I am a fan of Seth, in awe of his seemingly endless stream of wise words and erudite observations, I read whatever he chooses to publish and have yet to be disappointed.
Poke the Box starts with a story about Annie Downs, an ‘initiator’. In fact, it’s not so much the story of Annie as the introduction to the story. We are never told the full tale and are told that if we are curious about the whats and the hows then we are asking the wrong questions!
Seth gives examples of our accepted business models that are no longer working and cites cases of individuals and industries that have failed to adapt to changing markets and withered and died as a result.
Whereas it was once enough to simply show up and do the work, whatever that might be, Seth asserts that the new essential ingredient for success is initiative. This book is Seth’s manifesto about starting, about taking the inititative.
As I read the six identified ‘imperatives’ I could relate to all of them – what business person couldn’t? These imperatives are all about identifying and understanding the market, building trust and brand, having a product or service that meets a need and working efficiently to manage the business well. You don’t need to have emerged from Business School clutching your Diploma to recognise these business basics.
The problem is that there is a 7th imperative. One that doesn’t get the same coverage as so few people actually do it. Most businesses and business people convince themselves they are working hard and smart by circling in an endless loop around the first 6 imperatives and never ever make it to the 7th. These are the businesses that are always seeking funding, that bemoan the current lack of credit and make up the bulk of the horrendous bankruptcy statistics.
The 7th imperative is ‘shipping’. It’s no secret. Seth has been banging his shipping drum for quite a while now and he does it very articulately.
Shipping is the differentiator and it’s the stage that many businesses never reach.
I have worked as a business consultant and I have freely offered my time as a business mentor and observed time after time that the reluctance to ship is seemingly one of the hardest problems for a business owner to overcome.
Working with angel investors I have observed countless businesses and entrepreneurs seek more and more funding so they can delay the terrifying moment when they have to start shipping. How much less frightening is it to be at work every day, being busy with market research, product creation, logo design and even participating on Twitter and the like (the latter is of course just to build trust and rapport)?
How many businesses have simply run out of money and lines of credit while they continue to resist shipping? And, these are not just small businesses. Large organisations have also disappeared when they have failed to react to the pace of change in the world
Seth’s book isn’t just for entrepreneurs and budding business folk. It’s for everyone. He challenges the employed as well as the self employed to start looking for possibilities, to challenge the status quo, to recognise that their current pond may have been overfished and polluted, leaving it stagnant and dead.
All of us need to be open to paddling our own canoes into fresh water. Water where there is a current, life, energy and forward motion.
‘Having ideas is not enough’, says Seth. Reading this provided an ouch moment for me. I have the portfolio of domain names that attests to my own abundance of ideas. Ideas lack life force. It’s the starting, the innovating and shipping that adds the life force to an idea.
Of course, there are dangers in being an initiator. There will be failures. Fingers of blame will be pointed. Not many of us are prepared to be wrong, we want to avoid the perceived stigma attached to failure. Seth gives you permission to fail. In fact, he points out that failure is inevitable – it’s a good thing. To accept his premise needs a real change of mind set in most of us.
Starting a new business now is different from how it used to be. The old ways have been overdone and exhausted. There are all manner of people who can offer advice and guidance but the playing field has changed. Seth points out the secret of startup business success now is curiosity. A willingness to try, to see what happens and to refine and try again.
It’s taken me a while to publish this review of Poke the Box. The book has been out for a while but, having read it, I felt ashamed. I felt as if I had no spark of innovation, no creative cells in my body – I felt excluded. Having listened to and observed others this seems to be a common fear. It now occurs to me that there is no shame in first struggling to find the spark that I believe resides within us all. There is no shame in having to fan that spark into life. God knows society is geared up to smother it from a very early age. I think everyone can be forgiven for struggling to coax their own spark into a tentative flame let alone a roaring blaze. For years parents, schools, colleges and workplaces have fought against initiative and innovation. ‘Do as you’re told’ has been the mantra and every time we did as we were told we heaped another pile of damp earth onto that fragile spark of creativity within ourselves and dampened down our potential for genius.
So, this is a belated review. The book is available in all manner of formats and it’s not very long so there’s no excuse. It doesn’t so much provide a kick in the pants as it does shine a light of possibility. A brilliant read.