Poke The Box – Seth Godin

This quick and easy 83-page read is a great end of year/first of year reminder to constantly innovate. Godin describes this book as a manifesto about starting…leaping, committing and making something happen (p. 3). In my opinion, it’s a book to keep handy and re-read often, at the very least annually. I’ve added a reminder to my calendar to do just that.

A few of the stand-out quotes:

Double Double
Innovating and then harvesting isn’t a long-term strategy. The only defensible way to thrive is to double and then double again. To innovate on the way to innovating, to start on the way to starting again.
 (p 13)

Avoiding failure is counterproductive…The more you do, the more you fail…Not the failure of disrespect, of the shortcut that shouldn’t have been taken or the shoddy work of someone who doesn’t care. No, we’re talking about the failure of people with good intent, people seeking connection and joy and the ability to make a difference. If you sign up for the initiative path when others fret about “quality” and “predictability,” you will ultimately succeed. The crowd won’t stop worrying because worrying is what they enjoy doing. But it’s OK, because you’ll be making a difference and using your newfound leverage to do more and more work that matters. 
(p. 17)

Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action. (p. 42)

The first rule of doing work that matters
Go to work on a regular basis. Art is hard. Selling is hard. Writing is hard. Making a difference is hard. When you’re doing hard work, getting rejected, failing, working it out – this is a dumb time to make a situational decision about whether it’s time for a nap or a day off or a coffee break…Make your schedule before you start. Don’t allow setbacks or blocks or anxiety to push to to say, “hey, maybe I should check my e-mail for a while, or you know, I could use a nap.” If you do that, he lizard brain will soon be trained to use that escape hatch again and again. 
(pp. 18-19)

Check-in, Chicken
What are you afraid might happen that would destroy, disintegrate, or dissuade — that would take us down. And what are you afraid of that might work, thus changing everything and opening up entirely new areas of scariness?  
(p. 28)

Entrepreneurship is a special case, not because it requires initiative (all of us are required to bring that to the table now) but because it involves using money, people, and assets to create a new, bigger, entity…Smart entrepreneurs understand that a thriving organization needs more than one person creating change…to poke the box and see what works. 
(p. 26)

The economics of poking
When the cost of poking the box (ptb) is less than the cost of doing nothing (0), then you should poke! [ptb<0–> poke]…

…The connected economy of ideas demands that we contribute initiative. An yet we resist, because our lizard brain, the one that lives in fear, relentlessly exaggerates the cost of being wrong. (p. 29)

Business Development
Many organizations have a bizdev team. Not quite marketing, not quite sales, these are the folks responsible for the new deals, partnerships, and transformative ideas…The bizdev team has no fixed agenda, no easy way to decide what’s next. The bizdev team is in charge of starting things. Most organizations need this capability but few have it. Those that do are often world-class bad at it, because no one on the team has the posture of initiative. Everyone is afraid to poke too hard, afraid to reach out, stand up and create the new. (p. 35)

None of this happens without curiousity. Success minded people have no trouble at all following proven instructions. We all would be happy to follow a map if the map came with a guarantee.

There is no guarantee though. There are no maps. they’ve all been taken, and their value is not what it used to be, because your competitors have maps too.

The opportunity lies in pursuing curiosity instead. Curiosity is not allergict to failure. Curiosity drives us to the haunted house because the thrills lie in what we don’t expect, not in what’s safe. 

Curiosity can start us down the path to shipping, to bringing things into the world, to examining them, refining them, and repeating the process again (and again).  (pp. 39-40)

“This might not work”
Is it okay to say these four words?

Is your work so serious and flawless and urgent that each thing you do, every day, must work?

Change is powerful, but change always comes with failure as its partner. “This might not work” isn’t merely something to be tolerated; it’s something you should seek out.  (p. 44)

Starting implies (demands) finishing
What’s the distinction between carrying around a great idea, being a brainstormer, tinkering — and starting something.

Starting means you’re going to finish. If it doesn’t ship, you’ve failed. You haven’t poked the box if the box doesn’t realize it’s been poked.

To merely start without finishing is just boasting, or stalling, or a waste of time…If you don’t ship, you actually haven’t started anything at all. At some point your work has to intersect with the market. At some point, you need feedback as to whether or not it worked. Otherwise, it’s merely a hobby. (pp. 45-46)

The person who fails the most wins
If you fail once, and big, you don’t fail the most. The game is over and 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. (p. 52)

A paradox of success
People with no credibility or resources rarely get the leverage they need to bring their ideas into the world. 

People with credibility and resources are so busy trying to hold onto them that they fail to bring their provocative ideas to the world.

The greatest challenge of any successful organization faces is finding the guts to risk that success in order to accomplish something great. And risking that success ultimately becomes the only way to accomplish something great. (p. 54)

The impossible “success only” policy
It’s impossible to have a “success-only” policy. That policy itself will guarantee that there will be no successes.

And if you work for someone with a success-only policy? The choice is whether or not you want to have the same policy, whether you will choose to adopt that as your personal standard for deciding whether or not you initiated.

There will be other jobs, better jobs, bosses more willing to create growth. The only way you will find those jobs and those bosses though, is to have a personal standard that demands failure, not one that guarantees success. Intellectual integrity goes beyond the clever — it requires that you put your ideas into the world. (p. 67)

Surprise Discoveries
Part of initiating is being willing to discover that what you end up with is different from what you set out to accomplish. If you’re not willing to discover the surprise, it’s no wonder you are afraid to start.
(p. 67)

The expensive act of planning on late
When you’re late, there’s not a lot of room for choice or decision or initiative…

Late is a tool for people unable to find the guts to stand for their acts. Late gives us cover; it permits us to trample forward, without creativity or pananche…

This strategy, the one we choose so we can avoid the fear of choice costs us in so many ways. It degrades quality, misses airplanes, charges overtime, and shuts down those around us. It’s also exhausting.

The alternative to planning on late is to initiate before it’s required, to ship before deadline, to put the idea out there before the crisis hits. This act of bravery actually gives you influence, leverage, and control in a way that planning on late never can.  (p. 71)

Some of us hesitate when we should be starting instead. We hold back, promise to do more research, wait for a better moment, seek out a kinder audience.

This habit is incredible common. It eats up our genius and destroys our ability to make the contributions we’re quite capable of making. Call it hypogo — trapped into not starting enough. 

Surprisingly, the flip side is also true. 

Some people deal with the fear and hide out by doing something else. They overstart, constantly dreaming up the next big thing, bigger than big…

The person who constantly asks questions, interrupsts, takes endless notes, and is always in your face isn’t just annoying — she’s self sabbatoging, a form of hiding. This hypergo mindset is just as safe as the more prevalent kind of under-shipping, because if your’re the kind of person who’s always dreaming and riffing, of course you can’t be held responsible for your work. (pp 75-76)

Forward motion is a defensible business asset.

(p. 81)


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