Thinking outside of the box is one thing, but poking the box is better. According to Seth Godin, “America’s Greatest Marketer” and author of 13 bestsellers who recently wrote the book Poke the Box, the world has dramatically changed over the course of the past 10 years, and it’s no longer about how closely you can follow the rules, how much or how efficiently you can produce, how big of a facility you can purchase, how well you can distribute your product, how quickly you can raise capital, or how well-educated your employees are. It’s about initiative. He writes:
Conformity used to be crucial, fitting in not standing out. Compliance used to be the heart of every successful organization, every successful career. The reason? We all worked for the system, in the factory, doing what we were told. Now, though, compliance is no longer a competitive advantage.
The basic premise behind the title Poke the Box comes from an experience Godin had as a child, where a relative of his with a PhD from MIT built an electronic buzzer box. While most adults would be afraid or unsure of such a box, Godin discovered that the first thing a child will do is “poke the box.” This action stems from a child’s inherent curiosity about the way the world works, combined with their willingness to experience it. So where has this curiosity gone? In the below video Godin provides a couple of clues:
According to Godin, the factory has programmed that adventurous impulse out of us and the economic imperative of the last century has conditioned us to avoid risk. The typical factory-centric organization places a premium on standardization, but in a networked economy, the innovation-focused organization has no choice but to obsess over deviation from the norm. The argument is that if you start, you’ve at least got a chance at evolving and adjusting to turn your wrong into a right, but if you don’t start you’ll never get that chance, you’ll avoid changes, and most of all avoid exploration of the new. It is this pursuit of the “new” that breathes life into starting projects, creating change, exploring possibilities, while at the same time sparking growth.
Godin also talks about the relentless brainwashing of our fading industrial economy and how it has created an expensive misunderstanding. From a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “America: Excelling at Mediocrity,” author Umair Haque expands on this concept:
After decades of erasing the last luminous wisps of a once awe-inspiring excellence, today, it’s (America’s) perfected the art of imagining, designing, mega-financing, and mass-producing the tedious, humdrum, banal, middle of the road, bland, trivial, forgettable, the less than exhilarating — whose side effects may include unemployment, stagnation, insecurity, distrust, meaninglessness, depression, and dumbification. And it might be that all the preceding is what lurching machine age “markets”, “corporations”, “finance” and “profit” optimize an economy for — and further, what they shape the minds of a people to come to expect as the limit of the possible (until, of course, a metamovement reminds them that it’s not) … Mediocrity backed by muscle might be a recipe for success in preschool — but by the time you don a baccalaureate’s cap, it’s the sharper, quicker, wiser and curiouser that tend to prosper.
Having curiosity is fundamental to initiative, which is what leads to innovation and new ideas. Initiative is what propels us to create, and keep moving forward. Without initiative, we have boring, run-of-the mill, complacency, which inevitably leads to mediocrity and stagnation.
So how does this apply to marketers? Creative people, or those who have something to say, believe that they have to wait to be chosen and that is a detriment to uncovering new ideas, approaches, and innovative ways of doing things to better market products or services. Because we’ve been taught to not speak up or act, Godin urges us to dream big, start something, cause a ruckus, and not take no for an answer rather than waiting to be picked. What makes our work and our life interesting is discovery, surprise, and the risk of exploration. Below is more from Godin in an interview with Hubspot about how marketers specifically can take advantage of the concepts promoted in this book:
In short, Poke the Box is a permission slip for marketers to create moments, movements, changes, and innovations that matter and inevitably create conversation and engagement with one’s brand.