Tribes in a techno world

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This is the latest contribution to this blog by Associate Bob Bailly, a Calgary-based neuro-marketing practitioner.

By Bob Bailly

My recent posts have looked at what we can learn about our business behaviour from a neuroscientific point of view. We’ve looked at how our brains have evolved and how this affects the way we behave and act. Neuroscience teaches us that the cerebral brain – the part of our brain that thinks and that differentiates humans from all other species – is a relatively recent evolutionary development, and that we are largely influenced by the living vestiges of more primitive brains within us. The decision-making part of our brain is reptilian, which allows for some useful predictive modeling.

My work, however, is not just about brain science. I believe that modern business has much to learn from all of the evolutionary sciences. Despite the drive to incorporate more and more new technology into our daily lives, we are creatures of our evolutionary past in in other ways.

So what can we learn from these other evolutionary sciences – including anthropology, sociology and biology – and fed by the clues gleaned from geology, archaeology and history? From these scientific pursuits I believe that it’s become exceedingly clear that despite a few thousand years of civilization and a few decades of technological breakthroughs, for most of human existence we have been finding, hunting and gathering the daily essentials we need to survive. This pre-modern existence has developed what I believe is a definite biological bias to certain behaviours.

Tribal thoughts

The most important of these, from a business perspective, is that humans still prefer to live as members of tribes.

I first began writing about this following the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. There is been nothing as nakedly tribal as the emotional roller coaster these games garnered across Canada. About 26.5 million Canadians watched at least part of the final hockey game between the U.S. and Canada. That’s 80 percent of the population of roughly 33.7 million. Two days after the games, The Globe and Mail published a 24-page supplement simply entitled “Heroes” celebrating the “206 athletes (who) wore the Maple Leaf and made us proud for 17 days.”

As a Canadian, I shared in this emotional cocktail which engulfed our nation. However, the blinding insight into the obvious is that Canadians acted no differently than any other nation when one of their own celebrates a victory. Witness the spectacle of any die-hard fan with painted face, banner waving, screaming with the joy and the agony of every action on the field of play and you can immediately understand the intensity of the feeling and the satisfaction we get from not only being a fan, but being part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

Within all of us, whether athlete or not, competition triggers our fight or flight reflex. Winning a “fight” such as an Olympic event, a World Cup of Soccer game, or a Major League World Series causes an adrenal-fueled celebration of victory that is so satisfying, so primal and so community focused that it’s impossible to deny that humans are indeed tribal animals, and that you don’t need to be one of the participants to enjoy this rush.

It’s probably the safety of numbers that has caused our brains to be adroitly wired to live peacefully in small groups. We do act on these tribal urges every day in our modern world. Politicians exploit it, sports franchises exist because of it, and marketing gurus like Seth Godin have even written books about it.

There are several key considerations to our tribal desires that are universally observed across all cultures around the world. These will be summarized briefly here, but over the course of the next several posts I’ll examine each in turn in more detail to see what we can learn from our evolutionary predilections that might have a bearing on our organizations or ourselves.

So what are the conditions necessary for us to want to belong?

  • Tribes demand strong leaders, and these leaders must inspire their followers (through fear, heredity or action). Followers must also understand and accept their roles.
  • Tribes have a strong culture and are prone to develop and use cultural symbols.
  • Tribes develop stories, sometimes magical and sometimes mythical, that define their values.
  • Tribes utilize hierarchies of power and place.
  • Tribes have enemies, and the stronger the enemy the stronger the loyalty to the tribe.
  • Tribes, like any animal species, must adapt to new environmental realities or conditions or they will fragment, wither or die.
  • Tribes are only as strong as the emotional connection they have between members. It has been proven time and again throughout history that a small number of people can affect a large number of people with emotional commitment.

In a nutshell, a tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another by a common vision about who they are, are led by a leader or leaders, and who share stories, symbols and icons that identify them as members of that tribe. A tribe is held together by the emotional attachments members have to each other and these tribal ideals.

We can and do belong to many tribes at the same time – consider being a Canadian, Rotarian, Maple Leafs fan, or member of a church. Consider the company you work for, the team you play on, or the brands you choose. Many of today’s modern tribes are the social, professional, class, academic, or sports groups we join or enjoy. We display our membership by the clothes we wear, the words we use and the traditions we build. Regardless of whether our tribal membership is weak or strong, we live our lives surrounded by the trappings of our tribes and according to their rules.

Future posts will look at the social unrest of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement on Wall Street, as well as the adoration of Steve Jobs and the success of Apple Computers. We’ll be looking for the tribal clues that technology-focused companies can incorporate into their business dealings. We will attempt to identify strategies to create social groups or communities that are centered round a product or service. In short, we’ll be looking at tribal behaviour so that you can improve your leadership, management, product development, organizational structure, branding, marketing, sales, and communications.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Image: JonAlfredson.com

/// COMMENTS

2 Comments »
  • Nick Desbarats

    February 08, 2012 11:53 am

    Indeed important research and ideas that need to be more widely-known in mainstream society. Looking forward to subsequent posts.

  • » Hunters … Leaders … and Storytellers victometrics

    December 07, 2012 11:02 pm

    [...] Bailly provides additional descriptions of the modern technological tribe that gives additional texture to our [...]

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