Poke the Box

Like dynamite, Red Bull and Muhammad Ali, Seth Godin’s books pack a powerful punch and need to be treated with respect. This book in particular should be consumed in one of the two following ways:

  1. Either you swallow it whole, shovelling all the irregular verbs down your oesophagus and washing it down with a nice glass of Seth’s fluid prose, OR
  2. You nibble at the book slowly, taking little bites, chewing carefully and methodically in order to make sure that each and every iota of an idea is digested to the fullest.

Regardless of your method of consumption, take care to remember that Seth’s books are best appreciated for what they do to you as you progress through them.

As I read Poke The Box at 3am on a Friday night, I got the sense that I was riding a new wave crest in the sea of Seth’s ideas; if Linchpin was the manifesto that tied together all of his ideas from over the last ten years, Poke The Box is the manifesto of manifestos, or more precisely, the manifesto to push (not teach) people to act on all the information they’ve been given over the last ten years.

Released as part of The Domino Project, a bold new collaboration with Amazon that seeks to reinvent the nature of publishing and turn the conventional wisdom on its head, Poke the Box is the next instalment in the Seth Godin adventure that began with Permission Marketing more than a decade ago.

To “poke to the box” is to take initiative and try – regardless of looming possibility of fear, ridicule or ostracism. Too many hard-working, good people seem to either run away from taking initiative, or worse, sit on their ideas for so long that they fail to act on them in time (“Fail to ship” as Seth frequently quips). By naming our problem, we can identify it and work around it, eventually eliminating it.

Although written as a long list of seemingly disconnected ideas loosely-linked with anecdotes, examples, quotes and aphorisms that illustrate the “ayes” of taking action and the “nays” of inaction, Poke The Box is, in reality, a great motivational tool. It may not be the best of Seth’s books to-date, but nonetheless, like sugar-coated honey-roasted almond & chocolate marshmallow bites, it causes a rush of blood to head and positive feel-good vibes that last throughout the day. More importantly, it’s a book that takes less than an hour to consume but several times longer to digest – leading to the slow-release of the idea that anything and everything that is potentially productive and efficacious should be tried, if only for the its own sake.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Take Action

"The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo. The job is to invent the status quo."
- Poke the Box, Seth Godin, Preface (Kindle version)

And there it is – two lines beating with the unison of one heart.

All of Seth’s ideas, passions, even his personal successes, irrevocably point to this one statement. Regardless of how you reach a position which allows you to reinvent the status quo – whether it be through permission marketing, an ideavirus, tribes, selling the purple cow or by being a linchpin – it pays to take the plunge and start something you think is new and exciting.

Forget what the others have to say about it. Go, do it, now. If you fail, fine, do it again and be prepared to succeed. If you fail again, iterate – until you succeed.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Curiosity Wins

"Every once in a while I’ll perform an illusion or some technical shortcut and someone won’t ask how. People have been indoctrinated so completely by their jobs that they don’t want to know how something works, they’re willing to accept that perhaps the laws of nature don’t work as they expect, and by the way, can I have the remote? Initiative is a little like creativity in that both require curiosity. Not the search for the “right answer”, as much as an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better. The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it’s done. The initiator won’t rest until he does it."
- Poke the Box, page 23 of 83 (Kindle version)

Did you want me to elaborate? Ah what the hell, here’s another one:

“Imagine that the world had no middlemen, no publishers, no bosses, no HR folks, no one telling you what you couldn’t do.

If you lived in that world, what would you do?

Go. Do that.”

I hope you’re seeing the point. No matter how many times you read this quote, it starts with igniting that fire in your belly and going on a journey to find out “why?”. Until you find something that gets you sitting on the edge of your seat, burning with curiosity and filling you with eagerness to give it your best shot, you haven’t really gone anywhere yet.

You haven’t started shipping. Only talking and thinking, but not shipping.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

No Shortcuts

"The easiest way may be the best plan in the short run, but it certainly doesn’t work for the long haul. In the short run, playing your strongest player, following the play-book, rewarding someone who has done it before – these are all great ways to win. In the long run, though, all you’ve done is taught conformity and punished initiation."
- Poke the Box, page 48 (Kindle version)

A word to all managers, this quote should be framed and hung on the wall of your office. Stifling creativity isn’t exactly new (Emperor Shah Jahan of medieval India buried alive the artisans who built the Taj Mahal), but in today’s day and age it’s foolish and fatal.

As Seth points out repeatedly in all his output, the age of the factory is over – rote, routine, mindless tasks are not only unwelcome, but ultimately self-defeating. The new economy will be driven by ideas, and if stifling creativity aborts ideas then it will end up aborting businesses too, regardless of how old or new they are.

In short, there really is no way to summarize this book without doing it some form of injustice. I wish I could quote half (or all of) this book in this summary, but I won’t.

All I can advise is to read the book. It’s well worth it. And if that’s not enough for you, try the free Poke the Box workbook as well – it’s packed with tips, exercises and workarounds to get your juices and humours flowing the right way.

Go. Start poking.

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Prashanth Gopalan

ABOUT Prashanth Gopalan

A freelance blogger, writer and wordsmith based out of the twin-cities of Toronto and Waterloo, Prashanth uses his background in biotechnology, economics, marketing and communications to turn (some) wheels at Goose Educational Media...
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