Creating an “ICE BUCKET” Innovation Culture


Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on

Aaron Ice Bucket Challenge2

If you are reading this article then you have undoubtedly digested dozens (maybe hundreds) of videos featuring men, women, and children willingly and enthusiastically being doused with a large quantity of icy cold water. What started as an inspiring gesture and intriguing curiosity has turned into an all-consuming social media extravaganza, that has raised over $70 million dollars for ALS. Like the refreshing and energizing blast of the ice water itself, this challenge has invigorated the nation providing awareness and support for this devastating illness and worthy cause.

As I witness this wave washing through, I can’t help but reflect on what is making this campaign so successful, and what insights we might be able to reapply in our day to day work and life. I mean… the challenge itself is quite simple- donate to ALS or dump a bucket of ice water on your head within 24 hours. So what about this particular event drove so much engagement  to donate, douse, or do both?

1) A clear, meaningful, and inspiring purpose. It is hard not to have empathy for and support a cause for an illness like ALS, which desperately needs research dollars to find an eventual cure. We are drawn to causes and actions which support a strong sense of purpose, and this yearning to be a part of something bigger than ourselves will drive energy and action.

2) Specific and actionable success criteria (Define the “What”). Donate or dunk- you have 24 hours.  It is hard to get more straightforward than that.  Give an individual or a team a specific goal and timetable and let their creativity be unleashed.

3) Freedom for creative interpretation of “How”.  Yes, the success criteria were very precise, but how an individual chose to get from Point A to Point B was left to the discretion of the “challenged”.  There was no standard sized bucket.  No ruling on the size and number of ice cubes.  No temperature requirement or height restriction from which the icy concoction must be dumped.  The “how” was left vague, so that individuals were free to meet the “goal” set by the “challenger” however they best saw fit.  This freedom not only allowed for some more interesting and inspiring solutions, but also served as an added incentive for individuals to go “all in”.

4) A tangible and difficult obstacle to overcome.  Innovative people love a good challenge.  Figuring out the plans and logistics for not only completing the challenge, but doing so in a personal way took some courage and commitment… and people loved it.  We love a good mountain to climb, and a challenge that has a tangible, obvious result (particularly in 24 hours) is almost harder to NOT accept than to actually take it on.

5) Instant encouragement and recognition.  So many challenges that we complete in life either go unnoticed or disappear into the black hole of clutter that surrounds us.  With this challenge, individuals were encouraged to take the challenge, a video was posted with the results, and feedback and encouragement was instantly provided. This helped both to overcome the activation energy for starting the challenge and also to provide incentive and pride to finish it.

6) A contagious culture of possibilities. Said differently… It was FUN.  Once individuals started running with the challenge, it spread like wildfire… and not only did the donations and dousings increase exponentially, but the “fun factor” spread wildly as well.

The “ice bucket” challenge has been a monumental success for driving awareness of ALS and must have  far exceeded any result that the originators could have ever dreamed. (Who would have thought, for example, that this challenge would have come into my household through my 6-year old son?)  So my challenge to us all is this… how do we bring this  “ice bucket” culture back into our work and our lives over the next week?   I challenge you to “donate” a suggestion on this article for how to bring this culture to life, or else post a video of yourself doing the ice bucket challenge in a new and innovative way.  Hey… It’s worth a shot, right?

Click here for more information on how to donate to the ALS Association.


Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on


  1. my idea is to not color your blog in Pittsburgh colors 🙂 that may discourage creativity in the workplace after watching their 2nd half performance against the Browns.


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