What if tonight while you were sleeping, a miracle occurred? And that which appeared to be a problem went away.

How would you know in the morning that the miracle had occurred? What would now be different?

Try this with a friend. Each of you tell each other what problem you’d been having. Then ask each other, “What if a miracle occurred, and overnight it went away? What would be the immediate signs the next morning that it had gone away? What would the world be like? What would you feel like?”

Try it. This one works best when I don’t explain it but you just give it a shot.

Also try it here in the comments – what would the world feel like today if something wild had occurred during the night and your problem suddenly went away?

Wonderful Friday to you!

I first heard this question in the context of appreciative inquiry at a conference a couple of weeks back.

There’s a delightful series of experiments about the power of owning something. One experiment goes like this:
* Students walk into an experiment and they are given a MUG.
* Other students walk into an experiment and they are given a PEN.
* Then a student gets the choice to switch his MUG for a PEN or a PEN for a MUG.
Almost nobody switches! They like the choice that’s been made for them.

Most behavioral economists explain this as the endowment effect – once you own something, just that owning it starts to make it more valuable to you.

I also think there’s a degree of automatic reaction and cognitive dissonance. What do I mean and why am I throwing around buzz words?
* Automatic reaction. Jon Haidt studies automatic reaction – the idea that sometimes you just react and later use your brain to rationalize why you may have reacted in that way. I believe the students just don’t want to give it away (whether because they don’t like change, whether because it’s more valuable to them now, or whether for no reason at all).
* Cognitive dissonance. “Well, I don’t want to give up my mug really. Maybe that means I like the mug more. Maybe that means the mug is more valuable to me.”
* Why buzz words? Because these two buzz word pairs signify EXACTLY the meanings of why people might be saying one thing but acting in another way. These words are like useful shortcuts right now.

So NO to “my MUG for your PEN.”

In another study (and this is from memory), some students were given a mug and then told that they could sell it. The mug cost about $5 at the campus bookstore, and all the students given the mug were willing to sell it – but at an average prce around $7!!! Other students were told they could buy a mug, and these students chose prices at which they would buy the mug – they chose about $3 per mug! So the value of the mug can depends on what eyes you look through.

Seth Godin makes this endowment effect very real and very immediate in his Loss vs. Gain story. In sum – he found “the perfect” domain name. He wanted it. He made a bid on it. The seller wouldn’t take $600 for it. The seller was very happy with his own endoment effect for that domain name. Seth was sad. It’s just this blasted endowmnet effect!

One of the best pieces by The Economist I’ve ever read on any topic is a blog post called Un-Endowing the Endowment Effect. The post states, “Now a new paper scheduled to appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Economic Review argues that this asymmetry might not be as formidable as it seems.” It looks like once you change a few things, the endowment effect may disappear. What would one need to change? Well, something that psychologists rarely like to hear in experimental settings … if the words used when handing the object to a student are different, that makes a difference. Also, if a student can be unobtrusively in signaling an interest to trade, that can make a difference. And if a student can inspect the other good before committing to the exchange, that can make a difference.

Please please please, go read this short Economist post, and especially the most delightful Economist words ever – the last line of this article!

Here is a Wired article on how Microsoft tested the game Halo 3 on 600 game players playing over 3000 times. Microsoft watched each interction, and documented each move in each game. Microsoft knows to the square foot where each player died in the game.

Why is this method useful for you if you’re not in the game space?

Because it works.
Because it’s methodical.
Because you can rely on it.
Because you’re constantly improving and questioning.
Because you get to know your customer better.
Because you’ll trust yourself more after you go through this prep.
Because your customers will trust you more after you go through this prep.

In tenth grade, my English teacher told us the best way to prepare for an English essay-writing exam. He said, “Think of a question that covers many of the books we read this term, such as “What is the role of death in our readings?” and think of a concrete, wonderful answer.”

Then he tricked us. Or he gave us a lowball. Depending how you think of it.

We walk into the exam, and there were three questions – each worth 33%. The last question was, “Write the question you wrote to prepare for the exam (unless it was about the role of death), and write the answer you wrote to prepare.” !!!!!!!!! Exactly!

Sure, I’d prepared, and done as he had suggested, but I could have put more time into that pre-exam!

That’s what today’s game is about. Penelope Trunk writes about media training that she took in preparation for the radio and TV interviews for her book. She excerpts a section of the training manual from Clarity Media Group:

“Don’t try to prepare for every possible question that could arise. Determine the 6-8 topics that are likely to come up during your interview and then:
a. Hone a key message for each topic.
b. Identify anecdotes you can tell that illustrate each message.
c. Prepare specific examples or compelling data to prove your point.
d. Think of clever analogies if appropriate.
Think of these interviews as the equivalent of a good movie trailer, in which your quest is to independently drive to the very best scenes, anecdotes and newsworthy revelations in the book.”

You know when Joan Rivers or Carson Daly have come up to celebrities on the red carpet with the big microphone to ask one pointed question? That’s you – the celebrity! And that’s you – Carson Daly! You’re both the interviewer and the interviewee – you’re on both sides of the mike.


* When preparing for a job interview

Goal of the Game:
* To prepare well for a job interview – just like for that English final.

How Long to Play:
* 20 minutes. Play by yourself to prepare, and later potentially run your answers by a friend.

1) Prepare 6-8 questions that the interviewer might ask you (“Tell me about yourself,” “What is your greatest professional accomplishment?” …)
2) Prepare stories for each answer.
3) Prepare specific examples or SARI (situation-action-result-interesting thing) answers.
4) Run these by trusted advisors and friends.


perspectiveThis game is directly from the The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte.*

“I’ve given this proposal to my boss a half-hour late. He was expecting it. I knew when the deadline was. I just wasn’t finished. And now he’ll be freaked out – he’ll yell at me – he might even fire me. I might have no money to live on. I’ll have to go ask friends for handouts. I’ll have to give up renting my apartment.” This type of downhill spiral thinking is a prime example of a situation in which this exercise can be used.

* When a situation appears overwhelming.
* When you get into a 3am discussion with yourself ruminating and catastrophizing about things that can go wrong.
* When you may be blowing up a very nasty concrete situation into a prolonged many-year huge-consequences event.

Goal of the Game:
To “take the edge off” (as Karen Reivich says in trainging teachers in resilience techniques). To nip anxiety before it grows into self-created stress. To be able to function in a situation even when it seems overwhelming.

How Long to Play: 20 minutes.

Players: Alone, with one person, or with many.

Materials Needed: Paper and pen. Or a new Word document.


Worst Thoughts – Best Thoughts – Most Likely – Preparing for Most Likely.

1) Write down your worst thoughts.
* Write down the triggering situation (e.g. I handed in the proposal a half-hour late), and all the resulting possible worst-case situations.

2) Estimate the probabilities of your worst case scenario.(optional: Karen and Andrew are very big on this step, but I don’t think this step is as important, so I call it optional).
* Getting fired 1%
* Having no money at all .001%
* Etc.

3) Write down your best-case scenarios.
* In the above example, “I handed in the resport late, but the boss’s boss was there, and he saw it at the time it came in, and he thought it was wonderful and offered me a promotion, now I make 26x more than I ever did, and I live in a $5 million home, and I go to the race track on the weekends.”

4) Write down the most likely implications.
Forget the worst, forget the best. Now, write down what are really the most likely implications. Will the boss get angry? Yes, likely. Will he fire you? No, not likely.

5) How can you handle these most likely implications?
Write down some steps so that you can handle the most likley implications. If you expect your boss to be angry, maybe send him an apology by email in advance. If you expect that the proposal may not get out on time to FedEx, offer to drive it to the last-closing FedEx in your state. Think of rational, actual steps you can take.


After you take the above steps, what often happens is that you … feel better.
What the above game does more than anything else is it can take the edge off a situation. It can make a situation more manageable. And in that time, you can take action, and more your life forward in other ways! Enjoy.

Image: Perspective.

The full version of the “Putting It in Perspective” exercise can be found on pages 168-185 of The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles.

I wrote about how the way you tell the story of your life – to yourself and to others – may affect how productive and successful you are in the future. One way to see which stories you’re telling and why you’re telling them this way is to ask yourself about some of your favorite stories that you heard as a child.

When: When you want to learn more about why you do certain things.

How Long to Play: 15-30 minutes.

Players: Alone, with one person, or with many.

Materials Needed: Paper and pen.

Goal of the Game: To be able to explain a current situation in terms of your thoughts from when you were a child. Why do this? Because sometimes seeing things this simply makes a current situation dissipate in power, which is what you may want.

1) Sit down with your friends or by yourself.
2) Everyone write for 10 minutes: “What’s your favorite story from childhood and why?”
3) Everyone write for 5 minutes: “What current situation in your life might you be playing out like your favorite childhood story?”
4) If playing with friends, everyone share your favorite childhood story, why it was your favorite, and how it may affect your current expectations about any parts of your life.

(Since today is Question Friday, feel free to answer in the comments section! I’ll answer in there too – looking forward to hearing your answers!!!)

This game is about being in-the-moment. Being in-the-moment produces positive emotions. Positive emotions during savoring “create an upward spiral in our experiences, emotions, relationships, mental capacities, etc.,” according to Mirium Ufberg in this article.

Most, Best, First!Have you ever been around a person for whom so many things feel like a new experience? “This is the first time I’ve seen a flower that color!” Have you ever been around a person who tastes an apple pie with you at a restaurant, and says, “This is the best apple pie I’ve had in the past year!” And doesn’t that somehow feel good? Just that experience that you are with that person when she is tasting the best apple pie of the year. That’s a small example, but suppose someone says to you not only, “you made my day,” but “that’s the most wonderful thing I’ve heard all year.” Or what if you’re speaking with a colleague and he says, “Hey Senia, that’s the first time I’ve ever thought about this work situation that way!”

Being around people when they experience their MOST, BEST, FIRST is envigorating. It’s alive. And as Czsikszentmihalyi says, the question he would most want to ask all the people in the world is, “To what degree do you feel alive?”

The Most, Best, First GAME

When: At any time – home or work.

How Long to Play: 10 seconds.

Players: Alone, with one person, or with many.

Materials Needed: None.

Goal of the Game: To savor and find those items that are the “most, best, first” experiences for you. Aim for one per day.


  • “Last week in Milan, I had the most delicious gelato I had ever tasted – caramel flavor!”
  • “Today was the first switch-tables-for-each-course dinner networking meeting I’ve ever been to!”
  • This is the best book I’ve read all year!”
  • You can even just think it to yourself: “This might be best business advice I’ve ever heard on NPR!”

Recognize when you are with someone (or by yourself) and are experiencing a “most, best, first” moment – say it out loudly, celebrate it. Invite that person to realize how incredible it is for you in that moment. You and that person are making history this day, as Seth Godin describes it. You will look back on this day and say, “Remember when I tried pomegranate tea for the first time?”

Did you ever read The Most Dangerous Game? (Here it is if you want a fun 10-minute action-packed story).

Well, today, we’re all about the MOST MOTIVATING QUESTION. What question will get you excited, get you moving, and get you pumped?

In fact, if we want to look at it cynically, we can ask, “What is a question that well-polished motivational speakers ask the audience in order to get audience members convinced to follow the motivational speaker’s system?” I.e., this is an effective question because it can change the mood, expectations, and actions of the listener.

Let’s look at the components of such a mysterious question:
1) It will fill you with positive emotions such as happiness, awe, engagement – which is important because when you’re on an emotional high, you are more open to looking at broader solutions, according to research by Barbara Fredrickson.
2) It will energize you – important because then you can turn the question into action. “People who are persuaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master given activities are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it than if they harbor self-doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies when problems arise,” says Albert Bandura.
3) It will make you feel confident – important because confidence is just about a mix of self-esteem and personal control, and these are two of four inner traits of happy people according to Ed Diener and David Myers.

So…. what is such a question?

The Most Motivating Question GAME

When: When you want to motivate a person or people.

  • At the start of a meeting
  • In setting up a healthy mindset for a close friend or family to take action on his/her issue
  • In starting to work with colleagues on a project

The Players: You and one or more people.

The Rules: Ask the question in a warm, open tone. If everyone if is a rush, preface the question with, “Before we figure out this particular solution, let’s see…”

The Question Itself:


Variations: “What are we doing right so far in this project?”
“Before we figure out this particular solution,
let’s see what we’re already doing right.”

You don’t want to lose what you’re already doing right when you move to do something else. Additionally, this creates:
1) a positive tone and gets everyone to think about the situation as a team,
2) energy because something something is already not-broken, and
3) confidence because without any didactic explanation, you’ve shown the team that they have already done things right before.

It’s that simple. What are we doing right already?
See Doug Turner’s article on using this question to open meetings.

This question leads to productive discussions:

  • “You want to become a better salesperson. What are you already doing right? What if you did more of that?”
  • “You want to race in the Master’s class cycling track finals. What are you already doing right in your training? What other things can you do to complement this training?”
  • “You want to spend more quality time with your kids. What are you already doing right? How can you add to what you’re doing while keeping what you’re already doing right?”

What are you doing right today? :)
Enjoy the game. Play often, see how people react.