Insights- The Song of Significance – A New Manifesto for Teams: Notes from the Book

20th February 2024

Posted in: Insights

In The Song of Significance, Seth Godin encourages uses the analogy of the business organisation as a bee colony.

In a unique style of writing he talks about what is going wrong with our current organisations and what we should be striving for to create a “healthy hive”


The song of increase

When a queen bee is born the existing queen and half the bees in the hive will swarm and leave. The entire swarm is seeking possibility and growth without knowing precisely where they’re headed. The bees embrace the challenge without a precise map and do it with cooperation, dignity and connection.

Burnout and dissatisfaction make work less engaging until our existential needs until it’s difficult to produce the emotional labour for progress and possibility.

We need work that matters, creating a difference, being part of something and doing something we’re proud of. This is the song of significance


What do people want?

  • Agency which gives control over our time and choose what our contribution look like
  • Dignity flows from agency allowing us to be treated as humans not cogs on a wheel
  • To be respected for our work and treated with kindness

Real value is no longer created by traditional measures of productivity it’s created by personal interactions, innovation, creative solutions, resilience and the power of speed.

We can’t plan a basketball game in advance, however if we focus on the culture and process we can enable the place to achieve their goals regardless of how the game unfolds.

Questions worth asking- important set a plan including asking questions out loud, writing down and committing to the answers.

An organisation of any size can effectively move forward by asking what do humans need what will create significance for those who interact with us?

The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound he depends for his success on his ability to make other people powerful.

The people you hired to follow instructions are really the people who will help you build something of innovation and substance.


Management is the practice of using power to get what we want.

Leadership is the art of creating something significant.


Kokoro –  heart, spirit, mind and self. The inner and outer expression of who we are and what we’re capable of.

The ability to give someone the opportunity to bring their own self to work is generous and powerful


Resistance is our natural personal aversion to doing important or creative work. Significant work requires us to make commitments and to keep them, to create change. Traps to be aware of as we seek to make impact:

  • Maximalism- if it’s not a perfect solution we consider it a betrayal
  • Anti leadership attitudes- previous managers have harmed us so we need to avoid all leaders and constraints they bring us
  • Anti-institutional sentiment- all institutions are liars and seek to marginalise us
  • Glasshouses- if our organisation doesn’t completely solve problems we have no business doing anything
  • The small wall- we can’t possibly take on big issues outside when there are still arguments to be had here
  • Unanchored care – The organisation has to take care of all of my needs
  • Disproportionality- The teams current minor discomfort is the most important issue
  • Shiny objects- getting distracted is more satisfying than the long journey

Fear is an easy tool for compliance but great work creates more value than compliant work

Significant organisations are team centric i.e. the purpose of a beehive isn’t to make honey, honey is a by product of a healthy hive.

A significant organisation can please its customers and make a profit as well.


People want safety, affiliation and status and significance.

There is a sweet spot between the known and unknown where originality happens- The key is to be able to linger there without panicking.


A significant job requires us to be in two places at once-  our work is to acknowledge the present situation while working hard to change the circumstances and status of those we serve.


The significance commitments

  • We’re here to make change happen- Who is it for?
  • We are acting with intention- Doing something not just because it’s my job.
  • Dignity is worth investing in- People seek a place to see and be seen.
  • Tension is not the same as stress- Tension is the feeling that leads to forward motion.
  • Mistakes are the way forward- If you’re not doing things that don’t work you’re not trying hard enough.
  • Take responsibility and give credit.
  • Criticise the work not the worker- feedback is the only way to get better but remember it’s not the same as personal criticism.
  • Turnover is okay – gig economy has changed this.
  • Mutual respect is expected.
  • Do the reading – understand what’s going on – not just do your job.
  • Mindset of “Get to” versus “Have to”.
  • Standards instead of obedience- We need consistent measurable external benchmarks of quality.
  • Show your work- clearly share our intentions methods of measurements to build credibility.
  • Make it better!
  • Celebrate real skills – reward the soft skills even though they’re hard to measure.


We need leaders to speak clearly and describe the road ahead. We then need to repay their candor by buying in or choosing to stand aside.

We need empathy to understand that others don’t know what we know, want what we want, or see what we see.


Make sure meetings are not just a lecture with little or no conversation. A significant meeting is one where everyone listens and speaks and it leads to a decision not just delivery of information.


Honey bee democracy:

  • Bees have clear intent and standards
  • Their goals are aligned
  • They rely on peer to peer communication


Mile posts on the road to significance

  • Important organisations make change happen.
  • Humans are not resources- we need to create paths for them to find significance
  • Management is not the same as leadership- Management is required but leadership is voluntary to perform and voluntary to follow.
  • Enrolment is more powerful than coercion- The most skilled and committed people participate voluntarily.
  • Culture can amplify by enrolment- people like us do things like this-  that’s what culture is.
  • Seek out useful imposters.
  • Leaders create the conditions for culture
  • It’s the work not the worker- Criticise work with useful skilled feedback.
  • Embrace uncertainty- Avoid the false confidence of certainty in the open to the possibility that uncertainty brings be able to say “I dont know”.
  • Withhold definition-  The act of putting something in the wrong box will prevent us from understanding what it really is.
  • Seek out the benefit of the doubt- Don’t hoard information or access.
  • Avoid false proxies- stuff thats easy to measure gets measured but it’s not always what’s important.
  • Rigourous standards.
  • Scale is not the point- Bigger isn’t the goa,l better is.
  • Hiring is not dating- don’t focus on people like you, who you like.
  • Find positive uses of tension.


Bees don’t wait to be told, they don’t wait for perfect and they don’t wait for later- significance is the incremental process of possibility


The Wizard of Oz is a story about connection and possibility and our desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves to help others when perhaps there isn’t that much in it for us.


Significant isn’t what we get, it’s what we do for others.


Real skills

  • Self control – Doing things for the long run that you might not feel like doing in the short-term.
  • Productivity- Using your insights and commitment to move things forward.
  • Wisdom- Wording things that are difficult from a textbook manual.
  • Perception -seeing things before others have to point them out.
  • Influence – skills to persuade others to take action.


Author: Donna Bruce