The panda and the bicycle

Many tribes gain in power and connection by finding their opposite, by identifying the choices that members won't make.

"People like us don't do things like that."

So the vegan tribe obviously chooses to not eat meat. And during the key formative years, the Apple tribe wouldn't deign to buy Microsoft products. The Amish build solidarity and define themselves by the machines they choose not to use, and for a long time, many professional photographers wouldn't use digital cameras.

The smart choice is to understand that tribal identity is based on choices, not on facts, based on allegiances, not the intentional disregard of the rest of the world. Some sects of the motorcycle tribe don't wear helments… not because they believe it's safer (and thus denying the obvious) but because it's a choice they want to make.

Shortly after Copernicus rocked the world by proving that the Earth goes around the Sun (and not vice versa), many religions condemned this insight, "people like us don't believe things like that."

The problem is this: science is not the opposite of a tribe, just like the panda is not the opposite of the bicycle and the avocado isn't the opposite of the semicolon. Facts are different than choices. The scientific method is a process, a series of questions and iterations that is distinct from what any particular observer chooses to believe. So yes, professional scientists have a culture and belong to various tribes, but no, that culture is not the same as the scientific method. And yes, scientists are often wrong, but scientists following the method correct their mistakes.

The same thing is true about accounting. When your balance sheet or your direct mail numbers don't add up, don't blame the process that counted them.

Tribes thrive when they connect and coordinate and synchronize. They work when they create a cultural connection. But they can't thrive when they merely embrace (or deny) the reality of the world around them.

You can choose not to ride a bicycle, but it makes no sense to deny that bicycles exist, regardless of how important your tribe thinks the panda bear is… unrelated ideas, ideas that don't benefit from being put in opposition to one another.

As you organize and lead your tribe, then, the opportunity is to be crystal clear about what you stand for, but to give the alert observers within your clan the ability to stick with you and what they believe without having to pretend that the world outside doesn't actually exist.