Has anyone asked you to throw ice over your head yet or pay a fine of $100?

One very friendly, kind and caring member of the Plus Your Business community member challenged me and, well, I refused. And I really like and respect the person who challenged me.

Before I get started, I know these will be the responses…

“Well, you are no fun.”


“But it is for a good cause. Don’t you believe in giving to charities?”

“You do silly things on Google+ they involve lots of people doing campaigns…”

Sure, I take on-board all of that but something in me would not allow me to do it.

Actually, I was pulling up outside the garage when I felt a deep feeling that doing this seemingly simple act was going to be a ‘bad’ move. All I heard was someone screaming ‘noooooo’. You know, like that scene in ‘The Man with Two Brain’s’ when Steve Martin character (Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr) asks permission from his departed wife to marry again. Not seen it? Shame on you. It is awesome. 1983 at its best.

Needless to say, he ignored ‘the sign’.

And I even was thinking of challenging one of the Geek Beat team (which one was undecided), but alas, no.

The easiest thing for me to have done was to say yes, to pass the parcel to the next person. To allow them to be the one who has to make a choice.

“But Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Bill Gate, Mark Zuckerberg have done it…”

I don’t care who has done it. Increasing the social proof around something that I feel deeply is a bad move to do is not going to make me do it.

I’ve sensed in my life, time and time again, the tension between social expectations and my personal freedom of choice, and as a kid you didn’t want to be seen as a ‘spoil sport’, so you just did it.

Here is the quick video I made yesterday when I decided not to get involved:

And, here is what I think it going on…

The challenge is genius, but faulty

This challenge is spreading like wild fire. Why? Because we have:

a) a very worthwhile cause (my father died of Motor Neuron Disease, so I’ve seen first hand the suffering such diseases like ALS bring)

b) a simple, replication methodology for getting involved, i.e. entry price of the ticket is simply the ice bucket

c) a mode of communication, i.e. social (inc. video), which enables ease of information transfer

d) influential people getting involved, and through this endorsement others feel they should follow suit

This really is a monster meme. Clever, but nonetheless faulty in my view.

The Outer Game

The mechanism of a highly socialized campaign, with ‘all the big names’ doing it, is very appealing. But it is build on a few key principles:

The game forces people to buy into the conditions of the game or be shown to be non-compliant to a larger audience. In other words, it is a bind, a social trap. And as I say, a very clever one.

So let’s look at the three main responses available in this situation:

1. They accept the challenge to tip the ice bucket

2. They refuse the challenge but still ‘play the game’ and pay the fine

3. They refuse to play the game, and therefore fail to be a ‘team player’ or are a spoil sport in a game to which they never chose to party.

The last one may well be met with a response that they will, however, give to charity (as did Obama).
This is a concessionary move to exit the relational loop in a way then allows both parties not to have lost. No real surprise Obama refused to be put in a bind.

I am sure this could be far more eloquently explored.

There is also an inner game for each player…

The Inner Game of ‘Stick or Twist’

I’m sure you know the card game BlackJack (or a version called Pontoon as we used to say as kids).

Imagine you have 16, that is 5 short of getting 21. Do you twist? Do you take the gamble? Possibly.

What about when you have 19 or 20?

You stick right?

Why? Because you know the odds in that game.

In a much broader and more complex social game you cannot know the odds – relationships are far more complex. So when someone challenges someone to do something in a public space, they are throwing down the gauntlet there are several ways it can go.

Let’s look at the ice bucket challenge specifically:

The person challenges someone in perceived authority or a subordinate (both of which I am sure is happening in corporates around the world right now) and in essence that person takes a gamble.

At this point their dopamine levels will kick in and they get a high. “Will they DO IT?”

Then they wait for the response. And that person either buys into the game, or not.

But either way, you wait to see if you influenced them to take the challenge.

The gamble people take is a very similar internal experience as e.g. “will they email me back?” or if I plus mention them in this Google+ post, will then arrive on my thread, or as in my ‘Why Dave? Why didn’t you click the button?” video, will they +1 my hilarious/insightful/entertaining comment.

i.e. it is a gamble against yourself, all the time. You decide on the wave you take, and the ones you leave.

But here is the thing if you reject the games, the approaches, the requests: you are not responsible for someone else’s dopamine. They take a gamble, and you just have to do your best in your response.

It is similar as to when people may ask you to share their content, putting you (on occasions) in an awkward position. If you stand up and say ‘no’, they may feel bruised by this, but it is they who took the gamble. You cannot be responsible for the response people may have to your actions, e.g. the refusal to accept the bet that someone made against you without your agreement to be party to it. You can still love them, but you don’t have to play their game.

There is a social risk that needs to be insured against though, so people’s response could well be to try to make the person who refuses to play ‘look bad’, to name and shame. Or simply, this is inherent with the rejection of the game itself – you are excluded from that tribe, but is a tribe you never choice to join.

The meme will morph. They usually do.

There is another response which is this: they change the rules of the game, and in fact because the foundations of this game were faulty i.e. ice or money, it has morphed towards ‘ice+$10’ or $100.

Already we seen the meme move from the original ‘Ice bucket or fine’ to ‘Icebucket and $10, to fine’ to Charlie Sheen’s “forget the ice, I just challenge you to donate $10,000’, which is great.

Well done Mr Sheen.

In a wider scheme, I do wonder about the effect of adults, with great awareness, endorsing the ice bucket action.

Money may well be raised for a cause, but I bet you this meme has hit many a school playground and is now used as a form of bullying.

Why do I think this? I’ve run many campaigns and there is always the risk of it ‘going wrong’ i.e. simply not being in your control, and this can include it being taken in a negative or abusive direction.

What is all fun and games on minute can become abusive the next, especially when it doesn’t have a very tight time constraint when the game organizing can call an end.

As such, yes, I decided not to play.

Hold on a minute, I know I’ve heard all this somewhere before. It was 1983…

Sometimes the winning move it not to play.

Seth Godin, tribes and asking permission

For those looking more at a Google+ angle on all this, then this bit is for you…

I have enormous respect for Seth Godin and his influence upon me is daily. Between him Jay Baer, Chris Brogan and Mike Stelzner I am beating my own path in the world, and seeing who want to join the movement.

One time I saw Mike refuse to do something on stage in front of 1800 people at a conference (I think it was a dance upon the request of a speaker). At the time, I ‘noted it’. And now I know why. He chose not to be forced into someone elses game.

But let me be 100% transparent once more about what I do…

Myself and the team build communities on Google+; along the way we build personal brands, and connect with likeminded people with whom I can collaborate.

As you may have noticed, like so many people, I give you free content. In return I do expect something though. I expect you to ‘tell your friends’, or in G+ speak, +1/comment/share, and this is what naturally happens when you like something. This will signal to Google’s algorithm that this content is ‘WOW’ and should surface in Google Search. This is then found by people interested in those topics, and who visit the websites, and maybe even sign up and buy something from myself and the community members involved.

To help this process I create content that many people would sell, and then give it away for free to people. Very often I will create a circle of people who are interested in previewing the content, which brings them together and gives them a bonus in return for me being allowed to notify them when the big post goes live. I kind of a bribe, yes.

The method I often us is to ask people “Who would like to join a circle for content around e.g. Google+ Marketing” i.e. they opt in.

In other words, I ask your permission would you like to join in. Or, alternatively, you follow me on Google+ by adding me into circles and you choose whether or not to engage on my content.

The ice bucket challenge approach is the opposite of what I do.

I believe the permission marketing approach is so much more healthy than a meme which could easily turn into a mechanism for dominance, creating a social trap for those who are unable to transcend the emotional discomfort and reject the game outright.

And sure, they have raised $15million, but it has been raised this approach may not benefit the charity long term. As the L.A.Times says, “The concern of philanthropy experts is that high-profile fundraising campaigns like this end up cannibalizing other donations” and continues “You want to contribute to the fight against ALS, great. But if you’re doing it just because you saw or heard about Bill Gates, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake or Ethel Kennedy dumping ice water on their head, maybe you should give a bit more thought to where you donate your money.”


The memes we create, join, and perpetuate are the ones which will determine the cultural norms of the future i.e. what is ‘ok’ and what is not ‘ok’, which is why I’ve chose not to put people over a barrel, well, under an icy cold bucket.

I also owe a huge thank you to the person who challenged me, you know who you are; you have enabled me to say express something that would not have otherwise been said. It is much appreciated, truly.

My final words are this: Donate to charity. A charity to which you relate.

I’ve just donated here: http://www.mndassociation.org/

Then invent your own games. Find those who want to play of their own free will.

And let everyone leave when they want, hopefully with a smile on their face.