How did the Ice & Bucket Gets On Our Head?

The craze over pouring a bucket full of ice over yourself, signaling your support and donation to the ALS cause is worthy, But at the same time, it might just compromise the other group of needy people where water is scarce.

When I was stationed in Timor-Leste under the UN (formerly known as East Timor, a 3rd world country), we had to travel at least 5 to 10 km just to get water from well during the dry season. The same goes for little kids with an empty pail walking 10 km to fetch water.

There are a lot of ways to donate to ALS and the needy. Recently in India, people place rice in the bucket to the brim and pass it directly to the needy. They called it the Rice Bucket Challenge. As we help the less privileged people, do help to save the water too for the needy ones.

Having said that, let’s move forward to explore how did the ice-bucket challenge became a ‘crazy’ movement. After all, it is not logical for anyone to pour water or ice over yourself, no matter how hot the weather might be.

As a behavioral expert, I am always interested in what influences people to do what they do. Let’s explore the spark that sets off a series of chain response and yes, we are more easily influence than we think we are. Here are the influence lessons from the ice-bucket challenge we can learn and apply it positively in our workplace.

Authority As The Spark.

It all started when I came across a short YouTube video of Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, doing the ice-bucket challenge and challenging Bill Gates to do the same. Following suit is a short video of Bill Gates designing the ‘ice bucket mechanism’, and yes, to pour ice and water on himself. A movement had begun.

There is an assumption that when the people in authority do something, we assume they should be doing the ‘correct’ thing. At times, we did not challenge the ideas and ask, “is there a better way to do this?”

What we can learn from this short encounter is that if we need to ignite a change (i.e. movement), it is indeed necessary to engage a leader with positive authority and credential to create a spark for the cause. However, the leader who is igniting the spark need to be someone where people perceive him or her to be credible, and people oriented.

In your organization, you need leaders who are genuinely interested and passionate about people to ignite that spark. Getting a CEO for the sake of authority does not work unless the CEO is equally, if not, more than purposeful about the cause and the transformation that the organization is going through.

Likability Create The Chain Effect.

We would usually follow people who are like us. Not all people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. After all, we only have seen them on videos and television. But those who love them carry out the challenge to their  circle of friends. The ripple effect starts when you are to nominate 03 other persons whom you either love or hate, to the ice-bucket challenge.

It does not matter who started the spark anymore, friends and colleagues whom you nominated are in the rhythm of things, and the likability effect takes over. We nominate people who are ‘like us’, and they nominate people who are ‘like them’ to have fun and yes, donate to a worthy cause. And a worthy cause drives the behavior forward, especially for people who are not too sure about using the bucket.

Likability takes place unconsciously within organization. We know that people are likely to help us if they like us. It is about building a genuine relationship. A genuine relationship will allow people to go the extra miles for you, and yes, that includes pouring ice and water over their head! Just kidding.

But we know where this is taking us. We need the likability power to create a chain effect. Without likability, any effort is limited. Unfortunately in our current system, we bumped into people who use people and love thing more than loving people and using things.

When Social Consensus Takes Over, This Is Where The Fire Begin.

The ice bucket is on the edge of a ‘social norm’ as we speak. When everyone you see on facebook is about someone pouring ice and water over themselves. It became so ‘close to you’ when your friends started doing it, and you worry whether they will tag your name on facebook because you will be next!

It became ‘normal’ to pour ice on yourself simply because also everyone you know is doing it. The emotional part of us takes over. But I sense that something was missing by now. “Does people know what they are doing and what they are doing for?”

The craze seems to be everyone pouring ice and water in groups of 3 to 5 to 10 people, even in teams. This is the point where it amplifies, and you wonder whether they still remember the ALS cause? Because it became all fun and yes it was fun, but the cause associated with the movement, do people still remember?

It is important in organization, when we are igniting behavior change; we have to remind people constantly of the reason of why they do what they do. If not, they will eventually be lost in the daily activities and forgot why they are doing what they are doing.

In Summary

We are more easily influenced than we think we are. In fact, it did not occur to me after much later that there is a better way to do this. Why does India introduce the Rice Bucket and not the ice bucket?

The reason is simple; they are possibly facing a different set of humanity challenge. It may be that hygiene water is scarce in India and having rice is equally, if not, more important, and they places it as a high priority.

We have a tendency to waste resources that are perceived to be plentiful to us, and forgot about an alternative needs that are ‘screaming’ for support. In an organization, it is tempting to follow suit what other organization have done and pour ‘ice bucket’ on one’s head because other ‘successful’ authorities have done so.

Before we pours another ice bucket over another person, ask a question, “What is another better alternative that can serve the best of both worlds?” Most often than not, the answer is quite simple.

“It is in the little things you do that start a movement.”

Article By:

Joseph Wong is the Founding Director and Behavioral Transformation Coach of TrainingGearAsia Pte Ltd, with a purpose on “Building Influential Leadership Across Asia”. For enquiry on his Influence program and keynote, do email him at


  1. Hi Joseph, great article, thanks for sharing!

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