I have just finished reading Seth Godin's latest book, "Tribes." The book tells many a tale of how out-of-the box thinkers, undaunted by conventional wisdom or fear of failing (or falling, for that matter), have changed the world in big ways and small alike. But it is not a tale of super heros who stand alone against the forces of evil. It is a tale of countless leaders who manufactured outcomes by inspiring others to lock arms with them in the quest for results -- fewer euthanized pets, a collective encyclopedia, deeper understanding of wine, etc.  The message is a simple one: you too can inspire a tribe to collective action, so get on it.
So what does it take to create a tribe? What does it take to inspire a team, or a club, or a movement? The question is certainly of interest to anyone building a startup. As Seth points out, there is a big difference between employees and followers. Employees do what they are told because it is their job. Followers do what they can because they believe. Great companies bear out this distinction. Look at the faithful at Apple or Google or Amazon. They are true believers. These companies don't recruit, they inspire. And the influence of great companies reaches far beyond the ranks of their employees. Bloggers become evangelists. End users become customer support agents. These companies become tribes, growing their influence and mindshare by leaps and bounds.
According to Seth, tribes are started by heretics of sorts. They are not blinded by the status quo. They are not afraid of failure. They are true believers in what they are doing. And they barrel forward without concern for the potential consequences of the decisions they are making. They lead by example. And they are unendingly generous to their communities -- giving of their time, their ideas, their selves. In short, these heretics are great entrepreneurs!
One need look no further than Seth's seven elements of leadership to appreciate that he is talking about entrepreneurs.
- Leaders challenge the status quo.
- Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
- Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they're trying to change.
- Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
- Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
- Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
- Leaders connect their followers to one another.
I am often asked what it is I look for in an entrepreneur and this list isn't a bad starting point. Great entrepreneurs care deeply about what they are doing and are able to convince others to join their cause (i.e. their tribe). Their followers include employees, customers, journalists, partners and, on occasion, VCs.
For those of you starting companies out there (or trying to strengthen your corporate culture), "Tribes" is worth a read. It is certainly not prescriptive. But it has many nuggets of wisdom that will help you inspire and lead.
 While I was in college I ran a speakers bureau that brought a eclectic group of brilliant individuals to campus. One of my speakers was Chuck Jones, the creator of the Road Runner, Pepe LePew and Wile E. Coyote. I remember vividly listening to Chuck Jones' rail against the cartoons of the time, which he said gave kids the wrongheaded message that no one could do anything on his own -- everything required a team or a group or a tribe (his favorite example were the Smurfs, which he viewed as a tiny blue scourge on the cartoon world). I wonder if Chuck Jones would have taken issue with "Tribes" and its call to collective action.