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Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin
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Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin

“Human nature is to need a map. If you’re brave enough to draw one,” suggests Seth Godin in Poke the Box (The Domino Project, 2001), “people will follow.” A noted marketer, entrepreneur, and blogger, Godin is convinced that of all the requirements for success, the most important (and shortest in supply) is initiative. Poking the box is Godin’s metaphor for trying all the levers and buttons on a mysterious metallic machine, just to see which lights light up and which buzzers buzz.

In a short 95 pages, Godin provides the rationale for taking initiative, offers a few cautions, compares the concept to other approaches, and refutes arguments against taking action (“Only in systems where quality is a given do we care about attempts”). Rather than divide his thesis into chapters, his argument is laid out as a progression (in one very long chapter) of boldface headings with supporting ideas beneath, almost like a book of daily quotes and affirmations to keep at one’s desk for everyday motivation. Many parts of the book read like a series of soundbites, or like collectable quotation graphics on Pinterest, which is to say his sentences are pleasantly pithy, packing a pretty good punch into an economy of words. While this works well in these smaller bites, it gets a little tiresome when read as one longer essay, not unlike the football coach who repeats endless calls to “dig deep” and “give a hundred and ten percent.”

Still, Godin makes a strong case. He spends considerable time on the idea of fear: where it comes from, why it exists, and what must be done to overcome it. He even argues that taking initiative in the face of fear is morally the right thing to do—that to sit safely by when action could be taken is effectively stealing from the people who pay you, saying, “Once you’ve engaged with an organization or a relationship or a community, you owe it to your team to start. To initiate. To be the one who makes something happen.”

Taken as a whole, Godin’s presentation is best when he offers narrative, anecdotal support requiring more than one or two great-sounding sentences. Imploring us to embrace failure, he says, “Oprah has had failed shows, failed projects, failed predictions. She starts something every day, something a few times a day, and there’s a long, long list of things that haven’t worked out.” These two sentences work fine, but there are a lot these littler examples, and after the first several references, they begin to run together. However, a later anecdote, in the form of a letter he received from a Canadian alt-rock band named Hollerado, spends a few pages explaining how the band took every opportunity to perform, everywhere and for anyone, selling CD-ROM copies of its demo in front of Hot Topic stores in the malls so they could pay for gas to get home after their tours. It is the most memorable part of the book. For all his effective, motivating language, Godin doesn’t make use enough of the power of story to stick in our brains as we navigate the terrain of his excellent argument.

The author’s stated mission is to get people moving. After the book’s conclusion, in an explanation of his Domino Project, he asks that readers pass his book around to as many friends as possible, suggesting that these friends also pass the book around, hopefully sparking conversation, initiation, completion, and possible failure. Toward that end, it’s a well-packaged book—neither too long to get put aside for finishing on some nonspecific someday, nor too short to stick to your insides. Recommended for anyone needing a teeny-weeny life-changing jolt out of uninspired stasis.


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Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin - Executive Leadership Articles

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