The Lost Tribe

We watched and discussed a talk by Seth Godin in class.

There’s something I dislike about Godin but I can’t quite put my finger on it – maybe it’s as simple as the fact that he’s a marketer, but I think it’s something deeper.

Something about his motivational-speaker statements reminds me of many of Nietzsche’s slippery metaphorical maxims – you’re never quite sure exactly what he means, but everything sounds plausible and good, and could be used by just about anyone to justify just about anything. When I heard Godin’s concept of leading modern “Tribes”, I immediately thought of several clear parallels to the organizing principles behind successful terrorist cells or religious cults.

What Godin preaches, at least with this tribes stuff, is pep talks on how to get people to follow you, purchase your products, and actually do work for you for free – whatever your message – while believing they’re doing it in their own self-interest, and there’s something disturbing about that to me. Not to mention that actual tribes of humans were usually closed-minded and violent little groups unable to see beyond the needs of their own community, so that’s a pretty sad metaphor for anything in the modern world.

Anyway, this isn’t the time or place for speculating on the level of malevolence of this gleam-pated modern Machiavel. Even taking into account all of what I just said, Godin’s almost certainly the least evil marketer in history.

And in any case, setting aside for a moment my distaste for the subject of pulling people’s marionette strings as a marketer, I am a teacher, and therefore a leader, and as coincidence would have it I DO actually have a small group of barbarians I want to cajole into working for me for free, so I find myself as a sort of tribal ringleader, like it or not. In terms of tech, therefore, I’m faced with questions like:

What is my tribe or brand? What do I stand for in my online presence, and how do I reflect this in the variety of networking technologies I use?

As a teacher, and particularly when using tech, I think I primarily try to lead by modeling my own excitement about learning and creativity, modeling my own process of constantly inquiring and connecting, and by trying to create environments online where students can share their own excitement, creativity, and connections. I think leading by using networking technology to create and moderate spaces (blogs, wikis, discussion groups, etc.) for students to share their work can be key to fostering the sense of motivated enthusiasm that leads to real learning and creativity. For example, here’s part of my 3D modeling club’s fledgling shared collection.

I haven’t been wasting time lecturing the students how to use the software tools, I’ve been giving them challenges (build a car, a robot, a tree ornament) and helping them find out how to look up tutorials or learn what they need as they go. They’ve been uploading the results at the end of our sessions. It’s not a great collection yet – we’ve only held the club for a couple of weeks, we never did put all of the ornaments on that virtual tree, and some students haven’t even successfully finished a model they’ve been proud of yet.

Download Huge Robot 1 for yourself at

But if you’ll look at the collection you’ll notice that one student in particular has been designing rather intricate robots in his spare time and uploading them to the collection outside of class. He’s on his way to becoming an expert on his own without much help from me, he’s proving to be a great mentor and motivator to the other students, and my role in this as a “tribal leader” or “brand” has mostly been to model (no pun intended, I guess) my enthusiasm for modeling, create the shared space, set the challenges for students to achieve, and sit on the sidelines cheering.

The students’ interest and enthusiasm, and their delight at sharing their work, is creating a self-perpetuating learning community based on a shared interest in creativity and creation. While I do enjoy lecturing or more tightly controlling students’ work from time to time, the facilitation of this sort of open space for creative student work, whatever the type of project or content, is something I’ve been trying consciously to do more and more often. That’s the sort of tribe I’d like to lead, and that’s the sort of leading I think I prefer to do.

2 thoughts on “The Lost Tribe

  1. Alex,
    Really like how you brought the tribe concept down to how you interact with your students, giving the tribe concept a more practical application for myself. (I should have mentioned that in my blog post!) It is neat to see what your students are creating under your “tribal leadership” and to see how one student is sort of a tribal leader in his own regards, as he is inspiring his fellow tribe members with his sound work.

    I agree with many of your thoughts on Godin, the concept of leading modern “Tribes” was a hard one for me to grasp as well. Am still wrapping my head around it to be honest, does make sense when we look at it through the lens of the internet, which has certainly opened up the chance for people worldwide to network/”tribe” it up. This is something that certainly didn’t exist 20 years ago or even 100, so perhaps he is not too far off with his tribe analogy, we are witnessing something that doesn’t seem to happen every century.

  2. I think yours is the only response that I’ve read that has directly linked this concept to your work with your students. And yet this is incredibly important. The students that you work with each day will come to know and respect you for the strengths that you bring and the particular way that you interact with them.

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