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Every organization is really a set of small towns. If you’re from a small town, think of the people there. If you’re not, think of, as Don Henley sings, “that same small town in each of us.” There are the business executive and the sheriff. There’s the town scandal—the preacher’s wife and the schoolteacher. There’s talk of who will be the next mayor, who will move away, and the price of grain (or oil or the Wal-Mart starting wage). There’s the high school, where the popular kid, the son of the town’s sheriff, throws a party the weekend his father is away. There are the church crowd, the bar friends, the single people, the book club, the bitter enemies. There are also the ones who are the natural leaders, who explain why the party at the sheriff’s house seemed like a good idea at the time and how sorry they are for the beer stains on the carpet. The people are different in every town, and the roles are never exactly the same. But there are more similarities than differences, and the metaphor itself always holds, from companies in Nebraska to ones in New York or Kuala Lumpur.

We call these small towns tribes, and they form so naturally it’s as though our tribe is part of our genetic code. Tribes helped humans survive the last ice age, build farming communities, and, later, cities. Birds flock, fish school, people “tribe.”

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