Seth Godin just launched the first part of a new series of manifestos expanding on the idea of “Linchpin”. It is titled “Poke the Box” and written by Seth himself; from what I understand more manifestos will be contributed by other authors and will follow in short succession.
The book is leaning heavily on the “Linchpin” theme and its message is probably best summarized as: Don’t be afraid of failing. It matters that you start things, and that you go all the way; some will fail but some will succeed. Then build on what works but when you reach the point where things shift from “adventure” mode into “routine” then go and do something else.
I think I never disagreed with Seth so much as on this message. His thesis culminates in borrowing the analogy of a dandelion, a flower relentlessly spreading its spores all over the place with the effect that some of them will make it, just as a matter of statistics. This works for dandelions receiving sunlight and water for free, but I’m afraid it does not work for humans. To their credit, dandelions don’t have a brain so they deserve a break.
Seth also touches on the aspect of capital; and while relentlessness and passion are important assets to succeed in business, without resources and money it is just not going to work that often. Retelling anecdotes of the few that made it doesn’t help either. There is always the story of the cancer patient who became a Tour de France winner, the small town acting talent who became a Broadway star, or the iconic dish washer turned millionaire. Fact is: while this is true for a fortunate 2%, the “rest” is left in the dust, ends up in poverty or with a second class career. Not for lack of starting but because EVERYBODY started. We’re not the dandelions, we are the spores. Making yourself visible in an environment like this without the right connections or the boost of “right circumstances” Malcolm Gladwell describes in “Outliers“, the question of whether or not you succeed is down to quite a bit of luck. There is a very thin line between winning and failing in life, and it is only partly in our control.
Luckily, we have a brain.
Pardon my Taekwondo analogies, but if you want to break a board with your bare hand you better get it right the first time. Not because your brain can not be brought to reset and build enough confidence for a second strike, but because after the first strike your hand is battered, and you are starting to feel pain and physical exhaustion. Maybe you even broke a bone.
When you start a new business, whatever it is, you will probably need some money. Fail and your financial resources diminish. Fail again and you’re broke. More importantly, your credibility gets invested in each of your endeavors. Without people who believe in you succeeding is not possible, be it as customers or investors. Even a satisfied customer from your first business will be irritated if you shut down on him / her, perhaps leaving a product unserviced or an urgent demand unmet. Shut down twice and you’ll be labeled as unreliable. And even Seth would think twice about investing in a person approaching him for funds for the fifth time, telling him dandelion stories. It just doesn’t work that way. And to decide to just forget about the audience you just disappointed and look for a new one is not everyone’s game, either.
So what about poking the box then? Poke it, but don’t poke it like a baby would. Take one step at a time, but remember your last step and reverse it if the result isn’t what you want. Look under the hood – who says you can’t open the damn thing and check it out?
Check it out because your box might be a bomb – and you don’t want it to go off in your face.