Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thoughts On The Ice Bucket Challenge

By now I'm sure you've all heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge. For those of you who've been living without social media for the last 6 weeks or so, the Ice Bucket Challenge "is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone's head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research."

It's been phenomenally successful.
More than 3 million people have donated to the ALS Association, with its Ice Bucket Challenge raking in more than $100 million to help fight Lou Gehrig's disease.

During the same period last year, July 29 to Aug. 29 2013, the ALS Association raised just $2.8 million. In the fiscal year 2014, it made about $26.3 million total — and has now approximately quadrupled that annual amount in a matter of months.
But have you ever wondered why it has achieved such success? After all, there have been plenty of other deserving campaigns that didn't reach equal heights.
Well, it looks like it is finally calming down. Patios are being cleaned off. Ice buckets are being put away.  But only after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge generated more than $100 million in donations in a single month, a staggering amount considering the organization took in only $2.5 million for all of 2013.  How in the world did this happen?

Why is it that some ideas take flight and spread like wildfire, while others, seemingly equally worthy, fall mostly on deaf ears?  Why did the Ice Bucket Challenge go viral, raising millions without spending a penny on marketing, while other non-profits can never seem to lift their message above the noise?

Just as some species share traits that make them more likely to spread through evolution—enjoyable orgasms being one example—so do some ideas have traits that put them at a distinct advantage to captivate and spread. Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story. Understand how to make your ideas big, selfless and simple and you will be able to control growth.

Big.  The fact is, we don’t succeed by paying attention to everything. We succeed for the most part by doing precisely the opposite—by letting go; by not paying conscious attention to the vast bulk of the data, sensations, and other impressions that come our way. In a world of snap judgments, big ideas are easier to notice, and their very bigness gives them an immediacy that smaller ideas lack.  The Ice Bucket Challenge was instantaneously ubiquitous. Like the Super Bowl, there was the feeling that everyone was watching this happen together, in real time. There were celebrities. There was humor. There was press at every turn. All of these qualities made it impossible to ignore.

Selfless.  Selfless ideas evoke empathy, and empathy creates a direct physiological urge to act. Watch someone perform a selfless act, and you are stirred to action. Know that people are watching you (via social media), and you experience what neuro-scientists refer to as the audience effect; a significant increase in the willingness to donate caused by the presence of observers. Without knowing it, simply observing others participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge dramatically increased the odds that you would accept the challenge when asked. Certainly, the challenge was focused around a noble cause. But it was the format of participation that supercharged it: put yourself in an unpleasant situation, make yourself vulnerable, even mildly humiliated, and then share it with everyone. By stirring us to action and increasing our willingness to engage, the Challenge tipped the scales in favor of it spreading from the very first splash.

Simple. Ideas that are big and selfless spread.  But ideas that are also simple spread quickly. Simple ideas are easy to grasp and translate into action, increasing the odds that people actually will respond. There were many people who complained that the rules of the Challenge were too vague. But that was the point! It is this level of simplicity that allows action to be very easily and personally translated, which almost exponentially increases the chances of participation. Why? Because you’re not asking people to fill a particular niche in a complicated response strategy. You are asking only that they take part. The absence of specific direction allows them to shape their response in accord with their own means, talents, and interests. In effect, participants were able to take possession of their own contribution to the cause. Just do something. Donate if you want to. Get creative. Whatever the amount or its form, the participation was an easily accomplished response to a worthy cause.

In concert, big, selfless, and simple ideas attract, inspire, and involve others, and create a multiplier effect that can result in broad achievement beyond what any person could hope to accomplish alone. Rather than depend on the precious few for validation, big, selfless, and simple ideas come with their own broadly based chorus of champions.

This is how you get heard when everyone around you is shouting.
The above covers the basics, but I think there's a little more to it that that. For example, the Kilted to Kick Cancer campaign meets those criteria, but hasn't achieved the same success as the ALS challenge, even with the Ice Bucket Challenge-inspired Dunk Your Junk challenge.So I'm still a little unsure as to why some catch fire and succeed beyond anyone's wildest imagination, and why some garner much more modest results.

In any event, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has also inspired a slew of snarky responses. Some of my favorites are below.

Those of you with teenaged sons will like this one.

No comments: