Friday, February 13, 2009

Seth Godin's Tribes

I participated in Scott McLeod's discussion of Seth Godin's book last night. Some of the high points:

• Godin's central premise is that there is a fundamental difference between leaders and managers, that the world needs more leaders, and that being a leader does not require a prestigious position, but rather a tribe of followers.

• It seemed everyone there was driven to be a leader, that they had an idea that they felt passionate about spreading. It would be interesting to see the book's resonance with one who wasn't "driven" to be a leader.

• "How you go about a change" was a central debate. It was agreed there are widely different tacks necessary for your early adopters, naysayers, and general populous, but there wasn't a consensus on what that looked like.

• At one point, it was mentioned that "framing" is a central part to a revolution of change. Rather than allowing yourself to be labeled as "anti-establishment", it was important to reframe the other viewpoint as "anti-change". This is played out in both sides of the ongoing abortion debate in America.

• In education as well as other places, building a tribe requires the connective tissue for leaders to find followers. More and more, that connective tissue finds followers outside your building. The question becomes, where do we find these connective tissues to bring together people of a tribe in education?

• While maybe a minor point, Godin hammers on the theme of changing one's religion vs. changing ones faith, where religion is the codified structures around which the passion (faith) is built. In education, leaders struggle with finding ways to change a person's religion (traditional practices) while validating a person's faith (the passion to help students learn).
• Is leadership the same as marketing? They both attempt to persuade others to a product (or idea). But I'd argue this is only Godin's definition of leadership. A different definition of leadership, such as Todd Whitaker's, has a clear distinction (more on this later).

• Is a teacher desiring change a "heretic in trouble" if they do not have support higher up? Is it a hopeless cause? Is the only recourse to either retain the status quo or leave? Lots of discussion, and it seemed the answer was yes. But in today's world, support "higher up" can come from outside the building, or even the district, in the form of colleagues and other gurus of your administrators.

• And the big question, one that Godin dismisses maybe too easily, is the issue of risk. Leaders take risk and ask the tribe to take risks. Sure, you could lose your job, but the fear of that is what causes us to be stuck, says Godin. But many people argued this was not that easy. People need their jobs. If I try some new practice with my 5th graders and it fails, is that a risk that my students' parents are okay with? We deal with humans, not widgets in education.

• And last but not least, we could implement change in small steps to mitigate risk. But given the need for paradigm shift, can we afford to move slowly? Or as Miguel Guhlin mentions, you can't leap a 20 foot chasm in two 10-foot jumps.

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