Poke the Box

This morning, I read Poke the Box by Seth Godin. I bought it for my Kindle ($4.99). I read it in about 1.5 hours. It’s a quick read and a nice little motivation shot-in-the-arm. If you’ve read anything about or by Seth Godin, you know the man is crazy productive. He’s fun to read because he’s innovative and positive without being syrupy sweet.

Poking the Box is an idea based on an invention Godin’s friend made for his infant son. The friend made a black box with switches, noises, lights, and levers. And then, he let the child play with the box to figure out what type of action he could generate by “poking the box.” Poke the box is an essay (Godin calls it a manifesto) for committing to trying lots of things–to take calculated risks, which may end up creating something great. He advocates for having the guts and the passion to do something, to start something, and to finish it as well.

Godin is the ultimate optimist, and you can really feel it when you read this essay. But, he speaks the truth, not just blind optimism, on several accounts:

  • The world is changing so fast right now, and without initiative, we are simply reacting all the time.
  • Society loves to point fingers, blame, and gleefully critique what went wrong. This creates a culture of fearing failure, which leads to mediocrity and continual acceptance of the status quo.
  • The more you do, the more times you fail. So, if you aren’t failing, you’re probably not doing. The challenge of being an initiator is sometimes you fail, but that’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right. Change is powerful, but change often comes with failure as its partner.
  • If you get an idea launched and working, you should continue innovating. Move on and create more new things. Don’t polish that idea–keep going and create more. You don’t want to be so busy harvesting that you lose interest in planting new seeds.

One of the things I recognized in this book was how creativity and innovation are linked. I think of creative things I have done–all those millions of lines of code I wrote as a programmer or the millions of words I put on the page as a writer. The only reason I can be creative when I do these things is because of compilers and backspace keys. Because I could compile and test my computer code–because I can backspace over crappy prose and badly written ideas, I can innovate. Compilers and backspace keys are the little mistake erasers that give us more freedom to be innovative. If we know we can hide our mistakes, we are free to innovate.

This is a good, quick read if you’re stuck in a rut and looking for permission to get going in any direction. Examples and stories keep the ideas moving, and it’s very culturally current with many references to social media and events happening around us now.

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