What I Learned from "Poke the Box" by Seth Godin

This is a short reflection of what I learned from Poke the Box by Seth Godin. The book is very short (less than 90 pages) and I highly recommend you read it.

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Poke the Box is a short manifesto about starting. There are plenty of books that talk about the imperatives that you need to start a project. You need an idea, a plan, a way to gauge success, et cetera. There's a lot less focus on the one imperative that matters: getting started.

For one, there's fear involved with starting a project. When you begin, you commit to finishing as well. If you don't push to completion, you failed. There's also fear of failure if you do complete the project.

What if I write my book and nobody likes it? What if I release a song that sucks? What if I start an entire professional football league that fails? The final example really happened, and it was called the XFL. A very rich man (Vince McMahon) failed on a very expensive project, but he survived it. I'm sure that you and I haven't failed with as much money and pressure on the bet as he has, but we're still afraid so we don't begin in the first place.

That needs to change.

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We become too attached to our creative work because we treat it like we would our offspring. Generally, this is a good thing because it pushes us to protect our children and raise them to be safe. It's a natural tendency.

To start and ship work, you have to get over that protectionism. Unlike children, you can (and should) produce as much creative work as possible. Even if it's terrible at first. What does it cost you? Not hundreds of thousands of dollars like a kid would.

Dandelions release around 2,000 seeds into the air in hopes that a few of those seeds turn into something. The dandelion knows (or would know, metaphorically) that many of those seeds will amount to nothing. They'll be failures. But that's okay.

That's not how we produce offspring at all. But we should produce creative work like dandelions produce offspring.

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Is all this to say that quality is negligible? Of course not. Failure isn't a good thing in itself. In fact, failing on purpose is a form of resistance. If you do a lousy job, nobody will ask you to do it again and you can get out of the work.

If you write a lousy book and fail, you might use that as an excuse to stop writing and give up. That's what you wanted to do in the first place—not start. Now, you have an excuse.

Don't fail with the intentions of giving up. Put in your best effort, and if you still fail, then it's okay. So long as you get back up and learn from your failures, you'll be on the right path.