11 things I Learned from Reading Poke the Box by Seth Godin

The opening question of this manifesto is “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” the point being that not enough of us are initiators when it comes to trying something new in our jobs or in our lives. The title comes from a story about an uncle who built a heavy metal box that contained a couple of switches, lights, and other controls along with a big black cord that plugged into the wall. This contraption was built for his kid that was tossed into the crib. It looked like it belonged in a nuclear facility but it was endlessly fascinating for his son. Flip a switch and light comes on! Flip 2 switches and a buzzer sounds! A kid sees a buzzer box and starts poking it. Therefore, life is a buzzer box. Start poking it.

Here are the following 11 points that I found the most interesting:

  1. We are naturally afraid of change, but without starting something you’ll always be stuck and waiting for something or someone to tell you to move.
  2. You don’t have to be a leader to initiate change, if you see something that isn’t working then change it. As an example, if there’s a noisy hinge that bothers everybody in the room, bring in some oil and fix it.
  3. When we lionize successful people, we remember the successful things they did and not any of their ideas that failed. The example given was Oprah who has had a history of failed shows, projects, and predictions but she is well respected by the market and society, so we don’t keep track of the failures.
  4. To do things is to fail, the more you do, the more you fail.
  5. When it comes to ego, which is a key driver in the process of getting things done, it can have a negative connotation. Seth says to tell your ego the best way to get something out the door is to let other people take the credit. The real win is in seeing something get shipped, not in getting credit for the item being shipped.
  6. Seth loves this the map metaphor, “We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.”
  7. TED talks are a great example of how anyone is capable of poking the box. The initial TED conference showcased scientific and literary giants but when the TED team invited people all over the world to set up their own version of TED conferences, called TEDx, these events featured speakers from every line of work. Anyone passionate about what they do can share big ideas or unsettling concepts. Everyone has a TED talk in them. Approach your work in a way that generates learning and interactions that are worth sharing.
  8. Starbucks is a great example of poking the box. The original Starbucks didn’t sell coffee, just beans, tea leaves and herbs. The founder, Jerry Baldwin, made a mistake. Another person is credited with the store format that we know today. But if the founder hadn’t started things moving with the flawed first concept, we wouldn’t have our lattes that we love today.
  9. We need to be OK with saying “this might not work.” As Seth points out, he is not a fan of the Yoda philosophy “Do or do not. There is no try.”
  10. If there’s no opportunity for success or growth (in other words, if you can’t fail) then it doesn’t count.
  11. There are 2 kinds of fear that keep us from starting. On one end of the spectrum you can have “hypogo.” These people, which are more prevalent, are the hesitaters, waiting for the best time, or for more research, or a kinder audience. They let fear trap them from starting. On the other end of the spectrum you have the “hypergo” mindset. These are the big idea people who always dream up big ideas but never initiate them. They can also be the people who constantly interrupt with questions and an “in your face” attitude. If you’re always dreaming up the next big thing, of course you can’t be held responsible for your work. You’re too busy doing the next thing to be held responsible for the last one. Both are mindsets that keep you from trying.

Overall, the impression I got in reading other reviews of this book is that Seth Godin doesn’t say anything new or different. In fact, you may be better off reading The Dip, Tribes, and/or Linchpin which seem to be favorites of the Godin fans. However, I found the message certainly inspiring and a good swift kick in the pants. Must go do something. Now!