Adapted from my book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity.   (2016). Dave Fleming. A Tribal Alchemy Resource.


The “I’s” Matter

When I was growing up, there was a game in my house that I loved to play. It consisted of a round plastic plate, on top of which were approximately 15 individual plastic, bubble-like structures. A magnet, yellow on one side and black on the other, was inside each bubble structure. There was also a small plastic wand—maybe three or four inches long—with a magnet on one end. One side of the wand’s magnet was black and the other was yellow.


The goal of the game was to place the wand on the bottom side of the plate where it would turn all the magnets to the color yellow or black. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly. The magnets did not act independently. So when I placed the wand under one of the individual magnets to turn it yellow, three others magnet would flip to their black sides. This created enormous frustration because just about the time you had all the magnets flipped to one color, a few would flip back to the other. I threw it across the room on several occasions. Luckily, or not, it was very sturdy.


After a few decades of working with tribes, the game from my childhood has become a powerful metaphor that highlights an essential dynamic: individual tribe members affect each other in very specific and powerful ways. It only takes one or two “out of sync” tribe members to flip many other tribe members upside down.


Thus far in the book I’ve emphasized the collective effort of groups to ingeniously use their raw materials to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. I would be remiss, however, if I did not highlight just how influential—for good or for ill—individual tribe members can be in the process of alchemy and the well-being of the tribe.


One, two, or ten (depending on the size of your tribe) misaligned tribe members with negative intentions can undo collective ingenuity and spread destructive attitudes. These attitudes and actions can overtake a tribe like a virus. I have witnessed individual tribe members wreak havoc through subtle and not so subtle sabotage. The force generated by their actions stalled innovation and deflated the energy required to make needed change. It is hard to overestimate the damage that can be done by such saboteurs. It is also sad when they are allowed to continue their ways because of ineffective leadership.


I have also witnessed the amazing energy and creativity individual tribe members can bring to a tribe because they are committed to their own self-development. I’ve watched as well-developed tribe members exude confidence in the midst of ambiguity and know-how in the midst of uncertain and difficult times. Not only are these types of tribe members magnetic and energizing, but they are often the starters and sustainers of the alchemy process.



No matter the tribe, leaders and engaged members alike want to populate their tribe with individuals who care about their own self- development and consistently pursue it with vigilance and intention. How individual tribe members behave in the pursuit of personal continuous improvement affects the well-being and creative productivity of the tribe. In other words, when individual tribe members pursue personal excellence, rather than personal mediocrity, it increases the likelihood of tribal alchemy. The oft-quoted phrase “There is no I in team” is both untrue and potentially very dangerous. There are many “I’s” in tribes—and how each approaches his or her personal improvement—will affect the tribe.


The last brief section of this book explores targeted practices that tribe members can cultivate on a regular basis to ensure they are “alchemy- ready.” Not only will these practices increase personal effectiveness, but they will also enable tribe members to lend their best energies to the alchemic process.


Here are the four practices:

  • Attend: Pay attention to self, others, and situations.
  • Explore: Be curious and discovery-centered.
  • Create: Be creative in your life and work.
  • Adapt: Graciously flex with change.


Watch the rigorous routine of Lebron James. He is “alchemy ready” for his tribe.