Among the treasure trove of ideas in Seth Godin’s book, POKE THE BOX, is this one: No one has influence, control, or confidence in their work (or any other area of their life) until they understand how to initiate change and predict how a thing will respond.
The “box” Godin is talking about in his title is any complex bit of your life that you want to understand better with the goal of making your interaction with it more effective.
The “box” might be that brand-new computer program, just sitting there waiting for you to poke at the buttons on your machine and make the new do-dad do things, make it dance.
The “box” might be a market you want to tackle and make sit up and take notice of you. Maybe that “market” is just one special somebody whose attention you crave. It might be a customer or it might be your boss or maybe a somebody you’d like to be significant in your life.
Whatever the “box” is, the thing is a puzzle that can be solved in only one way – by poking.
POKING IS A WAY OF BUILDING A PRACTICE
My brother Michael was an intrepid bug explorer in his youth. He was forever hunkered down, watching lines of ants or other critters, chasing down caterpillars and watching them turn into butterflies, studying spiders in their webs, and grabbing up crickets and grasshoppers.
He spent hours watching what the little guys did, poking at them with fingers and sticks, seeing how they moved and what made them do things differently.
When you do THIS, what happens? When you do THAT, what happens? Hey, it ALWAYS does this when I do that! Wow! Now, why did it do that?
Michael sure did learn a lot about bugs. They were his “box.” After a while he got really good at knowing what assorted bugs did and how and why. He turned an initial wonderment into a passion and that passion became a sort of practice for him.
ANOTHER KIND OF OWNERSHIP
In a similar way, if you poke at your own puzzles, your “box” reveals itself. As you get better at questioning and poking, you not only get smarter but you also gain what Godin calls “ownership.”
You step into the box and make it your own.
Godin’s kind of ownership does not have to be equity or even control. Ownership comes from understanding and from having the power to make things happen. “Ownership” is another name for mastery and influence.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
It all begins with that sense of wonder, and it begins by asking questions and looking for some answers:
- How does this work?
- Why does it do that?
- How can I make it do something else?
- Can I do this with it? What about that?
- What are its limits?
- Can I expand those limits?
- What happens when I do?
As you unravel your puzzles and wander around in your mysteries you’ll find your own answers. As you test your conclusions in the real world, seeing whether the things you’ve thunk actually work outside the confines of your own head, you will develop own your way of walking.
GUIDED BY THE ANSWERS
Consistently asking your questions and faithfully following where the answers lead you eventually gets you to a place where nobody else can answer the questions you still have. By then you’ll have built yourself a practice and a method and means for exploring this world you’ve discovered.
The answers you start finding and following are going to be different than the run-of-the-mill, regular ones. You’ve already gone past those everybody-knows-that answers.
If you do it right and don’t fall down some pothole or other and the creek don’t rise, maybe you’ll spark up more questions that other people can use to construct their own paths.
THE QUESTION-BOX HEADS OUT
It all starts with being aware. It all starts with noticing. It all starts with a determination to go where the answers to your questions lead you.
Godin says, “Winners turn initiative into a passion and a practice.” With his book, he shows you a way of doing just that.
The following YouTube video, “Make Your Life Spectacular,” was published by Goalcast and is a tribute to one of my favorite funny guys, the late Robin Williams. What a heartful man!
Here’s a poem, constructed for one who followed his questions:
HYMN FOR A LINED FACE
Of all the wonders World displays
Not one can match your face.
What is the meaning of this line,
Or that one that I trace?
This deep one here, from eye to chin,
What sorrow etched it there?
The others feathering everywhere
Show pains and joys quite clear.
I would not want some lover with
A face smooth as an egg,
That shows a quiet life unlived,
No cup drunk to the dregs.
You are a wonderment to me,
A glory and a joy,
Behind the marks of a life lived large,
I see a luminous boy.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “mystery box” by spinster cardigan via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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