Save Your Waistline- Send Your Extra Halloween Candy to the Troops

Are you still crashing from last night’s sugar rush?  If you’re like most Americans, you either have a bowl full of leftover candy from trick-or-treaters that never arrived or you’ve sorted through your child’s bag of treats and pulled out some no-no candy (i.e. candy with nuts for children with allergies).

So, what do you plan to do with that candy?  Eat it and loathe the extra hours you’ll have to put in at the gym?  Eat it and start saving money for the new clothes you’ll have to buy next month in a larger size?  Take it to work and pawn it off on your coworkers?

Last night I tweeted about these questions and received some great responses.  A few of my Twitter friends were proactively trying to give their candy away by reverse trick-or-treating (going door to door and giving away their candy).  However, two of my Twitter friends pointed me to some really great post-Halloween candy projects.

Fist, Homefront Hugs tweeted that I could send my extra candy to them and it would be included in a care package to the troops.  Actually, they have a whole list of items they need and all items can be shipped to:

Homefront Hugs USA

1850 Brookfield Drive

Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Next, my Twitter friend (and US Army veteran) @markvanbaale alerted me to a Halloween Candy Buy Back program operated by local dentists who then send the candy to the troops via Operation Gratitude.  At the Halloween Buy Back site you can search for local dentists who are participating in the program.

What a great way to give back in a small way that also reduces candy waste in your house (and/or your waistline).

Kudos to Homefront Hugs and the Halloween Candy Buy Back program for thinking differently about wasted candy!  Now You’re Thinking!

What do you plan to do with your extra candy today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Decisions (The Story of the Oregon Trail Game)

Months ago Heather Ishikawa, a co-author “Now You’re Thinking!” said something that really stuck with me:  “If you can change the way you think, you can change the world.”

The statement still gives me goosebumps.

Since then I have read hundreds of stories about ordinary people who challenge the standard way of thinking, break down barriers, try something new, and make the world a better place.  It’s time to honor those individuals.

This is an example of an ordinary person who made an extraordinary decision that changed the world.

Our first story is about Don Rawitsch, the creator of the Oregon Trail computer and video game.  Don was a student teacher in 1971 struggling to teach his students in a low-income area of Minneapolis about the importance of the Oregon Trail.  He had dressed up as historical figures to tell the students about the adventure, but felt he needed to take the lesson a step further.  On the floor of his apartment, he created a board game that the students could play to understand the day-to-day challenges of the journey.

When Don’s roommates (Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann) came home, they were impressed but thought it could be even better.  They had each only taken a few computer programming courses, but thought it would be a great computer game.  In a matter of days, the first iteration of the Oregon Trail was created and was a huge success.  Despite it’s clunky nature (there wasn’t even a computer monitor back then) and single-player functionality, students lined up to play and learn about the historic event.

As a child of the 80′s myself, I clearly remember the excitement of “computer day” when we got to play Oregon Trail for an hour.  I remember learning to strategize and plan by buying supplies at the store, deciding how long to travel vs. rest, when to hunt (and how much), and whether to caulk my wagon or ford the river.  I remember members of my party dying of measles, dysentery, and exhaustion.  The message was brought home when that individual’s name was scrawled on a tombstone along the trail.  Not only did I learn what an amazing feat that travel was, but I would argue that the Oregon Trail video game was the first game that helped me build decision making skills.

And it all started with a student teacher trying to teach a group of poverty stricken students about an amazing historic event. 

Don Rawitsch was an ordinary person who thought differently, and changed the world.  He didn’t stick to the lesson plan.  He didn’t use the notes and activities handed down by teachers before him.  He didn’t limit himself by the lack of resources and opportunities available to his students.  He challenged the status quo.

He changed the world with the most widely distributed educational game of all time.  Between 1974 and 2011, 65 Million copies have been sold.  This week, the Oregon Trail became available for play on Facebook.

“If you can change the way you think, you can change the world.”  It’s that simple.

Do you remember playing the Oregon Trail video game?

To read the full story of how the Oregon Trail video game was invented, click here.

Image Source

Thinking Differently About Teaching People with Dyslexia

For years, educators have struggled with how to help students with dyslexia learn to read at the same pace as their classmates.  Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that affects the way letters are visually perceived.  Letters such as “m” and “n” are easily confused, while other letters are flipped horizontally or vertically by the brain. ZWriting resized 600

As a result, individuals with dyslexia struggle to distinguish letters and words as quickly as individuals without the learning disability.  Dyslexia affects as much as 5-10% of the world population, and educators have learned to modify their teaching style to help their students.

However, Christian Boer may have revolutionized the world for people struggling with dyslexia.  He has created a new font that makes small adjustments to each letter that helps illuminate the differences between similar letters.

Watch the video below to learn more about the new font “Dyslexie”:

What problems are you trying to solve today?  

Panera Bread- Feeding the Needy by Thinking Differently

If you’ve visited the Panera Bread location in Clayton, MO, Portland, OR, or Dearborn, MI, you might have noticed something strange about the menu.  There are no prices. 

nonprofitx largeThat’s right, no set prices for menu items.  These 3 locations are actually non-profit community cafes called Panera Cares where customers choose what they would like to pay.

If you have money to spare, you can pay more than the typical price for your meal, but if you have nothing to offer you can still eat.  The cafe is not a “soup kitchen,” though, it is a way for members of the community to help one another when in need.  If someone cannot pay at all, they are not denied a meal, but they are urged to donate their time. They are also using the store as a way provide job/skills training to disadvantaged youth.

The 3 locations were chosen strategically.  They were placed in reasonably affluent neighborhoods with access to public transportation, which has allowed for a diverse clientele.

At these 3 locations, Panera Bread Foundation has found that about 20% of people pay more than the retail price for their meal while 20% pay less.  About 60% of people pay roughly the original retail value.  Within a few months of the first store opening, Panera Cares turned a profit (which they reinvest in skills training).

Who would have thought that removing the price from a menu would result in people paying more than the item is worth?  This is a great example of an organization thinking differently about how to approach a problem like feeding the needy.

Panera already donates between $100-150 Million in products each year by donating their “less fresh” baked goods to charitable organizations.  The Panera Cares cafe is just one more example of how this organization continues to take care of the community through healthy meals, discounted or free items, and skills training.

Kudos to Panera for “thinking differently.

How can you make a difference today?

(image source credit to Tim A. Parker of USA Today)

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Decisions: Khan Academy

Have you ever tried to help a sibling, child, or friend with their homework?  Salman Khanwas asked to help his cousin Nadia with her math problems in 2004, and he turned that simple request into a non-profit organization that has helped 38 million YouTube viewers worldwide.

Salman is a 33 year old from New Orleans who just wanted to help his cousin and other family members learn math.  Before I talk about his “Extraordinary Decision” I should be clear that I don’t consider Salman “ordinary” in any traditional sense of the term.  He received a perfect score on the math section of the SAT’s, holds degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science in addition to an MBA from Harvard.  He’s wicked smart! However, he was an average person in the sense that he was holding down a full time job and he just wanted to help his cousin learn how to solve math problems.

Salman began remotely tutoring his cousin online and over time realized it would be more efficient to record his lessons and post them on YouTube.  As the popularity of his videos grew, he realized the need for “free education” provided in a simple, direct, and relaxed approach.  Today, Salman has produced over 2,000 ten-minute videos on YouTube ranging from elementary school mathematics to college level calculus (where was this when I was in undergrad?).  He averages 35,000 hits per day and has big plans for the future of Khan Academy?  Monetization, right?

Wrong!

Khan has received several offers to sell his videos and the Khan Academy and turned each one down.  The organization itself is a non-profit.  Khan could likely retire today based on the offers he has received.  Google has even contributed $2 Million to translate the videos into additional languages.  The possibilities are endless.  Individuals in the most remote areas of the world can receive world-class tutoring with the click of the mouse.  It’s amazing.

As if the story isn’t extraordinary enough already, consider the fact that Salman has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s “Top 40 under 40″ (a prestigious list of rising entrepreneurs) and even Bill Gates said he uses the Khan Academy to teach his kids.

What I find truly extraordinary is his perspective on selling Khan Academy:

“I’ve been approached several times, but it just didn’t feel right. When I’m 80, I want to feel that I helped give access to a world-class education to billions of students around the world.”

As far as his long-term vision, he says:

“I see Khan Academy becoming the world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything–for free.

The videos are just part of the vision. We hope to build out the adaptive software to cover all the topics that the videos cover. We also intend to develop simulation games to give more nuanced and applied understanding of concepts.”

I am amazed and inspired by Salman Khan’s brilliance, innovation, and philanthropy.

Salman Khan decided to think differently, and he is changing the world.

How did you make a difference in the world today?

Khan

Now You’re Thinking Creatively: Creative Thinking in Inventionland

Take a look around your office.  What does it inspire- productivity, social collaboration, positivity, efficiency?  What if instead of looking at the 3 walls of your cubicle every day, you looked out at a lagoon complete with a waterfall?  What would that inspire?

For George Davison and the 250 employees of Davison, the environment is key to their creative thinking.  Davison has created over 900 products seen in stores worldwide.  They have invented everything from The Meatball Baker to a Portable Explosive Detector, and their products can be found at Walmart, Skymall, QVC, Sears, Cabella’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot and many more well-known stores.

While on a family trip to Disney World, George Davison realized that during the trip many of the problems he’d been struggling with in the office seemed to have new solutions when he was inspired by the world around him.  He believed that the change in atmosphere made a big difference in his creative process.  So, he headed back to the office and invented Inventionland!

Inventionland is the Willy Wonka of design factories.  The staff don’t work in cubicles or corner offices.  They work in the hull of a ship, a race car track, a castle, or a tree house. Check out these pictures from DailyMail and see more pictures from the office here.

 

In the book “Now You’re Thinking” the authors suggest that when presented with a difficult problem or situation “If you can, get some space or take a walk. A change in the scenery can have a tremendous impact on your ability to think through a situation.”

Just imagine if that walk/change of scenery included a “house made of a shoe” or candy inspired bungalo! Kudos to George Davison and the Inventionland creators for reminding us that sometimes to change your thinking, you must change your scenery.

Where do you go to think creatively?

Watch a timelapse video showing the building of Inventionland below.

Inventionland

Thinking Differently About Disabilities

Heather Ishikawa, co-author of Now You’re Thinking!, once told me a great story about finding creative solutions.

She told me about a company that was having trouble with their Packaging Department.  The company started using old newspapers to wrap their delicate items before shipping.  Using old newspapers helped them save money (because the newspapers were donated) and helped lessen the impact on the environment.

However, they realized that their employees’ productivity slowed once they transitioned from using plain brown wrapping paper to the old newspapers.  It turned out the employees were reading the newspaper as they used it for wrapping.

So, they brainstormed ways to keep the newspapers, but remove the problem of reduced productivity.  They exercised a brainstorming technique called “suspension of judgement” which meant that every idea was worth considering, no matter how silly it may sound.  The question became “how do we stop employees from reading the newspapers while they wrap the products?”  Ideas included dying the newspapers, hiring non-English speakers, and dimming the lights in the warehouse.836231 do you trust me resized 600

In the end, the idea that seemed the most surprising became the perfect solution.  Someone suggested that they blindfold employees.  While blindfolding probably wouldn’t go over well with the employees, the idea made them realize that they hadn’t considered hiring individuals who were visually impaired.  The company ended up hiring individuals who were blind and productivity instantly skyrocketed.

This is such a great example of creative and critical thinking.  This company was able to “think differently” by considering every possible solution to the problem.

I was reminded of this story when I watched the following video on Ted.com this evening.  Some people might think it is impossible for blind people to drive, but this company is choosing to think differently about how to put visually-impaired individuals behind the wheel.

How can you think differently about a challenge you’re working on today?

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