The Mushroom Tribe

A little over a year ago, Susan and I joined a new tribe. We call it the “Mushroom Tribe.” Reverse-engineering how we came to be members of this little tribe offers some fascinating insights into how movements and tribes get started in the first place.

One Weirdo, Plus One

First, you have to have one “weirdo.” A guy or gal who is going to do their thing without caring what the rest of the world thinks about it.

But one person is not a movement, and one person is not a tribe. It’s the person that jumps into the “dance” with the founding weirdo that makes things interesting. Once #2 jumps in, onlookers start to think, “maybe it’s cool, maybe other people won’t think I’m weird if I jump in, maybe I should do this too.”

Then the next brave person jumps in. And the next. And then, boom, you have yourselves a movement. And at the heart of every great movement is a tribe, a group of people that connect around a common goal/purpose.

Our Mushroom Tribe’s Founding Weirdo

Who founded the Mushroom Tribe? Tradd Cotter, the Clemson University mycologist and founder of Mushroom Mountain (along with his wife Olga). Susan and I first heard Tradd talk at a local Green Drinks meeting at Coffee Underground back in late 2009. Before that night, we’d never given mushrooms much thought. Then Tradd started talking. His energy and passion about mushrooms was incredible. His knowledge about an organism that we knew virtually nothing about was humbling. His vision for what mushrooms could do for the world- ranging from a delicious, nutritious food source that could regenerate daily to help solve world hunger to bioremediation for hazardous waste sites to poison-free, permanent pest control- had everyone present (including us) captivated. We liked his presentation so much that we invited him to speak at TEDxGreenville 2010 (another tribe we love and movement that inspires us)… Tradd had the same impact there.

We Didn’t Join the Tribe Right Away

Eating mushrooms is kinda like driving a car (or pretty much anything else you do in life): very risky without proper training and precautions. “All mushrooms are edible for 30 minutes,” as Tradd likes to say (ie, you eat the wrong one and you might be dead at minute 31). So, we didn’t jump right into the dance with Tradd. Too risky. We needed help—someone to show us the way.

Then we found out our friends Evan, Meg, Nathaniel, and Eliza were already in the Mushroom Tribe. They knew enough to take us out for our first mushroom hunt a few months later to ensure we didn’t pick any “31 minute mushrooms.” On our first hunt, we found bags full of delectable gourmet mushrooms, including chanterelles, bi-color boletes, porcinis, and others that would make any chef in Greenville green with envy. We were hooked.

We had been initiated into the Mushroom Tribe by our friends. The movement we were now a part of wasn’t about any one person, it was about an idea that transcended personal identity, even though Tradd’s infectious obsession was the initial catalyst and he and Olga were the people we looked to respectfully as our founders. We’d been given a new world to explore, knowledge to obtain, and fun to be had.

18 months later, Tyrant Farms and surrounding woods now have at least 15 delicious edible varieties of seasonal mushrooms (some were already here, some were introduced) that we get to enjoy and share. About once per week, we go out for a hike/mushroom foraging adventure. We’ve even initiated some of our friends and family into the Mushroom Tribe. We post pictures on our social media accounts (including here) and tell our friends and family about our little movement (notice I said “our” not a person or company’s name, because we have a sense of ownership).

Some of our friends ask questions about our strange new obsession. Many of them think we’re weird. We don’t care. It’s our tribe and we’re passionate about it. We believe in it. If they don’t get it, they’re the ones standing on the edge of the dance looking in. They’re the weird ones. The Mushroom Tribe is where the magic is.

Why You Should Care… Even If You Don’t 

You don’t have to join the Mushroom Tribe. It’s not for everyone, nor is it supposed to be- nothing good is. But, you should create passion, connection, ownership, and evangelism in whatever it is that you do. That’s what a true tribe does. That’s what a movement is.

Word of Mouth (WOM), the building blocks of tribes/movements, happens on multiple media platforms, not just new media, not just traditional media. So, if you’re a company or a non-profit, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Are You Sharing a Transcendent Cause? Are you shouting at people in a one-way conversation OR are you sharing something that the right people will feel is important to them personally; something meaningful that has the potential to make their lives better in some significant way- a “transcendent cause” not a “transactional cause”?
  2. Is Your Organization/Tribe Infused With Passion? Does your passion and purpose go beyond a paycheck? Is it more important that your movement succeed than it is that your name or your logo is on the flag when the battle is won?
  3. Are You Your Movement or Is Your Movement You? Are you brave enough to give “ownership” of your brand over to your tribe, and have you given them the tools and resources to make sharing easy? If so, you won’t “loose control” over your brand, you’ll continuously rediscover it through the passion and insights of your tribe and the dynamic energy of your movement.

Now, take a moment to think about the one movement that you care about the most in your life, the one tribe where you feel the most connection. Smiling? Hope so. Well, don’t just thank the first “weirdo” that dared to defy the gravity of popular reality in creating your movement/tribe, make sure to thank the second person that jumped on board. After all, they turned the single nut into your favorite tree.

Some of our favorite mushrooms from left to right: 1.) Chicken of the Woods, 2.) bi-color boletes, 3.) three types of chanterelles (orange, black trumpet, and red "cinnabar"), and 4.) morels.