In the Books

“The secret object was a defibrillator, or AED – the device used to deliver a lifesaving shock to thousands of heart attack victims each year. The mission was designed by First Aid Corps, which is creating a map of every publicly accessible defibrillator in the world. As the organisation explains in its mission’s instructions :

Each year, more than 200,000 Americans go into cardiac arrest – and within five minutes, the brain dies. Unfortunately, ambulances just can’t always get there in time. Only those in the nearby vicinity can respond within that time.
Government buildings, airports, schools, and more are installing defibrillators ( shock pads ) so that ordinary citizens can save lives in the event of an emergency. First Aid Corps is builing a map of these devices so that someone can run to them in the event of an emergency.

In other words, if you can find a defibriilator that isn’t on the map yet, and if you successfully photograph and report it, you can help First Aid Corps save lives.

With good mission design – a focused task, a clearly defined context for action, a real window of opportunity – something previouslyimpossible to achieve, like saving a life, becomes possible. That’s the power of making volunteer work more like a game: players can be empowered to do amazing things, if their volunteer work is designed like a good quest.

In the First Aid Corps mission, the task of saving a life is presented just like a World of Warcraft quest. The instructions are straightforward, the reason for the mission compelling, and the task well within your ability level. If there’s a defibrillator somewhere you plan to be today, then you can be a superhero right away. If not, you now have a secret mission everywhere you go, until you find the brokenhearted logo that is the international symbol for a defibrillator.

The defibrillator that Tom found was in an elevator bank at Portland State University, where he is completing a graduate degree in math education. “I’ve looked past it while waiting for the elevator for years,” he told me afterward. “Suddenly it was relevant, and I was glad to have this random secret info.” Of course, it wasn’t secret information at all; the defibriilator was in plain public view. But Tom’s words here reveal just how effective the promise really is : to give you a real chance to feel like a superhero, on a secret mission to save the world.

Later, Tom emailed me the news. “It was like a lifesaving scavenger hunt,” he told me. “Inherently awesome. Massive epic win.” The defibrillator mission was an epic win because, until that morning, Tom had no idea he had knowledge that could help save a life. He had a secret power he didn’t know about – and he was given a real opportunity to put that power to use.

The call to action is really just another way of saying : Surprise yourself with how much good you can do. Redefine what your best possible outcome for the day could be. It’s not that we don’t have the ability to do good for others. It’s just that no one has shown us how fast, easy, and addictive it can be to tackle what feel like missions impossible.

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