A Tribe of Heretics

By Dr. Robert Boggs DLA Land and Maritime People and Culture Directorate

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Our culture works hard to prevent change. We have long had systems and organizations and standards designed to dissuade people from challenging the status quo. We enforce our systems and call whoever is crazy enough to challenge them a heretic. And society enforces the standards by burning its heretics at the stake, either literally or figuratively. But the world has changed a lot. There are heretics everywhere you look.
Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us*

In his book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges* points out that people who are sure they have the answers stop asking questions. Unfortunately, people who stop asking questions never challenge the status quo. When we lack or perceive we lack challenges, an organization is likely to drift slowly into trouble before there is a realization that something is wrong.

Today, there is hardly any project or procedure in any organization that couldn’t be improved, so why do so many of us constantly fight to maintain the status quo? By focusing our energy on avoiding change we physically and emotionally exhaust ourselves. We delude ourselves into believing the world is stable - it isn’t!

The people I know who are most energized, engaged and happy in their work are the ones who are passionately involved in changing the status quo. They are not hapless victims of change but champions of change. These champions of change are taking on greater responsibility and making a difference in the workplace.

Great leaders understand that change is omnipresent and the key to their success and the survival of their organization. They are the visionaries that are often initially labeled as heretics. Without heretics we would still be hunter-gatherers. As strange as it may sound, it is the heretics that move us, often reluctantly, into a better and brighter future.

The person who first thought it would be a great idea to try to ride a horse must have been considered a heretic. The Wright Brothers, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison…were all considered to be a bit crazy, even heretical, but thank goodness we had such visionaries who were willing to pursue their dreams over the objections of others. We need more heretics. Godin explains:

Heretics are engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else. And they have a tribe that they support (and that supports them in turn).

We need more leaders who are heretically disenfranchised with the status quo and who value that same mind-set in others. The status quo is persistently resistant to change. The status quo is comfortable and deludes us into believing change must always be feared. An attitude that embraces the concept of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” no longer equates to a formula for success.

There are times when fear protects us from harm, but the world of work has shown us that the fear that used to protect us can now hurt us. Improved processes, information systems and software upgrades, organizational realignments and other change initiatives, if done properly and for the right reasons, can be extremely beneficial.  We need our heretics. We need entire tribes of heretics. According to Godin:

It turns out that the people who like their jobs the most are also the ones who are doing the best work, making the greatest impact, and changing the most. Changing the way they see the world, sure, but also changing the world. By challenging the status quo, a cadre of heretics is discovering that one person, just one, can make a huge difference.

Studies show that heretics are swiftly becoming the new leaders. They challenge the status quo and they create unstoppable tribes. These tribes are groups of people who are connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea. Heretical tribes are becoming the key to organizational success.

The business world of the past also had tribes but they were conservative tribes. Tribes of the past relished the status quo. Today’s fast-paced environment demands tribes of heretics who are ready, willing and able to adapt, create and move forward with little hesitancy when opportunities exist.


* Both books mentioned in this article are available to DLA associates with access to LMS. Through LMS, access Skill Soft Books 24 x 7 and complete a search query. *LMS site is DLA CAC enabled 

  • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin (audiobook)
  • Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges (digital download)