Powered by Willpower (and You!)

Our Big-Brained Superhero volunteers are geniuses (who should be getting paid!). Here’s just one of the many reasons why:

We’ve been thinking about the problem of Willpower recently and how it’s a challenging superpower to recognize and reward. So much so that we’ve even contemplated replacing Willpower in our Shared Superpowers lineup. However, there’s one area in which Willpower has been so valuable to us that replacing it becomes practically out of the question…The area of contretemps.

If you know the history of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, you know that contretemps were a big challenge for us in the early days. So much so that, if we hadn’t evolved out of the state we were in, the club surely wouldn’t be around today. So, if there’s one area in which we have all recognized overarching BBSC improvement, it’s in the area of contretemps. Whether the improvement has been the result of our superpower interventions or of the passage of time alone, we can’t say for sure, but we have all noticed markedly fewer and much more manageable contretemps among our club members.

And contretemps are where Willpower currently gets its due. Our young big-brained superheroes know that when someone says or does something mean to them (regardless of intent), if—instead of reacting in-kind—they either come to our big-brained superhero volunteers and talk it out or talk it out among themselves, they automatically get rewarded for exercising their Willpower superpower. That’s because we know how challenging it is to not immediately react when we feel we’ve been personally affronted. We’ve all failed to use our Willpower superpower from time to time.

As this particular need for Willpower exercise becomes rarer, we are having a harder and harder time finding instances in which we can reward for Willpower usage. That’s partially because our young BBSes aren’t always aware they’re exercising their Willpower. For instance, when they’re restraining themselves from following an impulse to interrupt or shout out, they don’t necessarily say to themselves, “Hey, I’m exercising my Willpower here. Go me!”. And as we don’t know what’s going on in their minds, we also don’t have a clear way of recognizing and expressing value for their self-restraint. In other words, beyond the contretemps arena discussed above, we currently lack clear, positive instantiation models of Willpower exercise.

Enter the “Willpowerometer” (artist’s rendering above) idea dreamed up by some of our big-brained superhero volunteers…

As we continue to seek our club’s ideal balance of structure and pandemonium, we’re also keen on avoiding power struggles between young BBSes and volunteer BBSes (as much as possible) in the process. While we recognize that power struggles have their own educational value, it’s always been our goal to continuously strive toward putting increasing amounts of power (and responsibility) in the hands of our young big-brained superheroes. Nonetheless, the club is also geared toward making (educational and social-emotional) progress—not toward retaining the status quo. We need at least some direction and, currently, that direction is, to a large extent, dictated by our volunteers. We’re hoping that technology can help us push the balance here, since many technologies can at least come across as fairly neutral arbiters.

One method of bringing more structure (and therefore, more obvious areas in which to reward the exercise of Willpower) to The BBSC is to add more concrete and measurable noise-level requirements. We can get to be a rowdy group sometimes (especially as our numbers increase), and it wouldn’t hurt to be able to deliberately modulate ourselves in this area. Consequently, the idea for the Willpowerometer is based on that of a standard sound meter.

We’ve been kicking around the idea of building a sound meter for a while now, but we’ve hesitated for lack of a way to bring meaning to our measurement. What happens when we hit a certain level on the meter? Do we get some sort of punishment? That strategy seems very un-Big-Brained Superhero-like. Plus, as one of our genius BBS volunteers observed, the incentives on many sound meters don’t fit our model. Our young big-brained superheroes enjoy seeing things light up (Who doesn’t?), and the sound meter designs we’ve been considering are LED-based. So, in standard mode, the more noise, the more light, and therefore, the more fun. These mixed messages don’t work for us.

As currently conceived, the “Willpowerometer” will, to start, measure sound, but the feedback displayed will be contingent on volunteer-determined settings rather than on straight sound production. That is, ideal sound ranges will be selected at the beginning of each meeting, and the more we, as a club, stay within our chosen sound range, the more the display will light up. As an added bonus, we’ll put young Big-Brained Superhero works of Art and Science in front of the display to be lit up from behind. And we’ll try to build the display with individually controllable RGB LEDs so that, as we all get better at programming, our young big-brained superheroes can eventually program their own patterns to be lit up by their Willpower. Beyond which, Willpower bucks will be distributed based on Willpowerometer readings. Ta da! A clear, positive instantiation model of Willpower exercise! (Or something like it, at least.)

Obviously, we have a lot of work to do to make the Willpowerometer happen, and we’re hoping this is where you will come in. Beyond needing more big-brained superheroes to help us design and build the Willpowerometer in our club, we need supplies. Resources. And ideally, some way to compensate all of our genius Big-Brained Superheroes for their work. Our young BBSes need Big-Brained Superhero mercantile items and our current genius Big-Brained Superhero volunteers need rent money. We’re hoping that, with a little seed money, these kinds of projects can bring both in the long run.

We figure that, if we see value in bringing this type of environmental and personal awareness technology into what we’re doing, others might see value in bringing it to what they’re doing. Especially if we make it flexible and simple enough for a variety of users. It’s not new. But we think it’s an improvement. So, if we can manage to acquire the resources to build our Willpowerometer, we will post the design plans here for anyone to build from. And, if we can keep down the costs of implementation, we want to sell Willpowerometer kits in order to help fund The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. This type of funding model represents the future of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. But we can only get there through the help of big-brained superheroes everywhere. More on this later, but in the meantime, please…