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Book Review – Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Poke the Box by Seth Godin is a quick and easy read. While some may confuse it with a motivational type book, Godin’s points are a bit deeper. The two word summary is

Start Something.

Godin says “I’m merely encouraging you to start. Often. Forever. Be the one who starts things.” Starting things is like poking the box to see what will happen.The manifesto is a call for people to shed excuses, fear, and procrastination and to pursue their ideas. That’s certainly not a new principle. But Godin states his ideas in a clear, concise, and easy to understand format that worth your time to read.

He gives examples of individuals and organizations to backup his statements that people need to push forward with their ideas. One such example was the first Starbucks didn’t sell coffee and wasn’t the company we have come to know today. It sold coffee beans. But Jerry Baldwin’s idea to get started led to the suggestions from Howard Schultz to offer traditional espresso beverages. Godin’s point is that “Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action”.

This leads to the argument that one of the top reasons that people don’t initiate work is fear of failure. People and organizations let the fear of failure paralyze them because failure is viewed as a negative event. Again, not a new idea, but tolerating failures because we can learn from them, because it makes us better, or because we can adjust and move forward is usually just given lip service in our society.

Godin goes deeper into the idea of initiating work by touching on cultural norms of conformity. From schools, to churches, to corporate america, we are trained, encouraged, and rewarded for staying within set boundaries. I could directly relate to this concept and previously wrote about it in a post entitled are you crazy enough to create change?

I recommend this book for your library. It’s a simple concept, yet can be so difficult to master.  If you are a manager of people, encourage them to poke the box. If you are an team member then start your ideas. Godin says “soon is not as good as now.” Go!

Career mentor specialists?

We live in an age of specialization. You see it in the medial profession, in corporate america, and in professional sports.  One area where I have not noticed a great deal of content about specialization is in career mentoring. Career mentoring itself gets a great deal of thought in books, blogs, and self-help publications. From my reading though, the act of career mentoring is regarded as a specialty (of sorts) unto itself. So I wonder, is it too much to try to have mentors in specific areas of your career?

For example, as an executive with responsibilities in multiple areas should you seek to have a mentor in each area? (Finance mentor, Strategy mentor, Information Technology mentor, Career guidance mentor, etc. ) The idea is to get more focused  mentoring with the trade-off of additional time commitment and complexity.

What are your thoughts and experiences with career mentoring? Have you used multiple mentors or just one?

Book Review: Your Career Game

I recently read Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals by Nathan Bennett and Stephen A. Miles. Based on the title and reference to game theory, I expected the book would be a technical read and perhaps one that I only scanned for practical insights. What I found, was an easy to read book filled with many pages of interviews and practical straight talk about career progression. It was a definite value-add to my career journey and I found myself wishing I had read something like this in my twenties.

The interviews in the book are conducted with a diverse set of leaders from multiple industries. They are insightful as they dig deep into topics like mentoring, education, influence, political skill, and social intelligence. The business leaders reveal how they approach their career and the decisions they make. I found a few common themes within their responses. Most of them looked to expand the breadth of their experiences across different functional areas of a business. Many of them worked internationally, or saw international experience as a good opportunity to learn the core workings of a business. All of them had a close network of mentors to assist them with guidance in their maturation process.

Additionally, the authors go through several success factors for your career:

Understand the game better

If you consider the model that your career is a game, you need to seek to understand the game better. Just like a sports player must seek to understand the rules of their game to become a better player, professionals must  understand rules of the career game to better navigate its progression. This includes elements of self-knowledge, people skills, motivations, and intentions. There are are more players in the game than just yourself and there are rules from within and external to the organization that could effect the game.

Understand how different moves will affect your career

In game theory, the premise is to first understand all of the players in the game which may include co-workers, executives, your boss, and even your family. What are the interests of each of the players in the game? What do they hope to achieve? Once you understand the different players in the game then you can simulate the game based on the types of moves you believe they will make. As with a chess game, the best players think and simulate moves into the future rounds.

Improve you career agility

Your career agility is based on elements of your core make-up that allow you to react, plan, and make decisions based on your career. As I understood the author’s points in this section, you need to be agile in order to react to unseen circumstances and game elements that you didn’t anticipate.  Elements of your make-up that comprise your career agility include emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, self-monitoring, influencing-up, resilience, empathy, authenticity, decision making, and political skill.  The bottom line is you need to understand yourself and you need to understand how to relate to others.