The term “tribe” is troubling to the modern mind, suggesting a return to collective restrictions on our individual freedoms. But the tribalism emerging in this new paradigm of a collaborative economy is a sign of modernity, not of regression to darker times; the new emerging tribes enhance our individual freedoms, fostering individual contributions. What both old and new tribes share is that their members identify emotionally with the group, as well as sharing mutual interests and organizing different aspects of their personal and professional lives jointly with the goal of fulfilling a common objective that is good for the community. However, the new tribes differ from the old ones in seven major ways:
Traditional tribes were closed entities with high entry and exit barriers to protect their members from any negative influence. By contrast, new tribes are open. People can join and leave easily; there is a high degree of mobility and a continual renewal of ideas and influences.
In the past, due to poor communication, tribes had little contact with each other. This preserved their uniqueness. Thanks to technology, members of the new tribes belong simultaneously to many others. This creates multiple links among them as part of a super tribal global structure that allows individual participation within a comfortable small group, while at the same time providing exposure to a multiplicity of different groups.
Traditional tribes were hierarchical, and obedience to the leader was the first requirement of membership. Members of the new tribes create rules and strategies collectively. They resemble flocks of birds, in that while they appear to be following a single leader, they actually follow different leaders, given that different individuals have different abilities, resources, and strengths that allow them to lead in certain stages, but not necessarily throughout the whole process.
Old tribes were based on a pattern of continual confrontation against external tribes. In today’s tribes, no one is sure who is external and who is internal, since membership interconnection makes it difficult to identify who belongs to what. Collaboration is thus a logical strategy between different tribes.
Membership of old tribes usually lasted a lifetime and, often, beyond that, passing from one generation to the next. Only a cataclysm or an invasion could put an end to membership or the tribe. New tribes, by contrast, are short-lived; they emerge and disappear when the task at hand is complete.
Belonging to old tribes was dictated by birth, on the basis of family, color, gender, or class. In new tribes individuals can contribute by choice using their multiple identities.
Sameness vs Common Interests
Perhaps the most salient feature differentiating the old tribes from the new ones is that old tribes were formed on the basis of sameness, while new tribes are formed out of differences bound together by a common interest. Sameness is what makes us equal, by biological composition. We share our sameness, our fear, hunger, pain or pleasure. Sameness helps us to ensure the satisfaction of our individual needs, which might be the same as somebody else’s: this sameness can unite us in pursuing a common fight. Commonality is something we can all feel part of, but it is not owned by anyone in particular. Our contribution to the common good is dictated by our individual differences, and does not help any other member in particular; it simply benefits the whole community, directly or indirectly.
Download and read the full article Diversity and Tribal Thinking in the Collaborative Organization by Celia de Anca y Salvador Aragón.