I confess. Poke the Box is the first book by Seth Godin that I have ever read. I’ve known of him since Purple Cow I have been reminded of his work when setting up Godin-themed bookstore endcaps, and endlessly I have been advised that he is a genius and that I should read his books. I’ve always thought the books looked intriguing, even as they aren’t my normal reading, but I have never made the leap.
I only got around to it because this one was on my Kindle. Donna had gotten it when it was offered as a free download recently. She never says no to a free e-book. I probably wouldn’t have read it then except for some reason I couldn’t find the word game I like to play; so I arrived at this.
I was over on Amazon just now taking a gander at customer reviews. One concern was that what Godin offers here is nothing new. What I wish is that people would get over this idea of new. What we need are people who can not only tell the truth but capture our imagination in the process. This is, historically, why we have valued the poets: not because they say anything new but because they say something in a way that gets our attention and gets us to moving. What we need are metaphors that translate into the mechanics of everyday grammar. This is Seth Godin’s gift.
What does it mean to Poke the Box? Godin tells the story of a friend of his who built a toy contraption for his young son to play with. That toy was a box with lights and sounds, each button or trigger having a particular effect. As adults, we would not play with such a foreign device for fear of blowing ourselves up but children do not possess this fear. They poke the box to see, to learn, what will happen.
When my brother was younger, he was very much like this. In some ways, perhaps, he still is. Once a friend of mine had brought his guitar over. Josh was so tempted by the blue guitar that he had to reach out and pluck its strings. Chris, desiring to protect his investment, warned by eight-year old brother, “Touch it again and see what happens.” For Josh, that was simply an invitation. As Chris chased him around the house, Josh had this crazy, gleeful expression. He was unconcerned of what consequence might lie ahead. He bubbled over with the delight and thrill of having poked the box.
We lose something of that when we get older. As we age, we are less faithful to the scientific method presuming that the experiments of our past are sufficient for the data of our future. We begin with a hypothesis and then we test that hypothesis. Only then can theory become law, but as people and culture changes even those laws may be overturned. All this to say, we’ve got to be light on our feet.
In one respect, older isn’t always wiser. Age and experience teach us to take certain actions to protect ourselves. That is, we do what we think we have to do to keep our jobs, pay the bills, and feed our families. Godin suggests that especially now this approach may be counterproductive. By laying low, we may save ourselves in the short term but in doing so we become irrelevant in the workplace. What is the cure? We poke the box, like we used to do when we were kids: Not with reckless abandon but with enthusiasm, determined to test and try until we understand. Then repeat the process as often as necessary.
So many of us have this perverse fear of failure. We are so afraid of it that we will avoid it at all costs even when the cost is learning.
It’s better to fail and grow than never to grow at all.
Poke the box. I dare you. Touch it. See what happens.