From November 28, 2017, to December 31, 2017, Microsoft's Wish Machine Contest was open to anyone with a heart for others and a philanthropic spirit.

The Christmas season is often hailed as the season of giving. And giving doesn't begin with possessing something to give; it begins with compassion, a love for others and a desire to give. And it is here that Microsoft's Wish Machine Contest fits in.

You have heart, Microsoft has means

Microsoft's Wish Machine is a unique contest in that the "contestants" are not competing to reap the benefits for themselves. They instead make a heartfelt wish for someone else or some other entity, like a non-profit or charity. Microsoft grants three grand prizes valued up to $10,000 and 92 first prizes (one for each Microsoft Store) valued at $3,000. Here's how it works.

A contestant, who could be anyone, including minors between 13 and 18 years old, simply walks into one of the dozens of Microsoft Retail locations, finds a Surface Hub or Surface Studio "Wish Machine" and submits a video describing their wish.

I visited one of the two locations in my area and found that the process was painless ... for the most part. You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you leave a voicemail and just hope it sounds right? That's how it felt. This was compounded by the fact that I was hoping no one was looking over my shoulder in the bustling mall, while I was making a heartfelt plea. Thankfully most everyone else in the busy Microsoft Store was engaged with other things.

When a kind associate came to assist me with completing my submission, which included inputting a code on a Surface adjacent the Surface Hub where I submitted my 30-second video wish, I asked if there were a lot of wishes made. I'm not sure if it was a product of insufficient marketing, customers not being directed to the Wish Machine, a lack of desire on the part of customers or a combination of all of the above, but the reply was, "No." That seemed to be confirmed by an apparently untouched pile of "I wished" stickers beside the Wish Machine.

I think this is a great program that helps people not only think about the needs of others but also provides an opportunity for us to articulate that need, act on it and make others aware of it as well. Even if a wish is not granted, at least some level of attention may have been brought to a worthy cause. It's a shame that it seems consumers were not aware of the program. Perhaps the store I visited was not reflective of the experience at other locations, however.

Judging the entries

Microsoft uses four criteria to judge each entry:

  • Heartwarming — the wish much be inspiring, human and powerful because of the nature, intent and meaning behind the wish. (40 percent)
  • Philanthropic — The wish is inherently generous and considers that the greater good of others over oneself. (20 percent)
  • The wish aligns with Sponsor's mission t help people realize their full potential and achieve more. (20 percent)
  • Sponsor can determine a prize that can be reasonably provided within 2-3 months of the Contest end that fulfills the wish submitted. (20 percent)

I'm sure some cynics will judge Microsoft's motivations for this contest as being less than altruistic. I'm looking at it for what it is, a refreshing means to help people think about others and to do some good. And every one of the dozens of individuals and entities that will benefit from the granting of these wishes will likely see the same.

Granting wishes

Microsoft's Wish Machine contest was divided into three segments, and the winners for the first two segments have already been determined. The winners for the final segment will be notified around January 3.

Though the contest for this year is over the message it imparts persists. Perhaps in 2017 we were a little more self-centered than we should have been. Maybe, in 2018 we can resolve to be a little more giving with whatever resources we have. It may be the giving of our time, material support to those in need, giving someone a ride, volunteering at a local charity, visiting someone in a hospital, emotional support to someone who is hurting or a myriad of other ways to give.

If we look up from our smartphones and outside of the sphere of own desires we can often see many, many opportunities to grant another person's wish - big or small. And we don't need Microsoft, or it's Wish Machine to do that.