Monday, March 23, 2009

“Tribes” by Seth Godin – a Review and a Reaction

Any reader of The White Rhino Report is aware that I am a big fan of Seth Godin – his writing, his speaking, his blogging, his workshops, his persona, his no-holds-barred commitment to innovation. I have made been frequent mentions of him in this Blog over the past few years.

I owe Seth Godin a great deal; he has exerted a strong influence over the development of my career in business. His books and blog articles have challenged and inspired me. His column in Fast Company magazine encouraged me to subscribe to that periodical. His responses to Q&A sessions I participated in – in person and on conference calls – have helped to shape my response to business challenges and opportunities. The day that I spent with Seth as part of a workshop at Dobbs Ferry, NY broadened my horizons. And his personal challenge to me to break away from traditional recruiting firms and launch my own innovative executive search practice led directly to my taking the plunge and launching White Rhino Partners a little over two years ago.

So, it was with great anticipation that I purchased a copy of his latest book, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.” I was not disappointed. There are nuggets buried throughout these pages. Rather than give a traditional review of this latest offering by Seth, I will, rather, tell you about how I responded to reading this manifesto that challenges each of us sentient beings to be willing to lead in new ways befitting the world that is emerging. Godin uses vignettes and mini-case studies to highlight creative ways in which women and men are leading their own tribes in an age when internet connectivity has removed geographic barriers that heretofore had limited the reach of tribes and their tribal chieftains.

Read the book!

Godin defines a tribe as follows:

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For million 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. . . Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change.” (Pages 1-2)
While reading “Tribes,” and in the subsequent times of reflective afterglow, I thought about the tribes to which I belong. I am a member of Red Sox Nation! I proudly display my battle scars and wear the ceremonial headdress – OK, my Red Sox cap – for all the world to see that I identify with this historic and recently renascent tribe. I have been adopted into several local chapters of the West Point Society, and I am honored to be able to rub shoulders with these brave men and women who have served our nation so faithfully. I am part of a “secret” advertising executive’s club in New York City called Chumley’s that meets sporadically at a traditional watering hole. Chumley’s is definitely a tribe – complete with fire water and medicine men!

Then I began to reflect on tribes that I lead, and my discussion of those tribes will constitute the rest of my response to Godin’s treatise on tribes. I will talk about three distinct, but related tribes.

The Moby Dick Tribe - A few months ago, just before the holidays last year, several of us spontaneously decided to share lunch at a Persian restaurant on Huntington Avenue in Boston. One of my friends said, “I know this great place called Moby Dick. Let’s meet there."

Several of us walked there together after attending church, and a few other friends met us at the restaurant. We ordered delicious lamb stew and other regional dishes, and we began talking – about nothing and about everything. The conversation took on a Socratic bent, with questions and answers flying across the table in a series of rapidly morphing fractals. When more than two hours had passed, someone noticed the time and gasped. “I have not had this kind of stimulating conversation since college. Can we do this again every Sunday?”
Thus was born what I will dub “The Moby Dick Socratic Roundtable.” Since that weekend in December, the only Sunday when there has not be some sort of a gathering at Moby Dick was the week between Christmas and New Year’s. There is an explicit understanding that when any “member” of the group is in town, he (or she) is welcome to stop by Huntington Avenue and take a spot at our reserved table. Sometimes there are two of us, and at others times there have been as many as six. I do not really “lead” this amorphous tribe, but I am the common denominator who was originally the one person that knew each of the participants before they began to form individual friendships after meeting at the Round Table. I have no idea what the life cycle for this group will be, but it has become for several of us one of the highlights of the week that we look forward to with eager anticipation. We have a “member” who sometimes makes the trek down from Ipswich. It is a wonderful tribe.

The White Rhino Report Tribe – As many of you know, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the Blogsphere several years ago. I just checked; the first posting of The White Rhino Report was published on December 3, 2004. This Blog was born in response to several individuals hounding me to write something on the Internet. Since that time, the tribe of Blog readers has grown, as has my relationship with individuals from all over the world whom I first met as a result of their reading articles in the Blog. My “leadership” of this tribe constitutes merely sharing in written form ideas that come from my reading, my viewing of film and theater, my listening to live and recorded music, and my meeting interesting people – in person or virtually in cyberspace. The Blog and the people who constitute its readership have become an important part of my life, and as is often the case in life, I feel that I receive back at least as much as I give out within this tribe that I lead.

The White Rhino Intersection Tribe - For several years, friends and protégés have commented to me about how exceptionally diverse is my network of connections – encompassing women and men from the worlds of professional sports, theater, film, television, newspapers, magazines, publishing, advertising, banking, venture capital, marketing, design, software, energy, homeland security, travel, food and beverage industry, academia, military, intelligence, non-profits, music, literature and beyond. I have been asked by several of these protégés to host an event that would bring people together from the far-flung corners of my networks for an event that would allow each participant to rub shoulders with men and women they might not otherwise have an opportunity to interact with.

The planning has progressed far enough for the first event of this kind that I am able to announce the White Rhino Intersection to be held in Cambridge on Saturday, April 18 from 8:00 AM - 5:30 PM.

The agenda is being finalized for the event, but I can tell you that it will include a discussion of the book, “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johanssen. Frans is hoping to be able to join us. Other presenters will include Dr. Scott Snook of Harvard Business School and author of “Friendly Fire,” Ty Burr, film critic for the Boston Globe and author of “The Best Old Movies for Families,” and possibly Donovan Campbell, author of “Joker One,” which just debuted at #15 on the New York Times Bestseller List for Non-Fiction.

If you live in the Boston area, or can travel to Boston for that date, and would like to receive an official invitation to this event, e-mail me at:

I guess whoever assembles with me that day can be considered part of the White Rhino tribe. It is a fun group. Join us!

Thanks, Seth, for your many forms of inspiration to me and my tribes and to thousands of others!



Seth Godin said...

Thanks back to you Al. What a great post... much appreciated

David Schoenberger said...

Lovely post, Al, but must your love of all things "red" further wound us "blue" New Yorkers? Do please host a White Rhino branded aggreg-a-brations in NYC...

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.