Drinking from the firehose. That’s the expression, a visual that’s hard to ignore. We’ve all been in that situation, completely overwhelmed by a torrent of information coming at our faces at a high rate of speed.
I’m finding that Seth Godin’s premise for Tribes has been perverted, altered so that we’ve scaled up the definition of a tribe while still remaining a single, sentient entity. His intention when discussing the concept of a modern tribe meant becoming part of a tight-knit group, but how do you define a “tight-knit group?” Ten people? A hundred people?
One of the tribes to which I belong hosts conversations online in a private space. This “tribe” consists of well over 300 people. When I first joined, being somewhat of an early bird with most things, I began interacting with a dozen people who’d also joined early. I enjoyed the new friendships, the connections, and the help we gave each other.
But then the deluge started, and more people came in by the droves. At first, I tried to keep up but soon realized I would need to spend my entire day simply posting and responding. When I thought the tribe was going to be 20 or 30 people, I felt the kinship. I participated fully. When the tribe grew into the hundreds, I froze.
Moderators came by, encouraging the members of the tribe to interact, and I became more overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t keep up even if I wanted to.
I didn’t want to leave this tribe as I identified with the ideology and the movement. These were my people. There were just way too many of them to foster any kind of meaningful relationship.
I left Facebook months ago. The main reason I held on for that long was that I’d been a member of several Facebook groups. One that I had joined years ago has swelled to 30,000+ members with dozens of administrators. Sure, you can call this a tribe, but I knew that, at that size, this was not the place I wanted to be.
I feel another shift. I see this in my work with other authors and across several disciplines. While forming tribes ten or fifteen years ago was a way to combat the anonymous enormity of the internet, our tribes have evolved into equally intimidating masses of opinion, contradictory advice, and sometimes, conflict.
It’s no longer enough to find your tribe, it’s now time to find your clan.
This isn’t a writer playing with semantics. Clans are more like families, small groups of twenty people or less. You know the members of your clan, like siblings or parents.
Several clans can form a tribe, but we know from many social science studies that most of us cannot manage more than 100 relationships at a time. We seem to be hardwired to function better in clans than we do in tribes, even smaller tribes of 100 people or less.
I’ve decided to turn away from tribes, or better yet, find clans within them. Tribes are important because they often form around a leader or cause. Tribes give us common goals, speech, and a shared set of values.
But clans are where the real change happens. Tight bonds form in these small groups, and this is the energy I want to foster, share, and benefit from.
I’ve been forming clans of writers. We’re in the same Slack groups, listening to the same podcasts, attending the same events. I don’t offer quick fixes, get-rich-quick schemes, or simple “hacks” to complex problems. Instead, I look the other members of the clan in the eyes. I let them know that I see them and that I want them to succeed as much as they do. I haven’t always been comfortable leading in this way, but now I am.
I have been and continue to be part of clans led by others. In those situations, I follow. I haven’t always been comfortable following in this way, but now I am.
Creatives are part of a tribe. Writers are part of a tribe. But those groups are too massive, unwieldy, and impersonal.
I’m not interested in serving the maximum number of writers possible, or having the biggest email list, or “scaling” my services to the masses, or selling products to hundreds of thousands of people.
Instead, I’m going to do the best I possibly can with the people who have chosen to join my clan. I’m giving them everything I’ve got, so that someday they’ll start their own clan and do the same for another small group of people.
Yes, we will still build tribes this way, but we’ll lay the foundation organically with clans. In the time before history and civilization, a clan was the only way to survive. In many ways, it still is.
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