Who’s in Your Tribe’s Tribes?
There was a great article in the New Yorker on Reid Hoffman, former CEO and co-founder of LinkedIn. One of the questions he always asks people is “who’s in your tribe?”. Reid says his tribe is made up of entrepreneurs, and he does what he can to be helpful to his tribe. He is definitely someone who believes that his network is his net worth.
Today your tribe is more important than ever. It is bigger, more diffused, more distracted, but also represents more opportunity than ever before through the strength of weak ties. Let’s look at how tribes have evolved, and how you should think about your tribe today.
Your Tribe is Built on Trust
My co-founder Steve Woods, gave a great talk at Hubspot’s INBOUND15 on how Trust is the New Metric in Selling. The talk examines how trust throughout the evolution of humans has been an essential part of “business”. He starts out by asking you to imagine yourself 2 million years ago on the plains of Africa, as a hunter you have caught an antelope – an amazing feast for your family. But the challenge is you cannot store all of this food, you don’t have a refrigerator.
source: Trust: The New Metric in Sales
However humans are incredibly resourceful, and you realize the best way to store that food, is in the minds of another hunter by offering them part of your antelope. This is how the first relationships were built across tribes, but sharing food is not unique to just humans.
What is unique, is that humans evolved beyond sharing antelope (zero sum game), to helping others by sharing tools, skills and ideas. And as this process of helping others proliferated and became reciprocal – humans created trusted relationships that could be sustained for long periods with no interaction.
And this form of trust, is unique to humans – and is how your tribe is built.
Your Tribe is Bigger Than Ever
Robin Dunbar, Oxford professor of anthropology and psychology found that the human brain (based on size) can only manage 150 friendships at a time under optimal conditions. This became known as “Dunbar’s number“, and was popularized in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, as a key factor in how epidemics are created.
With 150 people, you maintained your tribe by seeing them at lunch, at work, in your neighbourhood, and at parties. This is how the world of tribes operated for some time. But Dunbar’s number has additional levels above and below 150.
With the explosion of social media, we can now understand how these other levels can be maintained today as part of your “extended tribe”. Although at 500 and 1,500 your extended tribe is composed mainly of weak connections, you still have an ability to “stay in touch”, using content and other “lighter” social media engagements.
source: The Limits of Friendship
“Language evolved as a “cheap” form of social grooming, so enabling the ancestral humans to maintain the cohesion of the unusually large groups”
– Robin Dunbar
Your Tribe is Made Up of Several Smaller Tribes
When you examine your tribe, it is really comprised of several smaller tribes. Each group typically has people with shared experiences, interests and ideas. An important role in any tribe is what is known as a “broker”. A broker can bridge the gaps between two tribes and transfer knowledge and skills.
A ton of research is currently being done on how tribes (social networks) work. Ronald Burt, professor of sociology at the Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business, has lead the way with some great insights:
- The way tribes have their effect is not by getting information from people, but rather by finding people who are interesting and who think differently from you.
- A tribe in itself does not provide an advantage independent of the work and effort you put into it. In other words, a great tribe full of influencers is not valuable unless you spend the time to nurture and add value back to the tribe.
- The no. 1 predictor of career success, is how open and large a tribe you act as a broker in.
One of the big challenges we face as our tribes get bigger, is there is no way to stay in touch with key people in these sub-tribes.
Who’s in Your Tribe’s Tribes?
My tribe is made up of builders. You could say that’s the same as entrepreneurs, but I would say it is a little different. My dad was an architect, I was schooled as an engineer – you can be a builder and not necessarily an entrepreneur, but you can’t be an entrepreneur and not build something.
I like and admire people who build stuff, and I really like it when I can help them. But I also have smaller tribes within my tribe.
At Nudge, we are helping professionals grow the right relationships from their tribe and sub-tribes. One thing my Nudge app can do, is examine my tribe for different characteristics. Here is a word cloud of my tribe in terms of the business characteristics: location, role, skills and interests.
Now these sub-tribes are not mutually exclusive, but when engaging with your network – it is helpful to use different lenses depending on what you are trying to accomplish. And what’s even more exciting, is that with Nudge I can drill into each of these sub-tribes and see who I have strong relationships with, and who I need to work on to make them stronger.
- I need to raise a round of funding: I look to my sub-tribe of founders, and also my sub-tribe of VCs.
- I want to hire a head of sales: I look to my sub-tribe of marketing and sales execs.
- I am thinking of opening an office in the west coast: I look to my sub-tribe of strong relationships in San Francisco.
Understanding who’s in your tribe is important, but in business today knowing who’s in your tribe’s tribe is essential.