“He who cannot howl, will not find his pack.” – Charles Simic
What is the difference between influencing the path of a project and that of a temporary tribe?
Remember? A temporary tribe is a group pursuing the fulfillment of a certain outcome. And after they reach their goal, they stop being a group. An important element of a temporary tribe is the communication infrastructure they work on. It’s digital, it’s mobile and it is global.
It is kind of like a project. But different.
If we want to influence the course of a project, the path the team will take, we start with setting up a structure. Procedures, roles, authorities, plans and communication patterns. We define a system for the team and stakeholders.
The place of the manager (influencer) is considered outside the system he or she is defining. He is “the gardner” and he takes care of “the garden” so “his flowers” can blossom.
Crap like that.
Influencing a temporary tribe is different.
You are not outside the system. Actually in the beginning you are the only member of the social system.
You arrive in a foreign organization for an intervention. You are a party of one.
First you seem a little off-beat and charmingly clumsy. You mix with the locals, interested in their culture. But you have a small version of your freak flag pinned onto your suit.
And slowly you expand the size of the flag. Or palm tree.
“So you bring a huge palm tree to put on your desk. Nothing brightens up a place like a little bit of tropical green.
Watch what happens. (…)
People will gather under the palm tree. Give you compliments. Provide you with tips on how the harvest those coconuts. Someone will bring a hammock. It will become a hangout and topic of conversation.
Yes, this would be a flag. (…)
It is a topic of conversation. People socialize around and about the palm tree.”
If you don’t want to put up a palm tree, why not start with a small white board that describes the new situation you want to create with your yet-to-be-formed temporary tribe? Or a map of the new land?
Waving your freak flag, a manifestation of identity, works as a filter: people who like this particular “identity” get “attracted”, those who are not in tune with it, are not. You create boundaries: some stay at one end, others cross.
The social system starts with one, but the boundaries expand over time.
There is a moment, a tipping point, when the tribe holds its own culture, with or without you.
That is what the flags are for. Flags are a codification of culture. A culture is bootstrapped by imitation. One person starts a thing and when enough people start copying it, start doing it, it becomes part of the culture.
Because temporary tribes run on culture, and because cultures propagate by imitation of freak flags, one person starts the tribe by bootstrapping elements of the new culture and over time the culture will hold itself.