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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.


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.

“Caterpillar On Finger” by Tom Phillips via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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.


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.

“Boy In a Box” by David Dodge via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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.


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.

“Peace of mind…” by Lalit Shahane via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]


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.

“Breakthrough Green Road Sign” by Wonder woman0731″ via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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.


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:


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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I notice that many of the people making comments about the offerings in this thing seem to be separating Left and Right Brain like this:

This is Creative —–> [Right Brain]

< —– This is NOT Creative [Left Brain]

The thing is we (people) are really not half-a-brain.  We are WHOLE brains and both halves are needed whether we want to be Makers or Takers, Movers and Shakers, or Wakers or Fakers.  There seems to be this Great Divide in people’s minds, but, for real, it is an illusion.


Right Brain, the guys-who-know tell us, grounds us in the here-and-now.  It helps us see what is right in front our noses and allows us to take in any kind of knowledge and sink it down into our bones.

For example, Right Brain helps a car mechanic understand that the clunking or whiny noise you hear is happening because some little gizmo in a very complex machine has worn out and is screwing up the works.

Right Brain raises the hackles on the back of your neck when you meet someone and the warning klaxons go off in your head because you “just know” THIS guy is NOT your friend.

Right Brain starts a warm glow in the pit of your stomach when you’re surrounded by the happiness of family and friends.


On the other hand, they tell us, it’s Left Brain that can wander through your memories of the past and your visions of the future.

It’s Left Brain that can gather together all of the different alternatives and options, just-the-facts-ma’m stuff, and piles them all in a heap.  It’s Left Brain that develops the linear processes that help you make some dream come true, that helps you build a something out of all the Nothing that is really only-just potential until you put your hand to it.


Right Brain and Left Brain have to work together, making a synergy that gets everything slotted in place so you can build the worlds that have meaning and mana for you.

Smooth-running doesn’t happen automatically.  The brain-halves communicate differently, for one thing.  Left Brain uses words and numbers and other mind-constructs like symbols and metaphors.  Right Brain uses pictures, smells, tastes, sounds, and body feelings.

It’s kind of like a game of charades between a talkative computational device and a doofus St. Bernard puppy.  It can get frustrating trying to round up all those lemming thoughts and trying to get monkey-mind to settle down long enough to connect the dots.


One way that can help facilitate a meeting of your own brains is what I call “poetry-mind.”  You use it to build bridges between your two half-brains so you can get input from both of them as you work on building your worlds.

It starts with knowledge and respect.

  • You need to know what each of your half-brains is capable of doing and what each one cannot do.
  • You need to respect each of your half-brain’s strengths and understand where each half-brain falls down.

Think about it:  You have your own Human Resources Department in your head and you are both the Operations Manager as well as the CEO in this lash-up.  You will not expect your little old grandma bookkeeper to run out and dig up and turn the soil in a new garden plot.  It’s not the best use of her time or her particular knowledge.

In the same way, as you learn more about what each of your half-brains can and cannot do, you’ll be able to marshal your forces better and use them more effectively.  It’s likely you will end up with a viable and sustainable way of doing what you want to do, it seems to me.


For the past few decades, with the evolution of technology, there have been innumerable studies by neuro-this or –that scientists looking at how the brain works.  These new findings have sparked a diversity of new thinking about how being human works (or doesn’t).  Each new and exciting discovery gets reiterated, trashed, and re-hashed as every psychologist, philosopher, life coach, and know-it-all neighbor weighs in with some kind of opinion about the ramifications of every revelation.

By the time you’ve looked into this fascinating subject by reading a plethora of books, checking out online resources and listening to assorted in-the-know people talk, you will probably gather some exercises or suggestions that can help you make connections between your two brain-halves.

As you play this way, it will get easier and easier to use your whole brain to work on solutions for any problems you encounter.  This is a very good thing.


In a nutshell, here is the THREE-STEP WHOLE-BRAIN PROGRAM

  1. Get to know your half-brains, your Right Brain and your Left Brain.
  2. Introduce your half-brains to each other and encourage courtesy and respect.
  3. Let your half-brains play together and see what they make together.

It may amaze you…


  • Check out the “A Very Short Course on the Brain” video on the website for the latest theory on how the brain learns. The site has a lot of information about Whole Brain Teaching, which has become all the rage among more progressive middle school educators.  The kids and the teachers who work with it seem to be having a lot of fun.  Whether the method is more than a fad remains to be seen.
  • One of my all-time favorite books is THE INTUITIVE BODY: Aikido as a Clairsentient Practice by Wendy Palmer.  In it, Palmer draws on the principles of martial arts and meditation to present a unique method for cultivating awareness, attention and self-acceptance.  In the intervening years since 1994 when this book came out, Palmer has developed her embodiment learning practices into a system called “Consciousness Embodiment and Intuition Training.”  It is quite fascinating.
  • Check out the “Laughter Works…Pathways to Healthful Living” website by Kay Caskey and Laurie Young:  It looks like a lot of fun.

And here’s a poem:


 Wonder is the child of mystery.

It really is what makes history.

Wonder taps the inner spring

That flows through all the everything.

When wonder calls, a haunting cry,

It bids your heart to spread wings and fly.

The dull gray world-clouds fade away

As you romp with wonder in numinous play.

The world turns real and so do you,

When wonder transforms familiar into new.

And when it’s all real again and true,

Then new gates open and invite you through.

Mystery always opens for her wonder child,

Her gifts she gives freely to wonder running wild.

And if you follow wonder’s spiraling way,

What marvels!  What joys!  What fun in the play!

By Netta Kanoho

Picture:  Brains by Cat Branchman via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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