Marius on Strategy and Communication

What it says on the tin

Book Review – Tribes by Seth Godin

Being the first book I read by Godin, Tribes left me slightly puzzled by the large following he has gathered and the praise he has received. His book just doesn’t live up to the hype and here’s why:

First of all, I should disclose my presumptions: I was actually looking forward to the book, and expected it to be an interesting read.

Thank god for bookmarks, for without it there’s no way of finding the page you’re at. There are no chapters; only an infinite number of paragraphs with headlines more or less randomly organised, all of which contribute to a strange sensation of déjà vu.

You know how Eskimos have eleven words for snow? Well, Seth Godin has three times as many ways of articulating his one point: we need you to lead us.

This is also the sub-heading of the book, and tells us pretty much all we need to know. Some people fight selflessly for positive change and are joined by fellow true believers in spreading the gospel. The rest of us fight for the status quo because we are boring cowards who work in offices, perhaps we even sit in cubicles.

There is a hint of contempt for those who merely make society’s wheels go round without creating even one lousy cultural movement. Including himself in the us of the subtitle as one who needs to be lead is nothing but false modesty. Godin is a leader and he knows it. However, while he says change are based on great ideas, his own project is sans substance. One of the most recent posts on his blog is representative of his style: big ideas are little ideas that no one killed too soon. Yep, that’s the whole post.

He creates an immediate illusion of importance; a closer look, however, quickly reveals its hollowness and pretentiousness (scholars are others who often get away with this rhetoric – ie. it’s all about ethos). Seth Godin ends up building a tribe around a hollow concept and thus contradicts the very ideas he preaches. He is the TV evangelist of the marketing industry, and that is no credit to his followers.

Placing this in the marketing shelves in bookstores is deceiving and misleading. It should be filed under self-help/motivation and attract the people it deserves: those of us who believes that getting rich/ happy/ thin/ loved is something that can be learnt from books, seminars and CD’s (buy in the next 10 minutes and get a bumper sticker for only $19.99 plus gst) from an overly tanned person who’s memorised a number of quotes from historical figures like Einstein and Wilde, and relay them as if they were his own. He also has a fascination for anecdotes.

With enthusiasm he convinces his tribe that purchasing his products itself is an evidence of having the right personality to achieve success, and that all others are evil, unenlightened people who exist for no other reason but to prevent the tribe members from becoming happy/ rich/ thin/ loved.

The best thing about filing Tribes under self-help and motivation? I would have remained blissfully unaware of its existence (well, that’s not entirely true, because I heard about it online, but I wouldn’t have found it in the store).

The chief of a tribe is not always a man. Talk-show hosts like Ellen, Oprah and Tyra, also create an illusion of Godin’s concept of a tribe; they certainly have fans, but the only positive change they create is in their bank accounts and those of the guests whose products they’re paid to sell (lot of self-help books). The members are made to believe that the host is their peer who looks after their interests and thus ignorant of the hegemony under which they suffer. In reality, of course, the host exists in another sphere of society entirely. Their male equivalents, Letterman, Leno and …… create a less intimate and emotional relationship with their viewers (notice how they are referred to by their last names and their shows aren’t named after them) through humour and satire.

Don’t misunderstand me; the concept of tribes is certainly interesting, and, I believe, incredibly relevant in today’s marketing environment. With new technologies there are more and more possibilities for brand to create positive change by leading people to act. But unless you intend to teach people a little about how to create a tribe, there’s not enough to say about the issue to justify a book. And if there is, Godin hasn’t found out what it is. One thing I can tell you: making people spending $29.99 on something which is essentially a blog post is not an ideal way of getting yuor tribe off the ground.

“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 (that’s ironic)… Most people are afraid. Most people didn’t use Google until last year. Most people aren’t curious. You’re not most people…”And so it goes.

By the way, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a presentation by Godin based on his book, and here’s his blog.

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This entry was posted on May 24, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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