate. Sixty of them joined immediately.
No tribe existed yet—just sixty strangers in an online forum.
Within hours, a few had taken the lead, posting topics, starting discussions, leaning in and leading. They called on their peers to contribute and participate.
And the rest? They lurked. They sat and they watched. They were hiding, afraid of something that wasn’t likely to happen.
Whom would you hire?
How could the lurkers imagine that doing nothing would increase the chances that they’d be selected? Were they hoping that they’d meet someone interesting or discover something new by just watching?
The experiment was perfect in that there were no externalities, no side discussions, no special cases—just sixty or so people, each demonstrating behavior that came naturally.
Not all leadership involves getting in the face of the tribe. It takes just as much effort to successfully get out of the way. Jimmy Wales leads Wikipedia not by inciting, but by enabling others to fill the vacuum. My leadership of the internship application process involved setting the stage and stepping back, not pushing at every step along the way.
The one path that never works is the most common one: doing nothing at all.
Nothing at all feels safe and it takes very little effort. It involves a lot of rationalization and a bit of hiding as well.
The difference between backing off and doing nothing may appear subtle, but it’s not. A leader who backs off is making a commitment to the power of the tribe, and is alert to the right moment to step back in. Someone who is doing nothing is merely hiding.
Leadership is a choice. It’s the choice to not do nothing.
Lean in, back off, but don’t do nothing.
Participating Isn’t Leading
Twenty percent of the population of Canada now uses Facebook. Many of those users have the false impression that joining a group somehow matters. It doesn’t. (And Canadians aren’t the only ones with the same impression.) Sending in your résumé, showing up at the networking reception, hanging out at the singles bar—these are dumb ways to lead the tribe, and they’re not even useful ways to be seen as a valued member.
Showing up isn’t sufficient. Friending ten or twenty or a thousand people in Facebook might be good for your ego but it has zero to do with any useful measure of success.
Case Studies: CrossFit.com and Patientslikeme.com
CrossFit is a tribe of slightly crazy (okay, really crazy) fitness fanatics. These are people who on any given day will do a routine like this one: Fifteen handstand push-ups, followed by one pull-up, followed by thirteen handstand push-ups, followed by three pull-ups, followed by eleven handstand push-ups, followed by five pull-ups, followed by nine handstand push-ups, followed by seven pull-ups, followed by seven handstand push-ups, followed by nine pull-ups, followed by five handstand push-ups, followed by eleven pull-ups, followed by three handstand push-ups, followed by thirteen pull-ups, followed by one handstand push-up, followed by fifteen pull-ups
And they’ll do it in a timed competition against thousands of people around the world. On the day I checked their site, more than four hundred people had posted their times on this particular workout.
There are certification courses across the country and they are invariably sold out weeks or months in advance. A growing cadre of certified trainers are opening gyms around the world, each gym finding its own new members of the CrossFit tribe, all coordinated by the central Web site.
The CrossFit tribe is strong and getting stronger. And it’s largely the work of Greg Glassman, otherwise known as Coach. Coach has built the CrossFit tribe from scratch, inspiring and cajoling and laying down the rules. No Coach, no tribe.
Glassman innately understands how to lead the tribe. He pushes them to the limit every day. He creates an environment where the tribe not only wants to share news and ideas and camaraderie with one another, but is able to. And the tribe grows because individuals proudly segregate themselves and speak up on behalf of the tribe, simultaneously recruiting and hazing new members.
Compare this to patientslikeme.com, a Web site I discovered via an article in the New York Times.
Here’s a tribe that appears to be leaderless. There are more than seven thousand ill people, each sharing all the details of his or her diagnosis and current health status. From dosages to side effects, the group is building an ever-growing database of real-world data about treatments for Parkinson’s and other debilitating diseases. And they’re supporting one another with enthusiasm and comfort as they go.
There is no Greg Glassman or Oprah Winfrey cheering them on. They cheer one another on—and who better, because no one can appreciate what they’re going through more than they can.
But the founders of patientslikeme.com are leaders nonetheless. They found a tribe that desperately wanted to communicate, and they gave them the tools to do so. They made the tribe tighter. That’s leadership as well.
Leaning in or backing off, but not doing nothing.
Three Hungry Men and a Tribe
When you get a chance, head over to http://msg150.com. This blog is obsessively chronicling every restaurant in a sixteen-block square of Seattle. For each restaurant (most of them are Asian), they include details like the length of the chopsticks and the contents of the bonus fortune cookie.
Here’s a quote:
I was looking forward to this place, cause some Amazon buddies rated it quite highly. It’s a small place, requiring us to eat in the neighboring food court (which is awesome, cause I like hanging out with crack addicts). As is typical I ordered typical fare, menu item number 1, the Tonkatsu. It advertised that it contained “slice of pork,” which just wasn’t going to work for me. I opted for extra pork.
…This ramen is like a bowl of fatty pork in butter with some noodles added for texture. I admire their bravery in serving this to me. It should come with a carton of Newports, for clearly my health is not their concern. The broth, though flavorful, is overwhelmed with the fatness of the pork. However, the pork is fantastic, delicious, and cooked to the point where it falls apart.
I don’t know about you, but I want in. I want to eat at every one of these restaurants, I want to post my own reviews, I want to join this tribe. If they ask me to pitch in, I will. I’m in.
Others will scoff and move on, wondering what the obsession is all about. That’s what makes it a tribe, of course. There are insiders and outsiders.
A fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to his religion before he explores it.
As opposed to a curious person who explores first and then considers whether or not he wants to accept the ramifications.
A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.
Curious is the key word. It has nothing to do with income, nothing to do with education, and certainly nothing to do with organized religion. It has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope is interesting. Leaders are curious because they can’t wait to find out what the group is going to do next. The changes in the tribe are what are interesting, and curiosity drives them.
Curious people count. Not because there are a lot of them, but because they’re the ones who talk to people who are in a stupor. They’re the ones who lead the masses in the middle who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing, which the curious can’t abide.
It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is for someone to become curious. For seven, ten, or even fifteen years of school, you are required to not be curious. Over and over and over again, the curious are punished.
I don’t think it’s a matter of saying a magic word; boom and then suddenly something happens and you’re curious. It’s more about a five- or ten- or fifteen-year process where you start finding your voice, and finally you begin to realize that the safest thing you can do feels risky and the riskiest thing you can do is play it safe.
Once recognized, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away. Ever. And perhaps it’s such curiosity that will lead us to distinguish our own greatness from the mediocrity that stares us in the face.
What we’re seeing is that fundamentalism really has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with an outlook, regardless what your religion is.
The Plurality Myth
In order to win an election, you need more than half the votes. Ideally, more than half of the population will support you, but you win if you get more than half the voters.
In order to lead a tribe, no such rule applies. All you need to do is motivate people who choose to follow you. The rest of the population is free to ignore you or disagree with you or move on.
Starbucks doesn’t serve coffee to the majority of people in the United States. The New York City Crochet Guild appeals to just a small percentage of the people who encounter it. That’s okay. You don’t need a plurality or even a majority. In fact, in nearly every case, trying to lead everyone results in leading no one in particular.
This leads to an interesting thought: you get to choose the tribe you will lead.
Through your actions as a leader, you attract a tribe that wants to follow you. That tribe has a worldview that matches the message you’re sending.
If you are leading a tribe focused on saving the world by fighting global warming, the tribe will, of course, have a worldview that includes the idea that global warming is a problem and that it can be addressed through its actions. They come to the tribe with that in mind and your leadership resonates with them.
If, on the other hand, you choose to work to persuade a different group, one with a very different worldview, they will likely reject you. Al Gore started leading his tribe when he didn’t know who they were. He stated his message and people found him.
Ultimately, people are most easily led where they wanted to go all along. While that may seem as if it limits your originality or influence, it’s true. Fox News didn’t persuade millions of people to become conservatives; they just assembled the tribe and led them where they were already headed.
The Schoolteacher Experiment
Imagine two classrooms with similar teachers. One has fifteen students, the other, thirty-two. Which group gets a better education?
All other things being equal, the smaller class will always do better. The teacher has more time to spend customizing the lesson to each student. She has fewer students, hence fewer disruptions as well.
Now, flip the experiment around. What if the fifteen students are begrudgingly taking the course as a requirement for graduation, while the thirty-two had to apply to be admitted and are excited to be there.
Tribes are increasingly voluntary. No one is forced to work for your firm or attend your services. People have a choice of which music to listen to and which movies to watch.
So great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be.
The Virtuous Cycle Versus the Exclusive Tribe
Some businesses get better when they get bigger. Some nonprofits do as well. Tribes that work better when they’re bigger get bigger.
Political parties, for example, thrive when they’re the majority. Facebook works precisely because everyone uses it. You have a fax machine only because everyone you work with does too.
But bigger isn’t always the answer.
Some tribes do better when they’re smaller. More exclusive. Harder to get into. Some tribes thrive precisely because they’re small. Push to make one of these tribes bigger and you might just ruin the entire thing. “No one goes there anymore; it’s too popular.” It’s always a choice. Your choice.
Most People Don’t Matter So Much
Most people like the products they already have, so marketers ignore them.
Most people work hard to fit in, so others don’t notice them.
Most people like eating at places where they’ve eaten before.
Most people think this book is a bad idea.
Most people would like the world to stay just as it is, but calmer.
Most people are afraid.
Most people didn’t use Google until last year.
Most people aren’t curious.
You’re not most people.
You’re not the target market for most marketers, and you’re certainly not a manager.
Not only aren’t leaders most people, but the members of the most important tribes aren’t most people either.
You’re not going to be able to grow your career or your business or feed the tribe by going after most people. Most people are really good at ignoring new trends or great employees or big ideas.
You can worry about most people all day, but I promise you that they’re not worried about you. They can’t hear you, regardless of how hard you yell.
Almost all the growth that’s available to you exists when you aren’t like most people and when you work hard to appeal to folks who aren’t most people.
Does the Status Quo Ruin Your Day (Every Day)?
How was your day?
Are you stuck with the way things were, instead of busy turning things into what they could be?
Heretics have a plan. They understand that changing the status quo is not only profitable, but fun too.
Being a heretic, an outsider, and a rabble-rouser feels scary. Why bother?
They Burn Heretics at the Stake
They also drown them, denounce them, ignore them, and hang them from the rafters.
I should have used the past tense. None of that is true anymore. Now, we invite heretics to Davos. Heretics get elected to Congress. Heretics make a fortune when their companies go public. Heretics not only love their jobs; they get a private jet too.
The image of the stake is hard to forget. It touches us in a way that’s almost primal. But it’s also obsolete. Marketing has made sure of that. The same forces that taught us to drink Coke for breakfast or spend $800 on a handbag are now at work on the status quo.
Heretics are too numerous to burn at the stake. So we celebrate them.
The Wrong Question
We’re almost there, but some of you are itching to ask me exactly the wrong questions, which are:
“How do I do this?” Or even worse:
“How do I get my boss to let me do this?”
Or to be really blunt:
“What’s the risk-free way to insinuate myself into the system so I get approval to make change?”
Surely, there’s a method of making change without being burned at the stake?
It turns out that there is, but you already know what it is. Belief.
Nobody is going to listen to your idea for change, sagely shake his head, and say, “Sure, go do that.”
No one anoints you as leader.
Nobody is going to see your PowerPoint presentation and hand you a check.
Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later.
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