Book Review: Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Reviewed by Chris Wendel, See the printed version of this review in the July edition of the Traverse City Business News

Poke the Box by Seth Godin, When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Who is this guy? And where is he headed?

It was strange to hear recent news reports of Michigan’s recession being declared “officially over”. In the past this kind of news may have felt like an affirmation that consumption and business had returned to promising levels. After everything our state has endured in the past few years, many of us realize that what we’ve experienced since 2008 is far different from previous economic downturns.

Writer, entrepreneur, and agent of change Seth Godin is one of the few writers who comprehend the ramifications of this economic “shift”. His most recent book, Poke the Box bluntly tells readers that they don’t need their bosses’ permission to start something revolutionary. Instead they just need to “poke”, thus showing the initiative to drive change. Essentially Godin is simply asking us to start making things happen rather than letting them occur.

Poke the Box makes the case for moving past the survival mode that has epitomized out recent economic mindset.  It’s a policy about producing something that’s scarce, and thus valuable. As Godin states: “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.”

On a broader level, Godin argues as he has previously, that the educational, social, and work patterns we have developed over the past few decades, have favored security and apathy, while squelching the testing of new projects and concepts. With Poke the Box, Godin believes that our recent economic emergency was caused by the death the end of the Industrial Age, replaced by “a new revolution of people of who are standing up and doing work that matters, and making a difference.”

Convincing evidence in the book states that real job growth occurs in a company within its first five years. Once a company becomes financially successful they “start replacing workers, not investing in new jobs”. So, employees and entrepreneurs who have that start-up momentum, making innovative change without the cushy job security are more likely to make tangible improvements to our economy.

Throughout, the book presents a collection of eclectic phrases and chapters, requiring bit of patience to become oriented to. Poke the Box is as short read, a scant 85 pages, making it perfect for summertime reflection. One can’t help think that the book was condensed down on purpose, so readers would get through it in a minimal amount of time and quickly get to work on their own creative contributions. The author “pokes the box” himself, openly asking the book’s readers to buy multiple copies and pass them along to friends and colleagues as part of a new effort called The Domino Project.

Godin is a tremendous pontificator, but what’s lacking for some is more structure (there is no table of contents, chapters, or index) and more real life applications of this initiative/create/ learn mantra. One he does provide is the band Hollerado out of Ontario, Canada, describing their exhausting efforts to create new music, build a reverent following, while continuing to hone their craft. This story drove home Godin’s major points and showed how the band looked for and took advantage of every opportunity presented to them, rather than sitting around bitching about their lack of playing dates.

For those who aren’t familiar with Seth Godin, Poke the Box is a great introduction to many of his overarching philosophies.  For those who have read Godin’s past offerings (such as Linchpins, Purple Cow and Permission Marketing) some of this may seem as review. Regardless, the new and old materials revealed in Poke the Box are essential for any employee or company trying to come to grips with our new economic reality, while recovering their lost creative inspiration.

Chris Wendel is the Regional Director for the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC). The MI-SBTDC offers business counseling, entrepreneurial education, and technical assistance for established and emerging businesses in the Grand Traverse Region.

Poke the Box

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Hardcover: 96 pages, Publisher: The Domino Project (March 1, 2011). Available through local bookstores and on amazon.com

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