Transforming The Book Industry: How Seth Godin Is Poking The Box

This article, by Michael Stelzner, originally appeared on the Social Media Examiner site on 3/14/11.

I recently interviewed Seth Godin, author of the new book Poke the Box. Seth has written more than a dozen other books, many of them focused on marketing. Some of his notable books include Permission Marketing, Linchpin and Tribes.

During this interview, you’ll learn about his latest book, his views on the state of the publishing industry and about his new venture The Domino Project.

Mike: Let’s start with Poke the Box. What exactly does “poke the box” mean?

Seth: If you’re a computer programmer and you want to figure out how something works, the way you do it is not by reading a manual or following a map. You do it by trying something, seeing what happens, learning from it and then trying something else. That’s how we figured out how the world worked when we were 5 years old, and it’s the way we figure out how to do something new in a changing world.

The reason that I wrote the book is that somehow we’ve lulled ourselves into this feeling that we need to wait for someone else to tell us what to do and give us permission to do it, as opposed to taking action and doing it ourselves.

Mike: You mentioned in the book it was your uncle who designed the “box” and put it in the crib of one of your cousins?

Seth: My uncle has a PhD from MIT. We call him “the admiral” because he was in the Navy ROTC program. He worked with lasers and all sorts of technology.

I have this vivid memory of when I was just 10 or 12 years old. My cousin was born and my uncle built a box—it must have weighed three pounds—in gray steel with one of those big, thick, black electrical cords. It had on it three or four switches and dials, and when you flipped a switch, something happened. A buzzer would go off or a light would flash. You’d turn a dial and something else would change. He plugged this thing in and threw it in the crib.

His thinking was that it’s natural for a kid to play with things, to figure out how they work. In a stable world, we don’t necessarily want people to do that because we want them to work on the assembly line and do what they’re told. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this isn’t a stable world anymore.


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