I love the idea of tribes, which is something I’ve picked up from the mighty Seth Godin. It’s the idea that no matter how complex and disparate our ever-expanding global population becomes, there’ll always be an easily understood unit of measure to quantify the people and ideas that really matter to individuals. The tribe.
The primal reaches of our brain are still hardwired to handle tribe-sized numbers. It’s why we only ever have a max of 150 or so friends, acquaintances and distant relations in mind. Beyond numbers like that, it becomes hard to comprehend the motivations and the unity of the social whole. It becomes fragmented and too big to think about.
Thinking in terms of a tribe is a particularly useful approach for creative people, because the impact of their work can be measured in those same primal, tribal metrics. The best artists don’t just cut straight to the truths of their age; they create proto-religious icons for their people. Think about the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, Hirst’s shark or even the iPhone. They’re cultural artefacts, carved in the image of what we find to be beautiful and wondrous. Apple fanboys are a religious cult. It’s how our brains work.
Once in a while, an author comes along who writes something so far-reaching that they can touch a global tribe. The Fitzgeralds, Rowlings and Jameses harness ideas so powerful and prevalent that the whole world takes notice. But they didn’t write for global audiences; they wrote specifically for the tribe-sized number of people they had in mind who might have enjoyed their work. They wrote for their niche, and they did it well. So well that it exploded beyond their intended tribe.
When you write, don’t write for the sake of writing a global bestseller. Write because you want to unite your tribe around a campfire of your favourite ideas. Who are your tribe? They’re people like you. People with the same likes and wants and fears. When it comes down to it, you need to write the story that you’d most love to read. If you get lucky, the ideas you express will unite your tribe around it too.
Don’t think in bestseller terms. It’s cynical. Think in tribal terms. Unite your tribe, your otaku, with the quality of remarkable ideas and content you think they deserve. Build a campfire of ideas, keep it burning as brightly as you can, and your tribe will find you and gather around it. Nothing could be more human; nothing could be more satisfying.
Unite your tribe.