Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Tipping Point for Heroes

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?

What can a single Hero do?

Most of us feel pretty powerless much of the time. Our influence seems limited to a few friends, maybe a few visitors to our FaceBook pages. We can do all sorts of heroic deeds, but do they even “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”? (Casablanca) What’s the point?

The Tipping Point

“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” – Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

I first heard the phrase, “the tipping point”, in the 1960’s. In fables, it’s the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. In physics, it’s the principle that a small effect can quickly change an otherwise stable equilibrium. In sociology, we reach the tipping point when an event turns into a movement. It can be positive, as with the peace movement, or negative (a lynch mob).

Tipping PointSo, things happen, and sometimes big changes result. What does that have to do with Heroes?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. One person’s willingness to take a stand can make a difference. But first, you have to get mad. Or at least passionate enough to care and to take risks for what you believe in.

If you find yourself questioning the value and impact of your deeds, you might want to read The Tipping Point, a 2000 book by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point talks about influences that can turn a fad into a social epidemic. Gladwell breaks these down into the “law of the few”, the “stickiness factor”, and the “power of context”. I’m going to look at the law of the few as it applies to The School for Heroes.

The Law of the Few

Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “all men are created equal.” But their influence is anything but equal. We remember Paul Revere’s 1775 “midnight ride” during the American Revolution, but few remember William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, or others who rode out on the same mission. That’s largely due to Longfellow’s famous poem about the event. But according to Gladwell, there is another critical reason – Paul Revere was one of the “few” who cause an event to tip.

Paul Revere was a man with connections. He belonged to multiple social, political, and business groups. He was a respected silversmith among the upper classes in the Boston area. Now if a stranger knocked on your door at 2:00 in the morning to warn you that “the British Regulars are coming,” how would you react? Might your reaction be a little different if the stranger was someone whose name you had heard before, and who had a reputation for being active in civic affairs? That familiarity might make the difference between you barring your door or asking how you could help.


Gladwell persuasively argues that some people are connectors who go out of their way to know many people. Others are “mavens” who soak up knowledge and love to share it with other people. A third type are expert salesmen who are great at convincing others to buy, to join, or to take action. All of these people are able to forge strong and effective connections with others.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Are these connectors special people from birth? Are the rest of us doomed to be isolated and unimportant?

I say nay! Connectors, like Heroes, are made, not born. Any of us can work to build up our networks and our social skills to become connectors. It isn’t easy, and it can certainly be uncomfortable, but all of us are capable of creating connections.

Tipping Point for HeroesI’m not saying you have to run out and join the Lions, the Rotary Club, and the Toastmasters. At least not right away. First make sure you connect with the people you see every day. When you pass someone in the hallway at school or work, how do you react? Do you walk on by, smile, or actually talk to them?

You probably pass a lot of interesting people every day; but how many of them do really know? Find a minute now and again to have a real conversation with someone. You might make a friend for life or discover a new passion. In any case, you will start to forge a connection.

People are used to being ignored and living in their private shells. When someone actually takes the time to listen to them, they are surprised and pleased. You may be in for a surprise too, because most people are actually really interesting once you get to know them. It just takes that first tiny risk, that willingness to listen, that makes a connection possible.


Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Light bulb?? A single Hero can change the world!

What happens when you flip on a light switch? You form a connection. It takes connections all the way down the line, but in the end, there is light.

Those connections don’t “just happen”; every one is the result of a conscious decision. Many people took the time and effort to build that network and provide power. Most of them did it for profit, but so what? The result is light where you want it, when you need it.

Life connections work the same way. You build them one at a time, and you have to spend some time and energy to maintain them. You might meet someone because they say something interesting, because you think you will profit from the connection, or because you find them attractive. They will accept the connection for their own reasons.

But once the connection is forged, it has a life of its own. Signals pass through the nodes in unpredictable ways. When Susan Boyle became an Internet sensation, Lori and I found out about her performance from multiple friends and acquaintances. Today, Lori heard about a video, Love the Way You Lie, from a design blog to which she subscribes. Lori shared it with me because it’s “incredibly powerful”, and now I’m sharing it with you. The video is about domestic violence, but takes care to explain such behavior rather than just demonize it. We would not have heard of it without our network of contacts.

How important is one connection? One of the first comments on that video mentioned that it only had 3 views when he first saw it yesterday, and it’s now up to 900,000. By the time Lori watched it 12 seconds after that comment was posted, the count was up to 1.2 million. Some of those first few viewers must have shared the link with a few of their connections, and it snowballed from there.


“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.”
– Ruthie Gorton, based on the UMW Constitution

When scales are in balance, it doesn’t take much to tip them one way or another. Maybe your vote, your words, your actions will not be enough by themselves. But when you connect with others, your combined weight can change the balance.

You can be one of the few who make a difference. Create connections with people, then use your connections to share things that matter to you. When you build real relationships, you will find people who care. Let them know what you are passionate about, and the message may spread.

You have the power to tip the scales of good and evil, justice and injustice. Use your power wisely.

Tipping Point for Heroes

Random Acts – The Drunkard’s Walk

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I (Corey) just read a fascinating book called, “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Affects Our Lives,” by Leonard Mlodinow. Since I found myself quoting all sorts of interesting tidbits from the book to Lori, I guess it’s time for another book review – what “The Drunkard’s Walk” is all about and how it relates to games and life.

Meep PrintsA “drunkard’s walk,” also known as a “random walk,” is a mathematical term for randomness. Suppose you take one step in a random direction, turn in a random direction, take another step, and so on? Will you end up at your starting point? It’s possible, but it’s far more likely you’ll end up somewhere else. If you flip a balanced coin and it comes up Heads, the next flip is equally likely to come up Heads or Tails. Over the long run, you’ll probably get about half of each, but you can expect to see a lot of “clusters” of 3, 4, 5, or more Tails in a row. That’s why you can’t just pick the best team in a sport and expect them to win every time. There are so many random factors to any significant event that you can never be sure of the outcome until it happens.

There are a lot of counter-intuitive results in probability. Perhaps you’re familiar with the “Let’s Make a Deal” puzzle from the old television game show. Your host, Monty Hall, shows you three doors. Behind one is a brand-new Mercedes, while the other two have live donkeys. After you choose one of these doors, Monty opens one of the remaining two and shows you that there’s a donkey behind it. He then offers you the choice to stick with your original door or switch to the last one. So, what IS behind Door number One? Should you switch? Does it make a difference?

What do you think?

What Are the Odds?

“The Drunkard’s Walk” has some crossover with the previously-reviewed book, “The Black Swan.” One of the important points is that there’s a huge difference between “unlikely” and “impossible.” Over enough trials, every unlikely result is likely to occur. And in a single trial, anything can happen. If you roll two dice together, the most likely result is that they will total 7, but that only happens 1/6 of the time. It is twice as likely that you will roll one of the “unlikely” results of 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, or 12, because their combined chance is 1/3.

That’s really what the Black Swan theory is about – When you look at enough highly unlikely possibilities, the combined chance that at least one of them will happen is actually very high. Of course it’s impossible to predict which unlikely chance will come up – except as a random guess – but unlikely things occur all the time. A friend is fond of saying, “All that probability shows is how unlikely it was for the thing that just happened to occur.”

You’re probably all familiar with the “bell curve” – also known as a “normal distribution”. Basically, “average” and near-average results are the most common, while very low and very high results are rarer. The problem is that our minds are not wired very well for understanding randomness. As a result, we tend to overemphasize the high probabilities and underestimate the lower ones. If we roll two dice, if we expect them to total 6, 7, or 8, we’ll be right a lot, but still wrong more than half the time. If we note that the stock market has historically risen 8-10% per year, we may find ourselves expecting our stock holdings to go up 9% next year… but as we’ve seen, the fluctuations that make up that total trend can be huge, and there’s no guarantee the trend will continue. The outliers – strings of low-probability random results – actually happen quite a lot and can make life very interesting.

Patterns in Chaos

Our brains are programmed to look for and recognize patterns. This is a valuable survival trait, but has the unfortunate side-effect that we tend to see patterns where there are none. We tend to think that a heavily-downloaded song must be good. It might be, but it’s just as likely that it got a few extra downloads early from fans or random chance, then after that benefited from the snowball effect of others assuming that its early success was meaningful.

A related phenomenon is the “confirmation fallacy,” which basically says that we see what we expected to see. Sneaky researchers did a blind taste test of cola brands. First they asked the 30 participants which they preferred – Pepsi or Coke. They then tasted both colas, and 21 out of 30 found they liked the brand they had said they preferred. However, the researchers had switched the bottles, putting Coke in the Pepsi bottle and vice versa. In another test, researchers put the same wine into five bottles with price tags ranging from $10 to $90. The $90 bottle got much higher ratings than the $10 bottle. We tend to believe “authority”, in this case, that the $90 wine must be better for them to be able to charge that much.

Are you concerned that you got a “B” on an important essay test when you thought you should get an “A”? That’s just another example of randomness. In one study, a group of eight faculty members independently graded 120 term papers on the A-F scale. In some cases, their grades differed by two full marks. The average range was one full grade. I remember a friend in High School getting marked down for misspelling “Trinity” in the title of his short story, “A Threnody for Reason.” The teacher didn’t bother to look up “threnody” – a funeral dirge – which was in fact a perfect title for the story. Or the college writing instructor who thought that Lori made up the word, “Ragnarok” on a poem… Teachers, just can’t trust ’em… er… except for the ones at Our School!

Randomness happens… but how we react to it affects how we live our lives. We think that Bill Gates must be much smarter than other software entrepreneurs because Microsoft has been so successful. And yet, the story of Microsoft points to a huge series of lucky incidents that resulted in that success. Any of a number of less-successful entrepreneurs could be just as smart, and run their businesses just as well, but got fewer “heads” in a row on the coin flips of fate. Sports team managers and executives are judged on the success of their team/company, but pretty much all the winning streaks and team records follow normal distribution patterns. They match random results much better than anything predictive based on management. “The Drunkard’s Walk” has dozens of similar examples of events which are best explained by randomness, but which we tend to think of as having a deeper pattern and meaning.

Make Your Best Deal

Meep MartiniDid you answer, “It doesn’t matter,” to the Let’s Make a Deal puzzle? Most people do. In fact, when Marilyn vos Savant said in her syndicated newspaper column that you should switch, she received a lot of angry letters from pretty intelligent people. However, she was correct. Look at the problem this way – You started with a 1/3 chance of picking the correct door. There was a 2/3 chance that the car was behind one of the other doors. Now Monty – who knows which door hides the car – eliminates a door. Your door still has a 1/3 chance of being correct, and the other two doors still have a 2/3 chance. But now there’s only one door to switch to, so the 2/3 chance applies to it alone. Switching gives you twice the chance of driving home in a new car as staying with your original pick. Results on the show confirm this – People who chose a door and stayed with it won the big prize about 1 time in 3. People who switched won 2 times in 3 – double the odds of staying with your original pick.

You can see this more clearly by saying there were 100 doors at the beginning. After you pick one, the host opens 98 of the remaining 99 doors to show they’re empty (or filled with donkeys). There’s a 99/100 chance that the prize is behind the last door, vs. the 1/100 chance that you picked correctly originally. Even if you think there’s a good chance your host is trying to cheat you, you should switch. After all, isn’t it almost as likely that he’s trying to use reverse-psychology on you by trying to keep you from switching?

We all tend to be stubborn about choices. Once we make one, we hate to switch. But when the original decision is purely random, and there is any evidence at all in favor of switching, it pays to be flexible.

Getting Superior Results in a Random World

Are you depressed at the idea that so much of what happens in our lives is random? You shouldn’t be. The important message I took away from “The Drunkard’s Walk” was that we can make randomness work to our advantage. Failures happen, but people who refuse to give up after a setback are the ones most likely to find eventual success. If you “win on a 6”, keep rolling the dice. Sooner or later, you’re likely to hit. If you give up after the first roll, you’re out of the game.

Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of being turned down for a job. Writers and salespeople face constant rejection; one writer papered his cabin with rejection slips. The successful ones are those who keep going and try again. My father has been a successful real estate investor. He once told me that the important thing was never to fall in love with a property. He would make an offer far below the asking price, and if it was rejected, move on to the next property. The first Harry Potter book was rejected nine times before J. K. Rowling found a publisher and became the wealthiest writer in the world. The winners in the game of life are those who keep going and keep trying.

“Never give up; never surrender. Full speed ahead!” Most success comes from trying and failing and trying and failing and yet, trying again. Keep trying and the random factors will eventually align (probably!). Make the odds work in your favor! If you never give up, you’ll never fail.

Happy Holly Days!

All Hallows Heroes

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Trick or Meep?It’s Halloween – A night of ghosts and shadows, of goblins, witches, and demons, of things that go bump in the night. The wind howls through the trees as the nights begin to turn cold, and the trees shed their Autumn leaves. Little children brave the darkness and scary monsters to go door to door in masks and costumes. In trembling voices, they call out, “Trick or Treat!” and hope they won’t be tricked.

One of our favorite stories comes from a Halloween special episode of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon show. The main villain of the show is a rich old man who has always hated Halloween and comes up with a scheme to end it forever. To do this, he needs a piece of the Ghostbusters’ equipment to power his device. They refuse to give it to him because they believe in Halloween. As the villain ponders this setback, he thinks, “I need that part. I could steal it, but stealing is wrong. But I need it… Oh well, so much for that moral dilemma!” Seconds later, the part is in his hand.

A Time for Heroes

Is it a coincidence that we opened The School for Heroes at midnight on Halloween, October 31? Perhaps it was. It is also probably a coincidence that the United States is holding a critical Presidential election just a few days after Halloween. Or are they both a sign of the times we live in?

Why is this such an important time? The last ten years have shown us some results of non-heroic, “somebody else’s business” attitudes. Within a single decade, we’ve seen the Enron scandal, a stock market collapse, and a real estate market collapse. We’ve seen terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and torture and other atrocities in the name of “national security.” The common thread between these events is that people acted out of irrational fear and short-term greed. They ignored the terrible consequences of their actions. They lost sight of the Greater Good. These people are villains. “Oh well, so much for those moral dilemmas!”

Heroes are very important in dark times and when ghosts and ghouls threaten to rule the land. Someone needs to stand in front of the gates of Hell, silver cross and holy water in hand, to face whatever might come forth. We have a lot of real monsters in our world – war, famine, poverty, pollution and the people who profit from them. We need to stand up and confront the monsters and their minions. We need to be Heroes.

The Call to Action

It is never easy to be a Hero, but the world needs us. It needs us now. Will you step up to that challenge? One way is to take the What Kind of Hero Are You? test and join our hero’s quest. No matter what path you choose, it is time to make a difference. Vote in your next election. Speak out against tyranny, terror, and war. Help clean up your neighborhood. Stand up against the darkness and the scary monsters. Hey, if little children can do it, so can we!

Trick or Meep?

Tribal Lore

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!” – Rudyard Kipling, “In the Neolithic Age”

We recently read a book called “Tribes,” by Seth Godin. Seth is a bestselling author of books on marketing and copy-writing. His latest book is all about leadership and forming what he calls “tribes” of people with a common interest. “Tribes” has some great ideas and is well worth reading. It is also very relevant to The School for Heroes.

A Brave New World

TribesWhat is a tribe? It is any group of people with a common interest who get together to do something about it. It could be a company, a club, or a Web site. It’s the whole “If you build it, they will come.” idea from the film “Field of Dreams.” Successful tribes are those where people care about that common interest (let’s call it “the vision”) and work towards goals that support the vision. Tribes are about communication and cooperation between the members, not about orders handed down as commandments from on high nor about directionless chaos. Directed chaos is fine.

The thing is, for a tribe to be successful, it needs a leader (or leaders). A leader holds the vision and finds ways to share it and to bring the tribe together. A leader does not need to be the “person in charge.” He or she is a facilitator and a communicator. Great leaders are often rebels who buck the system to come up with innovative solutions to problems.

In “old school” organizations, position matters. The rank and file members do not innovate; they do what they’re told. From personal experience we can tell you that computer games created under the leadership principle come out much better than those dictated by management. We’ve worked on both kinds.

The Tribe for Heroes

The School for Heroes is a tribe. There will eventually be an adventure game with the same title, and we hope you’ll enjoy it, but the game is secondary. What matters is the tribe – Empowering people like you to live your lives as heroes. Of course, you’ve always had the power, but the school web site will give you more. It will make you part of a community of other people who care. It will give you a support network to keep you on track and it will give you an opportunity to support and lead others with the same goals.

We can’t make the world a better place by waving a magic wand and saying, “Let’s make the world a better place!” Heroism takes work. It takes commitment. It takes caring and sharing the glory and the pain. We aren’t going to try to pass down the wisdom of Solomon and tell you how to accomplish great things; it wouldn’t stick and we’d probably get it wrong as often as we got it right.

What we will do instead will be to plant the seeds of a few ideas and set up an environment where you can work with them, provide your own, and share the results with others. Together we can build the Tribe of Student Heroes, and if we get it right, then others will find us. We are using the metaphor of the school, but this is one in which the teachers will learn from the students just as much as the other way around.

Intentsive Hero Training

School for HeroesOn October 31st, The School for Heroes will open its doors to a few select seekers. The School will feature the “What Kind of Hero Are You?” test, a page about each of the “classes” – Warrior, Wizard, Paladin, Rogue, and Bard – a personal page for each student, and discussion forums. There might even be a few class assignments – this is a school, after all.

However, this won’t be a school like any you’ve ever attended. Nobody will force you to do your homework. You get to choose the assigments you are passionate about. But each one you complete will help you to understand yourself and discover your personal path to heroism.

The School forums will be set up for everyone to share what they learn and do. Small step by small step, we will make the world a better place… by leading, by doing things that matter, and by making ourselves into better people. Most importantly, we’ll all have a lot of fun doing it.

Chief Beliefs

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” – Seth Godin, “Tribes”

That is what we are trying to do with The School for Heroes. We hope you will choose to follow us and then become leaders for those who are to come. We challenge you to take the “What Kind of Hero Are You?” test, sign up for the school, complete your first “mission,” and share the site with others. With your help, The School for Heroes can become a tribe that matters.

The Famous Adventurer's School for Heroes