| November 5, 2011

Sources of Inspiration


Stephen King says that when fans asked him where his ideas came from, he answers: “Utica. They come from Utica, New York.”  So here’s my version: “My ideas come from the dentist’s office.”

Motivational tools

A few weeks ago, I took my younger daughter to a new dentist.  She wasn’t a big fan, but what’re you gonna to do– you’ve got to go to the dentist sometimes, right? Anyway, you get a toothbrush at the end– that’s pretty great, isn’t it?

Well, not really. And I thought back to when I was a kid, neither was the little treasure chest of plastic goodies that my own dentist (Dr. Starr) offered. But things have changed.  Because today in 2011, dentists have new tools in their tray.  When you become a patient of a newfangled dentist (Dr. Cooke), you get a reward card with a point system for doing dental-hygiene- (and dentist-) friendly things:

  • Great oral hygiene: 2 points
  • Arriving on-time to appointments: 4 points
  • Wearing your “Brace Face” T-shirt to your appointment: 2 points
  • Referring a friend or family member: 250 points.  (OK, I think I see what’s going on here.)

Accumulate enough points and you received gift certificates for Toys R Us (makes sense), Red Lobster (hmmmm…), Hollister (holy temple of teenager-hood), or Baskin Robins (ahem.)  It’s all tracked on a web site.

The thing is, Dr. Cooke’s system works.  In about 20 seconds, my daughter went from reluctant to enthusiastic, and it’s still true weeks later. When appointment time comes, she gathers up her t-shirt, brushes her teeth, and hops to it. Success all around.

Seriously well-used e-reader cases

What idea did this inspire? Well, we want the students to take good care of their e-readers. They’re rocking our world with how much they’re reading: I was in Ghana a few weeks ago and met Kate Okanta, a student who has read more than 90 e-books in our program. (She wasn’t alone: many had read 50 books or more.) But that has put stress on the e-readers, which means they sometimes break.

So to reduce breakage, we’ve come up with an incentive system to reward good e-reader “hygiene.” Kids who take care of their e-readers will get points to buy more books, in what will be a virtuous cycle. Our man Zev heads to Ghana next week to begin to put this into action– stay tuned for his report.

Our mission is to give unprecedented access to books, so children in the developing world can improve their lives. But that doesn’t only happen in Ghana and Kenya– it can happen in the dentist’s office. So on your next visit, watch out: inspiration could strike at any moment!


A True Worldreader: Okanta Kate has read 90 ebooks in the past 9 months–  a few more than David or Colin have gotten to.