Seth Godin at TED: Tribe and Community

A very cool perk of working for Sun recently was that we had live streams of TED into the three major US campuses. It has long been a dream of mine to attend TED, though for the moment it’s well out of my price range.

I couldn’t break free of meetings to watch during the day, but I was mesmerized by the evening sessions. The first major speaker Wednesday evening was Seth Godin, whose blog I follow from time to time. Not surprisingly, his talk was based on his new book, Tribes, which I probably don’t need to read now (for the record, I haven’t read any of his other books, either).

I took away some ideas that might be useful for those of us at Sun (and elsewhere) who are doing this mysterious and fashionable thing called community building.

Seth started out by asking: “What do we [TED attendees, presumably] do for a living?”

His answer: “We try to change everything.”

In order to foster change, Godin offers the idea of tribes, which “can align large numbers of people” behind a goal or cause. He recommends this cycle:

tell a story -> connect a tribe -> head a movement -> make change -> repeat

He notes that a product that “tells a story” lets its user/consumer tell the story again and perpetuate it.

Godin says that tribes need leaders, most often self-appointed. Leaders should:

  • Challenge the status quo
  • build Culture
  • have Curiosity
  • Connect people to each other (“people want to know they’ll be missed if they go away”)
  • have Charisma (but you don’t need to be born with it; being a leader automatically endows you with charisma)
  • Commit to the cause/tribe/people

So how does this apply to Sun’s efforts to create community around our open-sourced software? Clearly, we had to be the leaders who started this (but that doesn’t mean we’ll always be the leaders of these communities).

You can’t force a community into existence; people have to want to be part of it. But you can make it fun and easy for them to participate, mostly by making it easy for them to connect with each other.

Important Note: Once they’re connected, you don’t get to control what they say to each other! Oh, you can try, but it’s a bad idea because it always backfires. Even when you’re the leader, you’re still only one member of the tribe, and the tribe insists on functioning as a democracy no matter who’s supplying the facilities.

What we can, should, and do do, however, is act as leaders.

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