Jul 11 '11
As a rule, I’m not one for reading business self-help books. I’d usually shy away from them in favour of a bit more plain speaking and common sense… but something jumped out about this book. It’s totally different from anything I’ve ever reviewed for the PM Forum and, in terms of value per pound spent… I’d be tempted to say it beats all of the others, hands down.
Once you get over the fact that the (somewhat irritating) title sounds like something Sid James would have said in ‘Carry on Up the Boardroom’ you are struck by the searing simplicity of this book. It has a just one message: When was the last time you did something for the first time? Poke the Box is a book about the importance of ‘starting something’. It states that the idea isn’t the most important thing – doing it is. And that’s it. That’s all it has to say. But this collection of short bursts of advice and enthusiasm leave you feeling that there is a direct relevant to the daily business challenges we face.
Let’s be honest, we work in professional services – not an industry known for its embrace of change. As marketers, we spend most of our days waiting for permission to ‘start something’ and tackling personalities that can make forward motion seem like a luxury. As Godin says, “It’s comforting to live with a list of what’s not allowed. We remember it, we push against it, but ultimately, we enjoy the confinement that the limits bring us. When revolutions appear, when the list gets much shorter, it’s surprising how long it takes for us to take action.” If, at this point you’re nodding, then this book may well give you the energy boost you need.
As Godin went on to say, “How often do our heroes stand still? It’s hard to imagine Spock and Kirk landing on a planet and just relaxing for a month or two.” Yet, how many of us do just this, rather than ‘poking the box’? If there isn’t a clear right answer to a problem, Godin argues, then our default action ought to be to do something new… not to do nothing. He goes on to suggest, “…Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action” and if there isn’t a risk of failure then it isn’t really likely to be a valuable outcome.
Although this is a small book, with no reference to any industry sector, it interested me how many of Godin’s comments were aligned to words firms often take as brand values. He argues that ‘quality’ is little more than ‘good enough’ and that we have “…little choice but to move beyond quality and seek remarkable… remarkable… demands initiative.” And then, ‘excellence’: “Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work [you believe in].” He tackles ‘entrepreneurialism’ and ‘innovation’ in a similarly enlightening way.
You may still be sceptical. I might be too, in your shoes. Whether in our day-to-day work or our professional development it takes guts to start something new… and this book certainly recommends a new approach for many. But don’t take my word for it. As Seth says: “I’m not encouraging you to be bold and right. I’m not encouraging you to figure out how to always initiate a smart and proven and profitable idea. I’m merely encouraging you to start. Often. Forever. Be the one who starts things.”
This book has been published by The Domino Project: an innovative new publishing project set up to encourage the sharing of ideas. By making texts accessible in a variety of mediums the project promotes discussion and community innovation. The Domino Project has also published a free workbook to accompany Poke the Box, which can be downloaded here www.thedominoproject.com/_/PoketheBox_Workbook.pdf