Thoughts on Tribes

In his short book Tribes, Seth Godin addresses leadership in the context of the “tribe,” stating that “You can’t have a tribe without a leader—and you can’t be a leader without a tribe.” (2)

A tribe is simply a group of people with: (24)
1. A shared interest
2. A means of communication

The move towards tribal leadership is evidenced by changes in the market: people are increasingly looking for meaning in work, and also in the things they consume. Mass-produced products and services are less and less profitable. Consumers are increasingly buying products they “believe in” instead of “off-the-shelf” goods and ideas. (9)

Godin also illustrates some powerful distinctions between managers and leaders. In a nutshell, while managers “make widgets,” leaders “make change.” (14) And today, unlike in times past where deviants were punished severely, society and the market now reward the “change makers,” the people and ideas who move against the norm – the ideas, products, and leaders who are “remarkable.” This goes for both individuals and businesses.

In the airline industry, perhaps more than most, stagnation is death. Every airline needs to innovate to be successful in the competitive environment. This is why airlines work so hard to aggressively differentiate their service, which is, by nature, intangible. So what can an airline do to “create a movement” supporting their business?

Godin lists three ways to improve the effectiveness of a tribe: (25)
• Create a goal and desire for change
• Improved communication
• Gain more members

And, while it is easy to focus only on the last point and to gain more members, perhaps it is the first two that the airlines should be focused on. How can an airline increase interaction and communication between customers and airline evangelists? What goals or movements for change can an airline bring to the table?

As airlines create a movement around their own ideas, emerging media will increasingly be the most cost-effective ways to improve the effectiveness of the tribe.

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