Poke The Box by Seth Godin was pretty much exactly what I expected.....it was awesome. Seth has an uncanny ability to write short, hard hitting, meaningful statements that transcend profession or background and provide the reader with real life, actionable knowledge. Poke The Box is a self proclaimed manifesto about initiative. In short, the book is all about the importance of starting and failing, and how both contribute to doing something meaningful.
We send our kids to school and obsess about their test scores, their behavior and their ability to fit in. We post a help wanted ad and look for experience, famous colleges and a history of avoiding failure. We invest in companies based on how they did last quarter, not on what they’re going to do tomorrow. So why are we surprised when it all falls apart? Our economy is not static, but we act as if it is. Your position in the world is defined by what you instigate, how you provoke, and what you learn from the events you cause. In a world filled with change, that’s what matters — your ability to create and learn from change. Poke the Box is a manifesto about producing something that’s scarce, and thus valuable. It demands that you stop waiting for a road map and start drawing one instead. You know how to do this, you’ve done it before, but along the way, someone talked you out of it. We need your insight and your dreams and your contributions. Hurry.
The book is definitely a great read that I would recommend to a wide range of readers, however I think it resonates best with business and entrepreneurial minded people. Not only does the book help to shape your outlook towards initiating and failure, but it also inspires you to go out and start something.
I will keep my review relatively short since I have already partially reviewed the book on a previous post, and since I took notes that equate to about half the book! Typically I take notes on my books to singe particular lessons and important concepts into my mind. I only write when I feel it is an important passage or concept. As you can see my notes speak for themselves on the quality of Seth's latest work. Although the book is a fairly short read it took me forever to get through it because I spent the entire time taking notes! I guess that shows the quality and importance Seth places on each individual riff and rant. Below are my notes.
Poke The Box:
- The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo; the job is to invent the status quo.
- Annie story page 41
- para pg 44-48
- This is a manifesto about starting
The Seventh Imperative:
- The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world.
- 6 imperatives page 63
- The seventh imperative is to have the guts and the heart and the passion to ship
The difference of Go:
- Passage pg 78
The buzzer box:
- Uncle is an MIT PHD built a buzzer box for kid with lights and buzzers. To a child it is exciting to poke this and see what happens. Life is a buzzer box. Poke it.
The Elements of Production:
- Elements pg 100
- “All these elements are cheaper and easier to find than ever. Which makes the motive force so critical”
Walking in Circles:
- Study shows that lost people walk in circles. Don’t trust your senses because they’re not good enough. People need a map.
- If you’re brave enough to draw one, people will follow
Who Says Yes?:
- What do you do here?
- Almost no one says I start stuff
- Where is the VP of Starting? How many no’s have to be summated before you get to yes? Who is in charge of yes?
Poke the Box:
- How do programmers learn?
- The great ones all learn the same way. They code and see what happens, change it and see what happens, repeat until they figure out how it works.
- The box may be a computer, a market, a customer. It’s a puzzle that can be solved in one way – by poking!
What Can You Start?:
- You don’t have to be a famous entrepreneur to be an initiator
- People have come to the erroneous conclusion that if they’re not willing to start something separate, world changing, and risky they have no business starting anything.
- Somehow we’ve fooled ourselves into believing that the project has to have a name, a building, a stock symbol to matter
When Can You Start?:
- Soon is not as good as now
Kinds of Capital:
- What can you invest? What can your company invest?: 1. Financial capital 2. Network capital 3. Intellectual capital 4. Physical capital 5. Prestige capital 6. INSTIGATION CAPITAL
- In the old world innovation was sufficient to double profits
- In the Google world the competition is essentially infinite and innovation alone isn’t sufficient
- The only way to thrive is to double and then double again. Innovate on the way to innovating.
Is flux the same as risk?:
- Risk involves winning and losing
- Risk to some is bad because risk brings the possibility of failure
- People confuse flux and risk
- 2 mistakes: Risk is a bad thing and movement is bad as well
- These people are stuck
- Now the whole world is in flux
- If your project doesn’t have movement then compared to the rest of the world you are actually moving backward.
- Like a rock in a river, you might be still but given the movement around you collisions are inevitable. There is less turbulence around the log floating down the same river.
- The economy demands flux. Flux isn’t risky.
The trail of failure:
- List of people who have made a career out of starting on page 209
- We are hardwired with fear in our lizard brain
The first rule of doing work that matters:
- Making a difference is hard
- Make your schedule before you start or your lizard brain will find ways to escape
- Show up
- What separates Google from just about every other startup?
- Google ignored Wall St and continued to invest in the new. Most initiatives fail. That’s fine. At least Google isn’t napping.
Your ego and your project:
- Somewhere ego became a dirty word. It’s not otherwise all great work would be anonymous and it’s not. Let it motivate you to initiate.
- Quality used to be “good enough”. Then “zero defect”. Now we expect it.
- Now we are beyond quality to remarkable which demands initiative.
Brainwashed by the pit boss:
- You can trust judgment of employees to improve or settle on the certainty of compliance. Most choose compliance.
- This causes organizations to be unable to innovate and promotes the bare minimum.
Why is this mediocre:
- We love to point out broken systems but rarely look at mediocre products and wonder why they aren’t great
- There is never a problem of getting a posse together to fix the broken. The upside and the challenge for you is to find the will and the energy to challenge the mediocre.
When in doubt:
- Quote page 285
Where did curious go?:
- Initiative is a little like creativity in that both require curiosity
- Not a search for the “right” answer but an understanding of how something works and how it can work better
Pick me! Pick me!:
- There is brainwashing that creative people or people with something to say must wait to be chosen
- Pick me mentality acknowledges the power of the system and passes the responsibility to someone else to initiate
- Reject the tyranny of picked. Pick yourself!
The promoter and the organizer:
- Every organizer gets picked and the promoter does the picking. Why not be the promoter?
Entrepreneurship is merely a special case:
- Even entrepreneurs understand that a thriving organization needs more than one person creating change.
The seasons pass:
- Ski resorts sell a year long pass for the cost of a week.
- People who buy it realize it’s easier and cheaper to decide once than it is to decide over and over
- Initiation is like that
- Why not sell your boss and colleagues on being the initiator. It’s your job. You start things. Ask once. Do many.
No free lunch:
- Of course the challenge is you’ll be wrong. You will pick the wrong thing. You will waste time. You will be blamed.
- This is why being an initiator is valuable.
- Most people shy away from the challenge
- Initiative is scarce…..hence valuable.
- The fact is doesn’t work every time should give you confidence because it means you’re doing something that frightens others
Check In Chicken:
- 2 things you’re afraid of at every meeting: Things that might fail and things that might work
The lizard misunderstands the economics of poking:
- When the cost of poking the box is less than the cost of doing nothing you should poke the box
- You don’t shut down a steel mill to use untested technology
- Most of us don’t run steel mills. The cost of being boring is high.
- Our lizard brain exaggerates the cost of being wrong.
- Polishing loses benefit quickly and turns to stalling
- What if your reminder wasn’t to polish but to create
The Semmelweis Imperative:
- Poking also requires tact. You want change not anger/fear
- Semmelweis devoted his life to showing that lack of Drs hand washing was the cause of much of the death and disease
- He died alone and a failure
- He never explained why!
- He was a jerk and never tried to persuade
Welcome to project world:
- Most companies have been around for a decade or more and are based on scalability (Ford model T)
- The system is the system. Don’t mess with it.
- The new companies making an impact are shipping projects. Apple, Google, etc..
- After a project is shipped there is no useful work unless someone starts a new project!
The Ford system is dead. Long live the Ford system:
- You can’t cut prices forever
- The new Ford system is a stable and productive business platform that develops projects
What happened to excellence:
- Tom Peters changed the world with In Search of Excellence
- Excellence is about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing
- Quote page 420
- Some orgs have business development teams. Most are horrible at it.
- This initiation capability is what every org needs but most are too scared
- What differentiates humans from every other creature is our willingness to go places and explore. The factory has programmed the adventurous out of us.
- What's next is now the driving force for individuals and organizations. Ever onward. Ever faster.
If you see something say something:
- Examples where society will actually dampen our instinct to speak up on page 450
Allowed (not allowed):
- Most employees can give you a long list of things you aren’t allowed to do
- Allowed lists are harder to remember and write down
- Were afraid of how much freedom we actually have and how much we are expected to do with it
The death of idealism:
- Sooner or later many idealists transform themselves into disheartened realists who mistakenly believe that giving up is the same as being realistic
Don’t tell Woodie:
- Seth’s dog was trained with a shock collar in their yard. It broke a year ago but the dog can only leave the yard when he takes the collar off. The boundary is in his head not the system
I wonder what would happen:
- None of this works without curiosity
- Success minded people can follow instructions
- We’d all be happy to follow a map if it came with a guarantee
- There is no guarantee there are no maps
- The opportunity lies in pursuing curiosity instead
3000 TED Talks:
- TED conference morphed into TEDx with independent conferences and speakers
- 3000 talks later and it’s pretty clear that big ideas and unsettling concepts were not just the work of people who get paid to think that way
- That’s your opportunity. To approach your work in a way that generates unique learning and interactions that are worth sharing
The joy of wrong:
- Original Starbucks founder Jerry Baldwin just sold beans not coffee. Howard Schultz turned Starbucks into Starbucks.
- But what if the “wrong” Starbucks was never built?
- One led to the other but the usual route which is never a straight line
- The hardest part is the first one, the wrong one
- Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action.
The world is a lot more complicated than it appears:
- Google finds your answer, blogger tells you what to do, a book gives you steps to achieve, the company has a policy manual
- It’s enough to persuade you that all the answers are here and all we need from you is compliance
- Two forces driving this: Industrial age where we must make immediate decisions or the system is waiting or digital age where computers like only on or off not a maybe
- Initiative and starting are neither of these. They are about let’s see and try.
- Something new is often the right path when the world is complicated
- Quote page 524
“This might not work”:
- It’s ok to say those four words
- Change is powerful but always comes with failure as its partner
- The circus says the performers will attempt not perform. Attempt is something new, something risky, something interesting.
- Yoda was wrong when he said “Do or do not. There is no try.” There is a try and it’s the opposite of hiding
Take a lid off it:
- You already have good ideas, something to say, a vivid internal dialogue about what you could do and how you might make things better.
- There’s an engine running on better but often lies low
Starting implies (demands) finishing:
- What's the distinction between carrying around a great idea, being a brainstormer, and tinkering, and starting something?
- Starting means you are going to finish!
- At some point your work has to intersect the market. Otherwise it is merely a hobby.
Notions belong in the sewing store not in your work:
- We all have notions, inklings, hunches. This isn’t the same as poking the box.
- If you don’t finish it doesn’t really count as starting. And if you don’t start you aren’t poking.
Shipping and fear:
- As you get better at shipping your ability to instigate starts to fade as the fear that others will actually see it makes you scrutinize yourself more.
The initiator as outsider:
- Society isn’t nice to those who don’t fit in
- Great organizations have figured out how to turn the standard or status quo on its head
- The best way to become an insider, leader, someone who matters is to initiate
Winning the Halloween contest (now vs. later)
- Easiest way to win is to tell your kid what to do
- Easiest way to lose is to let him sit there
- The easy way may be the best in the short run
- In the long run though all you’ve done is taught conformity and punished initiation
- Quote page 590
The kid who made a ruckus:
- Kids initiate. They create situations. They start ruckuses. All of them. The essence of being human is to initiate.
- But we aren’t left to our own devices and cease troublesome behavior. Most of us.
- Those who don’t are still busy starting things big and small.
- We can unbrainwash ourselves while there’s still time
The best thing I ever done:
- Don opened up a pizza joint in NYC
- What would his life have been like had he spent more time thinking about and evaluating whether his handcrafted life’s work was a good idea?
How did you end up with this job?:
- Typically a few unlikely breaks and unadorned initiative
- People get good gigs because they stand up
- Annie Duke the poker player set out to fail often enough to get good
The person who fails the most usually wins:
- Once and big is not the most
- Never and you’re lucky or you’ve never shipped anything
- Fail, succeed, fail, fail, succeed, - you get the idea
Juggling is about throwing not catching:
- That’s why juggling is so difficult. Were conditioned to make the catch. To not drop the ball.
- If you get better at throwing the catches take care of themselves
- The only way to get better at throwing is to throw again and again
A paradox of success:
- People with credibility and resources are so busy trying to hold on to them they fail to bring ideas to market.
- The greatest challenge is finding the guts to risk that success in order to accomplish something great
How to walk to Cleveland:
- Shipping is an event. Life before you ship. The moment you ship. Then life after.
- Starting isn’t like that. It is a series of events.
- You start walking to Cleveland. The next day you have to start again.
- Keep starting until you finish.
The go of science:
- One company invented the laser printer, mouse, onscreen windows, and a frame buffer for special effects in movies in 24 months.
- The team had the expectation of initiation and you couldn’t be a star unless you started something audacious
- Al great science works that way. An individual does something audacious, counters the status quo, pursuing a dream that seems ridiculous at first.
The fear of wrong:
- It’s not surprising we hesitate. Starting maximizes the chances of ending up wrong.
- The boss hassles, disciplines, humiliates, fires people who are wrong
- If you’re not wrong that’s not going to happen
- On the other hand, the boss finds someone who never starts, criticizes and plays devil’s advocate and hassles, disciplines, humiliates, fires them
- Wait that never happens in a factory centric organization
- In the new network focused economy the innovation focused organization has no choice but to obsess on those who don’t start
- Today not starting is far far worse than ending up wrong.
10000 hours of hard work and an overnight success:
- Hollerado band used to show up to shows far away from home and say their show down the street got cancelled then they would ask to play and it worked. They would sell burned cds at the local hot topic.
- Released their first cd free online
- Booked a residency tour playing the same bar on the same night during each week 7 nights a week
- Started a label and released a cd in a bag
- 4 years of doing something new, seeing what works, and doing it again
The market is obsessed with novelty:
- So go make some. Were tired of your old stuff.
Organizing for joy:
- Orgs and corporations are organized for efficiency and consistency not for joy
- Joy comes from surprise and connection and humanity and transparency and new
- McDonalds, Hertz, Dell, and others crank it out by lowering costs and measuring output
- The problem is that when you approach the asymptote of maximum efficiency there’s not a lot of room for improvement. Making your nuggets for .0000001 cents less doesn’t boost profit much
- Worse the nature of the work is unremarkable
- The alternative is to organize for joy
- The relentless act of invention, innovation, and initiative is the best marketing asset
To be really clear:
- Quote page 723
How to do vs. what to do:
- Often we turn to authors and experts for what to do
- There’s no shortage of to do knowledge
- There’s a shortage of people willing to do it
There is no just in just do it:
- The problem with the Nike slogan is the implication that all you have to do to take the initiative is to take initiative, that it’s a matter of will
- You’re not a starter because you haven’t been sold on the idea, haven’t been trained, or rewarded consistently enough to get into habit
- Now you know what's at stake the rest is up to you
The adventures of Andre and Wally B:
- Movie for son with digital animation. It freaked him out and wasn’t made into a feature film
- Was starting a mistake? How bad did he fail?
- John has won 6 academy awards and key in the evolution of Pixar, the most successful film company of all time. No one else comes close.
- John starts things
The space between the frames:
- The secret to comics is the space between the frames
- This between the frames actions is what makes poking the box so powerful. Action is easy once you have a plan. Formatting a plan is a rare and powerful skill
Why growth happens early:
- Almost all real job growth occurs in the first days
- Once they hit stability they replace workers not invent new jobs
- In the early days no one is sure what needs to be done. It’s not a job it’s a passion, mission, experiment
- Companies that grow after 5 years embrace the discipline of poking
The right thing to do:
- There’s a moral obligation to start. If you’ve got the ability to make a difference you must
- You owe it to others to start. To initiate. To be the one who makes something happen. To do less is to steal from them.
A lunch meeting:
- Boss at Yahoo told Seth to sit in cube and await instructions
- His advice if this sounds familiar: 1. Ignore this book (for now) 2. Start looking for a new gig ASAP
- Or ignore your boss if you’re really bold and allow everything to work out in the end.
When it falls apart:
- XFL was a total failure
- “So?” It wasn’t so bad. Everyone came out alright and probably better compared to those who didn’t have the guts to start.
- It’s impossible to have a success only policy. That policy itself guarantees no successes.
Not what I expected to find:
- Part of initiating is being willing to discover that what you end up with is different than what you set out to do.
- Starting doesn’t mean controlling. It means initiating. Managing means controlling but that’s an entirely different skill
What could you build?:
- So many doors are open, so much leverage available. If you could build anything (you can) what would it be?
- If you are afraid to start maybe you haven’t fully understood the cost of not starting
- Watch people new to Facebook or Twitter. They post something and people respond
- That’s not the starting I am talking about. It’s not a real poke, real shipping, real change.
- If you can’t fail it doesn’t count!
Initiating is an intentional act:
- No one answers the phone, goes to a meeting, or reads an email by mistake. Most of what we do is intentional with preparation
- Starting is like that
- We can schedule for it, train for it, plan for it, announce it, and even hire for it.
- Why not invest in starting?
When public school forbids the act of starting:
- It’s not in the curriculum is it?
- How much time do we spend challenging our kids to initiate?
- Is it any wonder why we don’t teach this mindset? Factories and managers don’t want spunk or even innovation they generally seek compliance.
- We rely on the disobedient few for innovation but today innovation is our only option
The expensive act of planning on late:
- When you’re late there’s not a lot of choice, decision, initiative
- Run down the path you’ve taken before
- Late gives us cover. It permits us to trample forward without creativity or panache
Late might be useful but it’s expensive to avoid choice.
- Humans protect our offspring for to lose one would be a great tragedy
- Dandelions spout out thousands of seeds into the air and many end up on a sidewalk somewhere
- The important thing is every spring every crack in every sidewalk is filled with dandelions
- That is how you should treat your ideas, innovations, and creativity
- When was the last time you were promiscuous with your failures?
Riding a bike and being an adult:
- Helping a kid ride a bike and he had a ton of reasons he didn’t want to learn. Turns out the main reason was that he was afraid
- Were extremely adept at hiding our fear
- The point of this manifesto is not to magically extinguish your fear. It’s to call its bluff. Identifying the fear is the first step to making it go away
What to do with good ideas:
- Are you one of those people? Too busy inventing to actually instigate
- 2 things fix this: 1. Start 2. Ship
Fear on the left fear on the right:
- Many fear the start but some do the opposite. Start and then drop it
- The center is where we resonate with the market
It doesn’t hurt to ask:
- Actually it does if you don’t ask in the right way
- Instead of propositioning everyone invest some time in building relationships
- The best way to lose at Jeopardy has nothing to do with preparation or smarts. It’s not being good at using the buzzer
- Like most things that matter starting is not a black and white process. If you aren’t making an impact think about how you use the buzzer
Fear of hubris:
- Lesson of Icarus is burned into all of us
- Were trained to fit in not to stand out
- We spend most of our days waiting for permission to start
- It’s not hubris its essential
Starting as a way of life:
- It gets easier. The simple act of initiating is actually profoundly transformative
- Forward motion is a defensible business asset
- Halloween is not safe, flying is not safe, selling is not safe
- Innovation is not safe. You’ll fail. Perhaps badly.
- What are you going to do about it? Hide? Work as hard as you can to fit in? That’s not safe either.
- Might as well do something that matters instead
GO! GO! GO!:
- para 974
- "There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth. Not going all the way, and not starting." - Siddhartha Gautama