Building Tribes and Leverage

building tribe slowly
You start small before adding the big logs for a fire. So go tribes. From joinash’s Flickr photostream

The concept of building a tribe is dead on. Seth Godin crystallized the concept for us in what I think is his most powerful book. He shares how the connected age has allowed us all to lead. We can all have a platform. We can create our own books and sell them. We can make our own movies, songs, speeches, radio shows and whatever else we can dream. There’s no middleman.

What’s important is the concept of building a tribe. It’s a group of people that are connected, have a leader and ultimately lead themselves around something common.

Great concept, but how do you really put this into practice?

And then the other more pointed questions come into play:

How do you make money?

How can you get everyone on the same page producing more?

How can you change the world?

Geography doesn’t matter. Someone having the bigger tools is no longer a factor.

No, what ultimately comes to matter is one thing. Leadership. It makes or breaks any efforts at making money, producing more or changing the world.

Getting Practical with Systems

I’m a systems and process designer. I’m also a leader. I know how to put what is needed together and make the tribe happen. It’s very hard work. There are both the tangibles of technology and platforms. But the harder part is how to move people to align and care. People don’t like change. Change management is a whole science in and of itself.

If you have worked with me, you may have seen some of the strategies and approaches I’ve used. One way won’t necessarily work for another organization or individual. But there are some overall best practices I thought I would share.

Understand How People Are Connected

If you send out an email, you will see stats with intelligent software revealing high initial opens and over 50% of them opened from mobile devices.

Most people are not in front of their computer. They’re mobile and working with people. Many are doing this all the time. If they are not in front of their computer, then take this into account. You need a system that makes it easy for people to connect.

Using a system like Yammer with salespeople, project managers or busy executives is an excellent way to allow for quick fire messages that are intimate. It works on iPhones and Androids. Anything more heavy in functionality or sophistication may be attractive, but it will be harder to get people on board.

Think about it. If you text someone, they have no problem texting. It’s the least fidelity, highest convenience form factor.

Now, if you were able to get some organization around texting and allow for a broader engagement, then you have the platform that maps to reality.

You can also manage dozens of ongoing tribes this way. Simply toggle and engage.

The Up Front Effort is Disproportionately Harder

Tribes don’t form themselves. I haven’t seen this. Most people are waiting for someone to lead. You have to be that leader. And you can’t let go early. You have to bring people together, cast vision, be interesting and make it matter.

If Yammer is not working for your tribe, it’s not the tool. There are too many thriving networks that are vibrant to debunk that lie. No, you should know that it comes down to the ability to start something well.

Initially, you will be leading, and the conversation will usually go through you. Ultimately, over time, you want to see cross-talk where members are talking to each other. But that is typically a ways off. You have to earn that.

Instead, know that there are stages. You have to work to make people feel comfortable. You have to assist the early adopters with even downloading the app and learning how to post. Then you have to guide them to think and post. Prompt them and lead well. Be vigilant.

It is much like building a fire. Creating the initial spark and tinder is hard. Momentum builds with bigger logs later. But if you don’t get the foundation right, then it won’t work.

So if you believe in something – a project, vision or idea – then you have to lay it on the line and put in the effort. It’s a balancing act. You can’t overwhelm or underdeliver. It’s leadership.

Typically, it’s best to start small with real enthusiasts, believers and hard workers. Be a good judge and shoot for early success.

There’s a Sequence You Have to Manage

After you get some early successes, you have to experiment and iterate quickly. If something is catching, then go with it. If something is not working, then test why it is not working. If it’s a dead end, then pull it.

This not only applies to ideas, but to people as well. Don’t invite naysayers to a tribe early. I’m not sure why anyone would. It’s either not thinking it through or self-sabotage from a low belief system. If you want to win, then keep naysayers at bay. When things are fully working, then you can invite them in. They can’t say anything then.

Work relationships in order, and don’t let anything compromise your momentum. Trust is delicate, and you have to build it and guard it vigilantly.

You Can Create Extreme Leverage

If you build a tribe, your efforts become easier. You can guide rather than direct, and it’s a world of difference. It frees you up to build more tribes, work on more projects and get more done with less effort. The tribe starts to take over and create its own path.

This isn’t mysticism. It’s human behavior. If you study people closely, you will see these truths play out. There are ingredients that have to be mixed and played with skill to make something great happen.

Ultimately, it will work because you led well. It will also fail because you did not lead well.

That’s the beauty. I can show you how I do things, but that makes little difference to the results. The person who can build tribes has extreme leverage today.

This is all supported by many iterations, failures and successes. If you become a tribe builder with skill and efficiency, then you are smack in the middle of how the connected economy works.

What are your thoughts?