Review: Seth Godin, Tribes

I really wanted to like this book.  And that might be one of a couple of key barriers that potentially precluded me from the enjoyment I hoped for.  When you look forward to something with the anticipation that it’s about to give you a crucial insight, one that’ll help pave your streets with gold, disappointment almost always follows.  How can anything live up to such a high expectation that you’ve allowed to race ever upward?

In addition, my reference points are different to the extent that they may be diametrically opposed to the book’s.  My angle is foremost business-to-business solution selling, with a sprinkle of small-biz CEO-ship on top.  This book is about the marketing-inspired creation of Tribes.  In the hundreds of companies I’ve had exposure to in my field, only one or two marketers within them (and I mean that literally) could count themselves as being worthy.  That’s pretty damning.

The handful of blogs I regularly visit all seem at one time or another to reference Seth’s Blog.  I myself have enjoyed several of his musings.  One I fell over lately I found particularly inspiring from the hitherto unconsidered world of socks.  And watching youtubular snippets, the fella’s a pretty eloquent talker too.

I think what really irked me was the format.  It can come across as little more than the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a rampant blogger.  There’s an absence of typical structure.  But maybe that’s the ruse, a cunning demonstration of a core tenet, namely that you should strive to be a heretic.  Challenge every convention.  Like why bother with traditional chapters?  Then there’s the length.  It’s an airport book, a meagre 125 pages long.

The style also got to me.  There’s on average a heading heralding a new section on each page.  This would normally be a good thing, allowing the reader the regular ability to pause for reflection.  Yet I found myself starting a section, trundling through the first sentence, only to skim through to the end straight away.  I recognised the irritation and had to retread with alarming frequency.

I didn’t expect an American author to have much appreciation of life beyond their shores.  My business-based academic pursuits were blighted by a suffocation of American books.  Yet only one single non-US example came to mind after reading.  And an obscure one at that.  As for examples, one lesson rammed into me as a nipper was that any essay, report or Exam Qu in general requiring a depth of answer must be littered with examples to be a winner.  Not only does this book feature surprisingly few examples, they are bewilderingly scant.  You feel hard pressed to find any example that isn’t just the reciting of the name of the person responsible.  It’s either as if you must be stupid if you don’t know the detail already, or need the instruction to get googling.

But the ultimate frustration is simple.  The entire book is contained on just two pages (88 and 89 in my copy).  Here our Seth lists his five musts for when trying to create a tribe followed by six guiding principles for as you go.  That’s the book.  I s’pose the traditional way would be to construct a chapter out of each, have a couple extra either side in background and conclusion, and Bob’s yer Uncle.  But that’s not Seth’s way.

So here’s the rub.  Is this value for money?  Marginally.  Yet is this a noble Call To Arms?  Well, I guess so.  Despite its inherent frustrations and opportunities missed, after reading it I’m more determined than ever to alert the world to my manifesto, make it easy for fellow believers to find me and come together, focus on the success of the cause rather than any eventual cash, and keep tabs on how it’s all going.  (Thanks again, page 88!)  And I’m sure that is the author’s laudable intent.

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