Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A business Model for the Jewish People?
Let's try Imagineering!

Yesterday, I watched a video of an ELI talk at the recommendation of Lisa Colton. It featured Sam Glassenberg and he was brilliant. Sam is the CEO of Funtactix – Israel’s top video game studio and world-leading publisher of social games for high-profile entertainment properties.

Lisa  recommended it not only because of the content, but because she was going to have a live chat today with Sam. (Video of the chat is at the end of this posting) It was a very interesting conversation. And those of us watching were able to participate via twitter. I would like to invite you to first watch Sam's initial video above. Then check out the conversation they had. If you would like to follow the twitter conversation, look up the hashtag #ELITalks for March 20, 2013. And join the conversation. On Twitter. Here. Or on ELITalks facebook page. Or the Darim Online Bookclub on Twitter. Or pick up the phone. There have been a number of responses to Sam's original video on eJewishPhilanthropy. You can see them here.

Sam talked about how J Date has turned the Jewish world upside down and how those of us in the organized part of the Jewish world are not even aware of it.

While we struggle to raise money for snacks at a program that we hope and pray people will attend, J Date has connected with 20% of ALL of the single Jews. Their numbers - in terms of who they reach and serve, and how many marriages they produce - are outrageous. And they are the largest and most profitable dating service in the world. Can you imagine they make a profit serving only the adult single members of a minority that makes up less than 2% of the world's population?

So his premise is that if we change our thinking and our approach, we might re-imagine how we do things in the Jewish world and solve some of our biggest challenges - and make a profit. Hmmm... As a maker of video games, he imagined how we might use video games to teach history. Or he says, think about the young boy who knows nothing of Bar Kochba but can recite the names and the intricate back stories of over 100 Pokemon characters. How about a card game that teaches about important people in Jewish history. (Note - anyone can print cards - the appeal of Pokemon and Magic and similar cards is the game the kids play with them. Fascinating.

I think the main takeaway from all of this is to look beyond the problem. In the conversation with Lisa, he talked about how engineers approach a problem. So let's say you have a stadium you are building and you need to install lights. The lights you need in order to be bright enough weigh 20,000 pounds. How are you going to mount them? He suggests that the engineers will explode the problem, and imagine what if the lights were 100,000 pounds? That kind of revisioning could lead to the lights being mounted on the ground, aiming up at mirrors that weigh far less than 20,000 pounds. Change the way you see the problem and you might come up with very different kinds of solutions!

I cannot say whether the idea of a for-profit approach will solve the issues of affiliation, identity and relationship building. I do think that deliberately trying to meet some of our communal needs through some of these methods has some merit. Sam and Lisa discussed the issue of the distribution network that his game company uses. In the Jewish community, we do not have very robust networks for distributing and reaching Jews. In a community you find a single channel (maybe two channels) like a synagogue, minyan, JCC or Day school. Or you don't choose any channel.

And we all wonder what's up with the unaffiliated. If one of them doesn't live on our block, then they are just the mythical missing people. Until they show up. Or make a donation. Then we pounce. This is not going to work for us. We need to figure out a different way to install the lights. But we still need to light the field. By that I mean we still need Jewish learning for all ages. We still need to invite, engage and nurture people to be a part of a real community, rather than merely ordering services a la carte. We need to discover and help people meet their spiritual and emotional needs. And we need to celebrate and eat together.

Sam makes another incredibly compelling point. Rather than try to come up with ways to cajole or entice people to participate in what we think they need, we need to find ways to make what we do so SPECTACULARLY COMPELLING that they will want to participate. We need to build a better mouse trap. Or at least a Mickey Mouse club.

Watch both videos. Check the twitter feed. Then let's talk.