I want to convince you that commitment devices could make the difference between success and failure for your startup by showing you how dogfoodingBeeminder has made the difference for Beeminder.
Let’s start with this impossibly vague characterization of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. This is from the economist Steven Landsburg.The first two are essentially “have good ideas” and “have technical skills”. Easy enough, for this audience.
The 3rd one is, in my opinion, where most of the failure risk lies. Paul Graham talks about this in “How Not to Die” and Joel Spolsky makes a similar point in “Fire and Motion” – both recommended.In “How Not to Die” Graham describes a story involving some fluff piece about a founder in Newsweek that had the effect of making it psychologically impossible for that founder to give up.He estimates that if all startups had a commitment device like that the success rate would be 90%, about which he emphasizes that he’s not kidding.Joel Spolsky names the same probability of success for just making daily inexorable forward progress (assuming organic growth).Well, you can get yourself on the hook that way... with science! Behavioral science.
The answer is fighting irrationality with irrationality. The first kind of irrationality goes by the fancy greek term, akrasia, or acting against your own better judgment.It includes procrastination as well as the opposite of procrastination, which sometimes goes by the name preproperation and includes things like overeating.More generally it’s anything you regret doing *even as you’re doing it*.The second irrationality is commitment contracts which refers to artificially setting up penalties that will shape your own future behavior. (There’s more about the psychology and behavioral economics behind that in page 24 of your booklets.)Commitment contracts are irrational because they needlessly reduce your flexibility. In other words they violate the principle of delayed commitment.
There are several tools to facilitate this, and this list is linked to on page 24 as well.But Beeminder is unique in it’s approach to this problem…
Namely, Beeminder is not just about commitment contracts but is also a Quantified Self tool.
This means you can have data-oriented commitment contracts where instead of committing to a pre-specified plan, you commit to keeping all your datapoints on a Yellow Brick Road that we draw on your graph and that you adjust [CLICK] at any time subject to a one-week delay, which we call the akrasia horizon.So you’re only ever on the hook for the upcoming week, which means a minimal loss of flexibility for, generally, a complete elimination of akrasia.
This means you can have data-oriented commitment contracts where instead of committing to a pre-specified plan, you commit to keeping all your datapoints on a Yellow Brick Road that we draw on your graph and that you adjust at any time subject to a one-week delay, which we call the akrasia horizon.So you’re only ever on the hook for the upcoming week, which means a minimal loss of flexibility for, generally, a complete elimination of akrasia.
Well, that statement comes with caveats. Here’s someone beeminding their weight who has derailed 4 times.Each time they derail they pay us a greater penalty, and then get back on the road.So you can see this is actually pretty cheap: $45 spent to lose 20 pounds in 6 months…
And in fact the next penalty has actually motivated them to stay on the yellow brick road and they’ve now hit the weight they want.But they’re keeping that $90 penalty hanging over their head indefinitely to make sure they stay on this now-flat road.
But let’s bring this back to startups. We claim that beeminder would've died if it we weren't dogfooding the bajeezus out of beeminder.
uvis, [interruptions welcome here]time, money (but not actually beeminding), blog posts (emphasizing the importance of the signal of a non-moribund blog)
Installing New Behaviors
Rationality for Entrepreneurs
2012 Nov 16
1. Sensitivity to know what needs doing
2. Inventiveness to figure out how to do it
3. Single-minded perseverance to make it
How Not to Die:
(inexorable forward progress =>
(akrasia vs. commitment contracts)
Commitment Device Providers
• Run Or Else
• Lose It Or Lose It
– Succeed Or Else
Beeminder is S.M.A.R.T.(E.R.)
• Specific, Measurable
– Define a Yellow Brick Road
• Attainable, Relevant
– Want-Can-Will test
– On the Yellow Brick Road every day
– Works even for open-ended goals
• Evaluate, Reevaluate
– Road Dial
• Originally Kibotzer (kibitzing robot)
• Beeminder is a “me-binder”
• Rhymes with Reminder
• Minding your goals (“Bee-mindful”)
• It’s about being minded
• Esteemed co-founder goes by “Bee”
• Reminders with a sting
• “Make a beeline for your goal”
• Generalization of Sobriety Minders
Synonyms for Self-Binding
• Using a commitment device
• Using a self-commitment device
• Creating a commitment contract
• Stickking (to something)
• Aherking off?
• Tying oneself to the mast
• Employing counteractive self-control
• Picoeconomics (coined by George Ainslie)
• Counteractive control theory
• Programmable Self (coined by Fred Trotter)
• Hyperbolic discounting
• Dynamic inconsistency, or Time inconsistency
• Multiple selves
• Delayed/deferred gratification
• Captology (coined by B.J. Fogg)
• (New year’s) resolutions
• Present-biased preferences
• Ego depletion (Baumeister, but see also Dweck)
• Motivation hacking
• Burning the ships
• Mind over mind (coined by David McRaney)
• Second-order preferences
• Astheneia and Propeteia (Aristotle)
• Ulysses Contracts
• Executive functions (psychology term)