Book Review – Poke That Box By Seth Godin

Poke the boxThere are books that you read which end up leaving an indelible impression on you, for me this is one of those books. Poke the box, is a very small book which you can go through in one sitting.To me it almost doesn’t feel  like a book, because it has no chapters or sections. It’s a bunch of the author’s thoughts collected together, but they are inspiring and challenging. This is not an intellectually challenging book, you are not going to learn anything new from reading it, but you will be called to act.

The author, Seth Godin, uses this as a manifesto to encourage people to become initiators, he believes we should all start things.

In his own words, we should poke the box. Poke the box is the phrase he uses to describe people who initiate things. Really what Seth is trying to do is move us to develop an entrepreneurial mindset where, when we have ideas or see things that can be done we are not waiting for instructions or waiting to be picked or given the right opportunity. We simply just go and do it. For instance Jenny told her boss about her idea, how it will work and that she was going to do it. She didn’t ask for his permission, she simply told him and went to do it. That is what poking the box means? Seth believes the difference between those who succeed and those who languish is initiative. People who succeed are always starting stuff, getting things done, shipping products and services.

He does give a warning that starting also implies finishing, so he’s not writing about people with ideas all the time who  start numerous things but never finish. It’s also not just about big name entrepreneurs or people working on big or game changing ideas, but a mindset where we see things that need to be done and go do it. Seth believes that initiative capital (his own words) is greater that any other resource or element of production, because you can provide people with resources, if they are not ready to step out and initiate, the resources willstill go to waste. Seth discusses some key principles about poking the box:

  • Fear prevents people from initiating.
  • We are often too bothered about the consequences of failing or the experience of failure so we freeze and do nothing.
  • Most initiatives fail so if you are going to become a habitual initiator you must learn how to embrace and learn from failure.
  • If you develop the habit of starting and finishing, you may have failures, but in the long run you will succeed more than over-cautious people.
  • To be an initiator you have to keep moving.
  • The world is changing so fast, you can’t afford to stand still, that is why initiating is the most valuable currency in today’s world.
  • To innovate you’ve got to initiate.
  • To be an initiator you need to be curious and act like a child. Try things and don’t get discouraged even if you make mistakes or break things.

Following are some quotes from Seth that help to explain his poke the box manifesto:

  • The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world. Without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved.
  • The challenge it turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.
  • Only by poking, testing, modifying, influencing and understanding can we truly own anything, truly exert our influence.
  • No one has control, or confidence in his work until he understands how to initiate change and predict how the box will respond.
  • Double is not sufficient. Innovating and then harvesting isn’t a long-term strategy. The only defensible way to thrive is to double and then double again. To innovate on the way to innovating, to start on the way to starting yet again.
  • If you sign up for the initiative path and continue on when others fret about “meeting spec” and “predictability,” you will ultimately succeed.
  • The crowd won’t stop worrying, because worrying is what they enjoy doing. But that’s okay, because you’ll be making a difference and using your newfound leverage to do more and more work that matters.
  • Go to work (keep starting things) on a regular basis.
  • Isaac Asimov wrote and published more than four hundred books by typing nonstop from six a.m. to noon, everyday for forty years.
  • Look for the fear. That’s always the source of your doubt.
  • The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it’s don’t. The initiator won’t rest until he does it.
  • Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.
  • Avoiding risk worked then, but it doesn’t work now.
  • Curiosity can start us down the path to shipping, to bringing things to the world, to examining them, refining them, and repeating the process again (and again).
  • Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action.
  • Initiative and starting are about neither of these. They are about “let’s see” and “try”.
  • Change is powerful, but change always comes with failure as its partner. ” This might not work” isn’t merely something to be tolerated; its something you should seek out.
  • Starting means you’re going to finish. If it doesn’t ship, you’ve failed.
  • To merely start without finishing is just boasting, or stalling or a waste of time.
  • If you never fail, either you’re lucky or you haven’t shipped anything.
  • But if you succeed often enough to be given the privilege of failing next time, then you’re in the road to a series of failures. Fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed – you get the idea.
  • Today not starting is far, far worse than bring wrong. If you start, you’ve got a shot at evolving and adjusting. You can turn your wrong into a right. But if you don’t start, you never get a chance.
  • I’m merely encouraging you to start. Often. Forever. Be the one who starts things.

So that’s it, in 83 pages Seth is telling me and  you to start that thing, ship that idea, initiate, instigate. Poke the box.

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