Bejeweled moves

Recently, before boarding a transatlantic flight, I caved to the impulse to buy an iPhone app, and $2.99 later I was the proud owner of Bejeweled 2, the only game in the app store that I’d ever heard of.

By way of background, I should share that two decades ago I was know to wile away many a college campus visit (and, subsequently, a reasonable portion of first semester freshman year), playing Tetris into the wee hours of the morning on Apple LC computers.   I still have a soft spot for the mindless computer puzzler – though with drastically less time on my hands.

Bejeweled works as follows: your job is to make groupings of three or more jewels in a line; you can only move two adjacent jewels at a time; and for a move to be legal it must create a group of three.

It isn’t a great game, but it has one aspect that I find fascinating.  The way the game is programmed, there is always a legal move to be made – which is surprising since they’re often hard to find and the rules governing the game are so simple.  And this is the nut of what fascinates me: even knowing this, and even in the confines of a simple, 8×8 board, it’s easy to convince yourself that there are no moves to play.

The practice of playing, then, is as a chance to remind yourself that, no matter what you see, there’s always a move for you to make.  You get to see yourself talk yourself out of what is possible, time and time again, until you finally learn that you can always make a move.

Feels a lot like life to me: seeing the board, seeing the moves you think you can make, not seeing anything that’s possible, and telling yourself – even though you know the opposite to be true – that there’s nothing that you can do.

There’s always a move to make.  There’s always something you can do to make yourself better, to move forward, to make a change.  Always.  No matter what.


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1 in 100

At a dinner recently, guests were asked to go around the table and share what was on their mind.  One guest said,

“I often imagine myself on a platform, waiting for a train, with 100 other people.  And I think that I am the most fortunate of those 100 people, which makes me feel blessed and also gives me a tremendous sense of responsibility of what to do with that good fortune.”

At first when I heard this, I thought the good fortune she described was economic, which would make sense given the distribution of wealth globally: you only have to earn $49,000 to be in the richest 1% of the world’s population.

The facts on income alone are sobering.  But I think there’s more to it, and it gets you past the 1% mark to the 0.1% mark or even the 0.01% mark – the knowledge that you are an agent of change, that the tools are available today in a way that they never were before that allow you to take all that you have been given and make an enormous impact on the world.

There has never been a moment in history when a single person can do more.

The knowledge of this simple fact, and the impetus to back it up, is the real 1 in 100 revelation.

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The next day test

I gave a speech the other day that was fine.  I said what I wanted to say, made the points that I wanted to make.

But fine, I fear, is forgotten.  Fine isn’t remembered when a person walks out of the room.  Fine is checking the box.

I think I went wrong in the preparation: spending so much time focusing on what I wanted to say, while forgetting to think about what I wanted to happen: what I wanted the audience members to do, to feel, to remember, to repeat to the next person.  And not just 5 minutes later, but the next day or the next week.

People don’t remember lists and plans.  They remember the narrative, especially a narrative in which they are the central actor, and it’s clear what action they are meant to take.  They also remember what they can feel: a personal connection, humor, a spark, even an image.

“What am I going to say?” or “What points am I trying to get across?” seem like the right questions to ask when drafting a speech.

But “What do I want someone to remember?” and “What do I want someone to do?” are much more important.

Next time…

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Charter for Compassion

Beautiful fulfillment of Karen Armstrong’s TED wish.

You can get more information and sign and share the charter here.

Original passion

I recently came back from a weeklong trip to Europe and was swapping stories with my wife about the week. She admitted what I already knew, that my five-year-old son has started to really notice my absence when I travel for work.

“But,” she said, “It’s actually really easy to explain to him why you’re away.  I say to him that Daddy is out helping get money to help pay for things like safe water to drink or a safe place for a mommy to have her baby for people who need it.  And he understands that and it makes sense to him.”

First, I was overwhelmed by this kind of support from my family.

Second, I noticed that, even to me, this is not exactly how my week felt.

Of course I was talking about the work that Acumen Fund does and explaining to people why supporting Acumen Fund helps bring about large-scale change to persistent social problem.  But, even for me, it is easy to get caught up in the process of it all and lose track of that very simple, very important, very basic connection.

A friend of mine who serves on a number of nonprofit boards recently told me that, in her opinion, there’s no better way to tap into your original passion for a cause than to sit in front of someone else and ask them to support that cause financially.  It forces you to get to the root of why you think that cause matters, to share that original passion with someone else, and to invite someone else to have the same sense of exhilaration and purpose that you feel in being part of that organization – that cause – every day.

Somehow, in the midst everything it takes to do the work – getting introduced to the right people, meeting with them, sharing your story – you can get so caught up in the process that the original purpose gets out of focus.

It helps to remember, every day, “this is why I do this.”

Yes, the act we’re engaging in is raising money, but the thing that’s really happening is that another person has safe water to drink, or a proper place to give birth, or a more productive farm, or a vaccine for a life-threatening disease, or a school that will provide them with opportunity in their lives…and all of this thanks in part to the work you’re doing.

If we can tap into that original passion – in ourselves and in others – I’m sure we can unleash a different kind of energy, and I’m sure that we can overcome all our fears about putting ourselves out there and asking people to walk our path with us.

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Pleasantly Persistent

Someone left me a voicemail the other day in which she said, “I know we keep missing each other, so I thought I’d try again.  And hope that you appreciate my being pleasantly persistent.”  Somehow, the way she said it, it really worked.

If outreach and building new relationships is part of what you do (and it is, no matter what you do), how you create the next conversation is always top of mind.

Nearly all of us need to be reaching out more, to be building more relationships and cultivating them with more care.  When you reach out to someone new, especially when you reach out cold, you’re hoping for a “yes” to a first meeting, but more often you get a “no” or, more confusing still, silence.  Then what?

The tricky thing about silence is that it can sound just like “no.”  But it might mean lots of other things, for example: I didn’t notice your call/email; I’m not sure how serious you are; I really don’t have the time right now; you haven’t explained to me what value I’ll get out of the meeting; etc.

Take silence as an opportunity to fill in the blank with something other than the self-doubting, “Well, I guess they don’t want to meet with me.”  Instead, persist, and do so in a way that demonstrates how you’ll handle the relationship once they let you in the door.

I like this notion of “pleasantly persistent.”  It exposes the lie that we’re being persistent enough (we often aren’t), while also giving a simple descriptor of how to build a first connection that will lead to a constructive relationship.  If you’re being pleasantly persistent, you’re communicating a few things: I take this meeting seriously; I know that I’m pushing, and I can tell that you’re a busy person; I will make a good use of your time.    (Also, if you remind yourself that you’re being persistent in a pleasant way, it can help you overcome your own fears that you’re just badgering your prospect.)

Finally, this is also a good reminder of what you don’t want to be: unpleasantly persistent or quick to give up.  Neither will get you there.

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One month later…the NY Times on Kiva

In case you missed it, the New York Times has picked up the Kiva story.  What I’m struck by is:

  1. The story was broken by David Roodman in his original blog post.
  2. How quickly the conversation spread online, including response by Kiva to the blog posts and changes to their website.
  3. The analysis is definitely deeper online than in the Times story, which almost feels like a story about the story.
  4. It took more than a MONTH from the time David wrote his post until the Times picked it up.
  5. For all the blogging/Tweeting buzz about the story, there’s been no real impact on giving to Kiva, which makes me think that the online conversation was really “inside baseball” and that the Times story will be what reaches 99% of Kiva’s donors.

Blogging and tweeting all have a role to play, and for some things it’s clearly where the deeper conversations happen.  But we also can fool ourselves into thinking that just because everything we read is talking about something, then everyone knows about it.

It’s true only as long as you know who you mean by “everyone.”

Breaking point

When do you push so hard that customers get to the breaking point?  And do you think you hear much from them until the moment when they’ve had it with you?

Here’s what you have to do in order NOT to run up a $4,000 cellphone bill when traveling internationally with your iPhone.

  1. Figure out your monthly data usage (either by logging on to the AT&T website, assuming you know how to do that, or knowing to ask the customer service rep this, after 5 minutes of navigating the voice response system).  Mine is nearly 300MB on an iPhone 3GS
  2. Pre-buy a certain amount of “international data” (sold in 20MB, 50MB, 100MB, and 200MB increments)
  3. Pray that this sticks (it didn’t for me, so I had to do this twice, once from the US and once from abroad…what would I do without Skype?)
  4. Go on your international trip and use your phone.  (Note: phone calls still cost at least $1/minute)
  5. Come home and tell them you’re through with the data service
  6. (oh, and there’s a catch here — if you discontinue after two weeks they only credit you with half of the data you purchased, so if you bought 100MB, used 75MB, disable the international plan after two weeks, you’ll be charged $4/MB for the 25MB “over” you went)

Why share all this detail?  Just to illustrate the 2+ hours I had to invest to figure this out (and hope that I’m saving others this wasted time).  Do you think AT&T is trying to make me happy or make as much money off of me as they can?  And aren’t iPhone users their best customers?

Imagine if they put as much effort into making their best customers happy as they do into creating a system that naturally results in “gotcha” $4,000 cellphone bills which date back to 2007

You know when you’re treating your customers right and when you’re milking them for all they’re worth.  Which strategy do you think is going to work in the long term?

(Oh, and this is the same thinking that got us into the subprime mortgage mess.)


Last year, 71 out of the 42,000 entrants in the New York City Marathon cheated in some way.  None did so as spectacularly as Rosie Ruiz, who rode the subway in the 1979 NYC marathon and was exposed as a cheat in Boston later that year (though Dane Patterson, the Biggest Loser Contestant who recently shaved three miles off the course with her NBC crew in tow comes close).  But every year, a number of folks cut corners in one way or another and in so doing undermine the integrity of the race.

Cheats and spammers and people who try to beat or abuse the system will always be out there, and you have to guard against them.  But what do you do in situations, like with the marathon, where nearly everybody does what they’re supposed to do and you have .2% of the people breaking the rules? How do you decide how much you need to protect, and how do you do it in a way that doesn’t kill the very thing you’re trying to create?

Airlines and airports mess this one up all the time.  For example, today I was told by a stewardess on a Finnair flight that my laptop has to go in the overhead bin for takeoff – not in my seat pouch or in my bag under the seat in front of me.  More amusing still, not long ago I went through airport security in Newark with an unopened, 6oz Stonyfield liquid yogurt in my bag.  When it was unearthed, I was told by the security agent that I could either walk back to the other side of security to drink the yogurt OR I had to throw it out.  No drinking the yogurt on this side of the X-Ray machine allowed.

Neither of these rules (overhead bin for laptops; on which side of security you can drink your more than 3oz of liquids) was written anywhere, but norms and habits develop among enforcers, and absent any feedback loop from the 99.8% of people who are playing by the rules, enforcement will tend to creep forward until the customer experience comes under serious fire.  If you have any doubts about this, try to get through security in just about any office building in New York City.

Knowing this, you have to be very honest with yourself about how big a deal it is when people break the rules.  At the NYC Marathon, it’s easy to monitor individuals without bringing down the system.  When you create a community (online, volunteer, etc.) and hand the reins of control over to that community, it’s not as easy to decide.  How closely do you want the members of the community to hew to your message, your values, your brand, the topics you’d like to see discussed?  If you take too much control you risk killing the enthusiasm, energy and sense of ownership on the part of participants.

When organizations made all the decisions, they could pretend that this was a marginal question.  More and more it’s going to be coming front and center, and we’ll all have to figure out where to draw the line.

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