Who’s Poking the Box in Your Small Business?

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“What if more people began to speak up, notice things, and start things?… All it takes is initiative. Even just a bit.” – Seth Godin.

I read Seth Godin’s book “Poke the Box” often, probably once a quarter. Partly for inspiration and partly through obligation. You see, it was gifted to me by a Microsoft senior marketing executive in 2010, my first year at the company. He was travelling throughout Australia with me as a guest speaker at a series of events – events where we were trying a significantly different format, different content types, different methods of engagement and a desire to break the shackles of the standard IT industry events…and I’d been the driving force behind this idea of trying something new.

I couldn’t say that series of events was a resounding success. To be fair it wasn’t a flagrant failure either. It was just middle-ground, but I was certainly aspiring for better. Despite this, the head-office exec was encouraging and, just before his departure to Seattle, he handed me a gift. Of course, the gift was Godin’s book.

I’m not sure if it was his intention, but I certainly took this as recognition of my efforts to try something different, something new, not simply doing what had always been done. More than that though was this feeling of belief and motivation; like I now had an obligation to take this subtle guidance from someone I looked up to and ensure I continued to poke the box.

So that’s why I re-read the book every few months: To fulfil my (possibly self-imposed) obligation; test my thinking; reinvigorate my creative juices; inspire others to start things.

Who’s Poking the Box?

Every small business should have at least one person in the business who’s a champion of poking the box. It could be a sales person, the marketing girl, the guy who does the book keeping or one of the business owners.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post how old habits stifle innovation in small businesses: A tendency to retrofit technology with great new capabilities in to old processes with tired requirements. Just a little box poking could really change this. 60% of SMEs admitted a lack of technology knowledge is holding back efficiency in their business…yet only half of them are doing something about it. The other half should start poking too – they owe it to their business.

Easier with Modern Technology

Technology has made it easier than ever for small businesses to try things out, to do something different and to start something new. I don’t necessarily mean easier in a technical sense (although you certainly don’t need to be a technical guru to do some clever things with technology these days) but more so in the sense of realising an idea. Want to run a marketing campaign on a shoe string budget overnight to a potential audience of millions? Well you can start that right now. Try doing it ten years ago…not so simple.

Jim Minifie of the Grattan Institute recently made a comment I found insightful:

“Most companies that live and breathe the online revolution are not tech startups, but smart smaller firms that use online tools to run their core business better: to cut costs, reach customers and suppliers, innovate and get more control.”

Yet most SMBs probably consider themselves far removed from living and breathing the online revolution. They shouldn’t. Instead, they should think about how to poke around and start something. Four big opportunities exist according to Minifie: mobile, social, data analytics and cloud. That’s a nice short hit-list to start poking at.

Poking the box doesn’t need to be a monumental world-changing activity. It could be a different way to look at your company data; a change to the layout of your website; a new way to answer the phones. Whatever it is, just start it. Right now.

Next time someone in your business tries something new or different, and despite if it’s successful or not, subtly leave a copy of Seth Godin’s book on their desk to acknowledge their actions and motivate them to keep on starting stuff. It’s the ultimate gift that keeps on giving…as I found out.

Posted in Thought & Opinion

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