Why Seeking the Tribe Will Destroy You

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. [Mark Twain]

The thing about writing, building, inventing, designing, or creating (essentially anything that requires leadership) is this: it’s not safe.

Not only do you expose yourself to the dangers of a foreign environment (leadership by its nature takes the unknown path), but you expose yourself to the most dangerous element of all: the tribe.

The tribe is a great thing when you’re in the majority – when you fit in, comply and keep quiet.

For the nonconforming leader – for the outlier in the minority – the tribe is a detriment to success, freedom and happiness.

When you fit in, comply, and keep quiet, the boss rewards you.

Your peers, likewise, accept you as an equal.  And rightly so because you ARE an equal; quiet, compliant and agreeable like everyone else.

The Individual

On the other hand, when you don’t play by the conventional rules, when you challenge the way things work, and when you speak up when there’s something immoral, unethical or just plain illogical, there is no reward from the tribe – in fact, there is only punishment or exile.

If you do any of those things – when you expose the weakness of the status quo - you undermine the authority figure.  When you undermine any authority figure, you necessarily insult their tribe of followers.

Not only will your boss punish you, your peer group will reject and scorn you (they are, after all, the quiet compliers that, for their own safety, didn't speak up to begin with – why would they speak up to support you now?).

In an environment like this – essentially every bureaucracy that has ever existed – it doesn't pay to think creatively; it doesn't pay to be brave enough to speak up when things don’t seem right; It doesn't pay to challenge and lead and move outside the tribal boundaries.

If you do, you will be ostracized.

Because the system perpetuates itself this way, what you’re left with is an org chart of followers, safety seekers, and non-disrupters.  They make very good robots for the robot factory.

The Choice

You can stick with the tribe.

You can find strength in numbers.

You can reassure yourself that quiet, compliant and agreeable is a worthy existence.

Or you can step outside the tribal boundaries.

You can choose another direction.

You can decide your own path, determine your own pace and packing list, and design your own life’s journey.

The tribe won’t like it.

But we don’t need more tribes – we need more individuals.

The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap. [Ayn Rand]

What will you choose?

p.s. what are your thoughts on the tribe and the individual?  Leave your comments below.


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11 comments on “Why Seeking the Tribe Will Destroy You”

  1. Tom~
    I love this contrarian point of view. You're spot on. I've taken issue with the political/cultural use of "tribe," too. Tribal mentality has led to devastating warfare.

    And yet Godin's "tribe" idea is that even instigators can benefit and do good for others by recognizing that what they offer to what I call "a patch of the planet" (versus "the world") are some shared values or desires. The instigator who insists upon being a lone wolf might end up being cold and hungry. As a former staunch lone wolf, I say this with experience.

    So, I favor the idea of the "pack," of wild wolves who run with me on ideas and projects and service projects but who are not necessarily in a protective, guarded circle seeking a chief (i.e., tribe) and who are not simply nodding their heads in obeisance. What do you think?

    Thanks for the instigation.

    1. Jeffrey, couldn't have put it better myself!

      I agree - going solo can be destructive. For some of us, that's a natural tendency we should avoid for our own good (at least most of the time).

      Then there is the person who can only thrive in a group, who mistakes nonconformity as leaving one 'tribe' for another 'tribe' (which is definitely ironic) and who never entirely determines his own course or path.

      I like your idea of the pack - a group of individually capable people working together for a project or goal, but who don't depend on the tribe or group for their existence.

      This is a concept that definitely deserves some time and development as a paradigm. I look forward to doing some hard thought/analysis on the subject 🙂

      Thanks for the thoughtful commentary Jeffrey!

  2. Hey Tom,

    Loved this post. A question though - What about those individuals who have INSTIGATED and lead out into the world trying to "monetize" their service or craft. These people are trying to create a tribe of "rabid fans" who will support and spread the good word? Isn't it a bit of a conflict?

    Also love the "Pack" mentality as Jeffery stated above. I have been a Lone Wolf most of my life and it's just now that I am seeking to build a pack of like minded wolves to ravage the world with.

    Keep it going.

  3. Alan, thanks for taking the time to comment.

    It's an interesting paradox. On the one hand, when you instigate and lead, you act as an individual; one who charts his own course, independent of the majority. This makes you an outlier - someone outside the tribal boundaries – and those still inside the tribe you just left won’t be happy about it (which is why sometimes friends and family can be detrimental to your growth – they like you how you are).
    If you go looking for another tribe, you’ll meet the same distrust, disenchantment and denial – they already have a leader, they’ve put good faith in him or her, and they don’t need you coming along to change anything up (which is where the irony can lie in the case of conforming nonconformists)

    I postulate this: your job, if you have what it takes to lead, is to go off on your own accord, seek your own endstate regardless of its popularity, and, essentially, draw your own map – but don’t go looking for a tribe.

    Your job is to be you, do your thing uniquely, and people WILL follow (this assumes two things: 1) what you make is great, 2) people are exposed to what you offer and give the time and attention to give it an honest assessment).

    The concept of the pack is interesting regarding project work and building something in collaboration with other instigators. The idea of masterminds comes to mind - unique, bold, instigators - INDIVIDUALS - come together to help each others projects, not for the safety of the tribe, but because of another drive to create.

    I hope that clarifies (or at least gives more food for thought).


  4. To me, the idea of the tribe creates a limited view of the world. My tribe was the Army. But I decided to leave the comfort and security of the Army (after a tour in Iraq) to become a business owner with my father. I could have traded one tribe (the Army) for another one (grad school and Corporate America), but I didn't. I wanted to see the world through my own eyes and not through someone else's interpretation.

    1. Nate, totally agree.

      I don't think it needs to be about tribe building at all, really. You're running a clever, creative, successful business that doesn't need a tribe to survive. Fans? Yes. People that trust and buy from you? Of course. But not necessarily a tribe.

      Good luck and thanks for taking the time to comment!

      - Tom

  5. Way to go instigating us to break out of the status quo, Tom.
    My tribe is the organization I work for and am trying to break out of. Quitting your job is frowned upon in our organization, forcing people to take the well trodden path of switching jobs or going for an MBA. The attitude of the people there cultivates fear in the minds of the individuals about how they would fail if they did something unconventional.
    What people (esp. in my org) don't realize is that the tribe is built on a common fear. Once the individuals start to believe in themselves, and do what they think is best, the tribe will cease to exist. It's in the best interest of the tribe leaders to keep sowing the seeds of fear.
    A way to shift the tribe mentality to individual mentality would be a really powerful tool for any instigator.

    1. I agree completely. I'm a big fan of individuals who carve paths, not those who blend into the tribe (we need more of the former and less of the latter).