Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Things I've Learned From Seth Godin's "Poke the Box"

Poke the Box by Seth Godin is not your typical self-help book. It's a manifesto that tells you not just to take charge of your life. Godin provokes the readers to take risks and step out of the comfort zone. This is the essence of poking the box. You have to make something happen by straying from the usual and breaking out of the conservative norms. Godin wants to bring out the innovator in each person and goes back all the way to the Industrial Age to prove that the road to success is paved by breakthroughs and inventions. Godin recognizes that the path paved by risks includes experimentation, failure, and the repetition of both. But Godin explains that after numerous encounters with CEOs and head honchos, he says that they had to go through the same process to get to where they are.

Critics of this book easily dismiss Poke the Box as another sickening attempt to boost people's morale by opening their minds to change and motivating them to climb greater heights, with the promise of success at the other end of the ladder. On the contrary, I think Poke the Box gives a fresh and raw perspective to success. It would be worth taking a little peek into Godin's life and string of achievements. This is one of the things that I took into consideration since I believe that the credibility of a person who wants to perpetuate change is measured by the change he or she has perpetuated himself.

About the Author

Godin is a best-selling author and an entrepreneur who can comfortably take pride in leading a success story. He can be very well considered a leading example of groundbreaking innovations, just as described in Poke the Box. He obtained an MBA from Stanford. Godin is the CEO and founder of Yoyodyne. Yoyodyne is an acclaimed direct marketing company, acquired by Yahoo! in 1998. His success compelled Business Week to award him the Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age. He has written 10 books, all of which are best-sellers. His works speak of marketing and the importance of change. One of his popular works is Unleashing the Virus, which was ranked number 4 in Amazon Japan and number 5 in Amazon USA. Godin is also a celebrated speaker and was included in the list of 21 speakers for the Next Century by Successful Meetings. Clearly, the guy lives out the principles of his Poke the Box.

Success Starts When You Start Something

It's everyone's instinct to lean towards the safe and stable. Sadly, they easily confuse them with the static. When you Poke the Box, you stimulate things. You get things going. This is what Godin encourages his readers to do. He encourages people to take on a revolutionary mindset, far away from conformity. You don't expect something to happen when you just stare at the box. In fact, not doing anything at all is riskier than doing something. Being content with the status quo is more dangerous than taking a step forward, as Godin says in Poke the Box.

All great programmers learn the same way: they poke the box. They code something and see what the computer does. They change it and see what the computer does. They repeat the process again and again until they figure out how the box works.

Godin said in an interview that success was determined by the ability to keep up with a system and work efficiently in it. In our present state, it no longer works that way. The challenge of today is to create a new system which will be more efficient and progressive. Starting something new is the best way to get noticed in the world where everyone is already good at being efficient.

Godin relays this idea in connection to his forte, marketing. Marketing is all about producing fresh ideas and engaging content to draw in consumers. He is always on his toes because he needs to constantly start anew. The same goes for other CEOs and head honchos. They caught their consumer's attention by offering something unfamiliar to everyone. Did they ever think that consumers will reject them? This leads us to the next point.

Failure is an Inevitable Part of Success

Now, this is something that your elders might have told you already. But really, it's easier said than done. Nobody wants to fail, right? Failure in success is what makes Poke the Box stand out. Books on success are simply optimistic in nature, often masking the bitter reality that behind every success is a big possibility of failure. Godin is not shy to remind his readers of this stark reality. People are afraid of changes and new possibilities because they're afraid of failing in an uncharted territory. But really, the logic is simple and it will never change. You will never know unless you try.

Those who fear risk also begin to fear movement of any kind. People act as though flux, the movement of people or ideas, or anything else that's unpredictable, exposes us to risk, and risk exposes us to failure. The fearful try to avoid collisions, so they avoid movement. Those people have made two mistakes. First they've assumed that risk is a bad thing, and second, they've confused risk and flux, and come to the conclusion that movement is a bad thing as well.

The hesitant ones avoid friction because they want to avoid igniting something that could be dangerous. They never consider the possibility that they can ignite a spark that will provide light to something better. In Poke the Box, Godin emphasizes that people blur the lines between risks and change. Change involves risk but risk doesn't necessarily involve change and movement. Godin wants his readers to embrace a change that can possibly benefit everyone, not just a reckless risk.

"Embrace Change for a Worthy Purpose
Formulating a plan, however, is a rare valuable skill."

This is what distinguishes mere risk from movement. When you take a reckless risk, you move along without a plan. It's easier to embrace the change, experimentation, and failure if you truly believe in what you are doing. That should be part of planning your change. The bottom line is that you spark something new in a field or area that you truly believe in and not just sit in fear. It's our obligation as humans to be as dynamic and changing as ever, and not to remain static. If you don't believe in what you're doing, it's difficult to accept that there will be a rocky road along the way. Finally, Godin said that:

"The challenge is to focus on the work, not on the fear that comes from doing the work."

If you love what you're doing, you will focus on the work and not on the fear.

A Must-Read for Anyone Who Wants to Make an Impact

This is one of my favorite all-time reads because it's truthful and devoid of sugar-coating and exaggerated optimism. It's rooted in reality but it inspires a lot. Poke the Box is thought-provoking and action-provoking bookshelf staple.

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