Marketing Book Review : Poke the Box by Seth Godin

When was the last time you created something remarkable at work?  In this 83-page manifesto Seth seeks to challenge us all to start now!  This is a book about instigation and innovation, passion and adventure, guts and heart—but ultimately it is about taking action.  Unfortunately, it’s a rousing call we may have heard before…and better…from Godin himself. Poke the Box was entertaining, but it lacked substance. 

Linchpin 2.0

If you loved Godin’s 2010 Linchpin—and a lot of people did, judging from the book sales and social media buzz—you might enjoy Poke the Box.  It expands Linchpin’s themes:  the battle with our inner daemon, the impact of the industrialization age on creativity, and the uniformity of education as a way of ingraining standardization.  But there’s a difference: Linchpin explained Godin’s theory; Poke the Box encourages us to act on it. 

Godin reminds us that the motive force is critical because it’s the most scare resource in organizations. He’s right:  I can walk from my office to the bathroom and bump into 15 MBAs from prestigious universities.  I won’t denigrate their   education and credentials (or my own), but the degree is just a ticket to the game.   The real stars will be those who can accomplish greatness. 

This is a no-brainer.  But does it happen where you work?  Likely not.

The F*** Word

It isn’t so much that people are afraid to risk as they are afraid to FAIL.  No matter how much they praise risk-taking, organizations tend to punish failure, to make examples of people who fall down.  We tend to be judgmental, always looking for things that could go wrong or holes in the story.  Godin is just trying to help us overcome this failing in the way we treat failing when he says, “The purpose of this manifesto is not to magically extinguish your fear.  It’s to call its bluff.”

Poke the Box reminds us that all great successes start with mini-failures.  That success is not a linear pattern.  And, ultimately, that success is a series of events—not an isolated one—and if you never start you’ll never succeed.  It all starts with taking the first step, and then creating your map to guide you and your organization. 

Personal opinion

I still think Godin is brilliant, one of the greatest marketers of all time.  But if you’ve read Linchpin, reading Poke the Box is optional, rather than required.  Seasoned marketers will likely be underwhelmed by the content. For folks straight out of graduate school, though, Godin’s latest book is a worthwhile reminder that you have to snap out of academia.  If your development plan calls for you to risk more, Poke the Box is s a simple read that will reinforce your determination. There are better options, though. 

Overall, I’m disappointed that Godin continues to pursue the leadership angle: there’s a lot of competition in that space, and he doesn’t dominate the way he does when he addresses marketing directly. Seth, I love you man.  You’re a great marketer.  So please stick to what you do better than anyone else and help us move marketing to the next frontier.  Please. 


Ramiro Roman

Published in PM360.  

6 thoughts on “Marketing Book Review : Poke the Box by Seth Godin”

  1. Melissa, I agree … hard to find time, but a must. I wish I had a secret formula, but it’s a struggle for us all.

    Rick, I’m not saying that Seth is too full of himself – I like the guy and his confidence. I’m just saying that I wish he’d stick to his core, marketing.

    Thanks both for your posts!

  2. I think, and I think you think too that Seth Godin is full of himself. Maybe this is a temporary situation and he will get back to the kind of thought leadership that many of us admired. Hope so. With Poke the Box I got irritated by the know-it-all / boss me around tone. Give me some challenges and insights and motivation to improve as a marketer. I will get bossed around at home!

  3. I thought it was a good read overall. I think it’s really tough for some to break out of their daily mindsets and “poke the box”. I know I struggle with putting aside the day-to-day tactical things (that need to get done) to explore new ideas….but it’s these ideas that make for good/better marketing. It also takes an organization and leadership team that encourages this type of behavior. Sometimes it’s more about the big ideas, and what we can do to make things bigger and better, than “checking the box” on the little things.

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