Book review: Poke the Box by Seth Godin

I am an avid reader of Seth Godin’s work. Just looking at the size of his tag on this blog you understand that he has been a great inspiration for my writing. Thus, it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that I am very excited with his new project to re-define and re-shape how book publishing is done (the domino project).

One of the first titles is called: Poke the Box. In it, Godin continues his assault on the resistance that is holding us back, which he started in his wonderful book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? The main point of the book is: what would happen if we all took more initiative and just started things? More importantly: what the hell is stopping us? The book praises practical initiative taking, not just for the sake of initiating but for the sake of shipping – delivering a product or idea to the market.

I found three interesting concepts going all through the book:

1. We got the attitude toward failure all wrong. Failure has a bad rep. it is misunderstood and misused. It represents opportunity, learning and improvement. Instead we fear it and try everything in our powers to prevent it. However, not failing means not doing. Or as Godin puts it: “The more you do, the more you fail”. Our aim should be to do, so it should be to also fail. A lot.

If you fail once, and big, you don’t fail the most. The game is over, you’re a failure, you’re busted, you’re in jail. But you don’t fail the most. If you never fail, either you’re really 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 on the road to a series of failures. Fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed—you get the idea. Talk to any successful person. He’ll be happy to fill you in on his long string of failures.

2. Leaders are map makers. People need maps to show them where to go. Literally, in experiments done on lost people, they just walked around in circles. However, you can wait for the map to come or you can create your own map. Are as Godin says: “Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them”. When I say “leaders are map makers” I am not necessarily talking about leaders in the traditional way. I am talking about people who make things happen; who try something new; who take us to a better future by not obeying the rules, because the rule book of the future has not been written yet. They understand that they need to write it as they go along.

If there’s no clear right answer, perhaps the thing you ought to do is something new. Something new is often the right path when the world is complicated.

3. Initiative is also about voice. Godin writes: “Sure, ideas that spread, win, but ideas that don’t get spoken always fail”. Many of most obvious inventions we have today were at some point heresy. When those who thought about them voiced them all hell broke loose (just listen to this podcast to see how it still is happening today in places you wouldn’t even imagine). But if we don’t voice ideas what is the alternative? Nothing. Can we honestly say that is a better thing?

We’re trained to fit in, not to stand out, and the easiest way in the world to fit in is to never initiate. Don’t speak up. If you see something, don’t say anything. In fact, we spend most of our days waiting for permission to start”

Poke the Box is a quick fun read. While it is not ground breaking like some of Godin’s other books (Linchpin for example) it does make you think and doubt some of your previous choices. After reading Linchpin and reading Godin’s blog everyday for the last three years, I did not find a lot of new ideas in the book. That does not mean, that some of the old ideas are not important. If you don’t frequent Godin’s blog you should. And you should also buy the book. Hopefully, it will drive you to poke the box, try and ship.

Elad

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