We are busy people, leading busy lives. It’s hard for us to chunk out some time. We are, understandably, wary of making a commitment. But if we actually want to do anything, we have to make a commitment.
First principle we get from this: long-term commitments are scary. Short-term commitments are not (as much). Therefore, our small group must be a short-term commitment (with the option to renew).
There’s more to be said about commitment, though. This gets a bit more jargony and theoretical than previous posts, so feel free to skip down through this stuff.
I started thinking about the idea of commitment, particularly on the moment when you get committed to something – the moment when you go from “I might actually produce something sometime” to “I’m gonna produce something dammit.” I call that moment – or more precisely, the action that constitutes it – the Action of Commitment.
I think stuff like “I should send a letter to the Minister of Health about this” all the time. Doesn’t count for much – I’m not committed. In fact, I start feeling committed only when I sit down with a bit of paper and write “Dear Minister of Health” at the top.
If the Action of Commitment for writing a letter is starting the letter, then that’s not going to produce too many letters. Way too easy to get distracted and do other stuff. A lot of Actions of Commitment are like that, way down the chain of thought, in the realm of ‘hard stuff’ that we tend to put off until tomorrow.
Right, so let’s think this through in the terms of this SGA thing. How can we change the action of commitment so it’s easier to get people there?
Side trip: Pledgebank
My thinking about applying usability principles to the problem of inaction was influenced by Pledgebank, which I’d discovered over at No Right Turn. On Pledgebank, you make a pledge: “I’ll do such-and-such if X many people say they’ll do it too.” Then people who are keen sign a pledge to that effect. Once your name is on the pledge and enough people are signed up, you get an email saying “go for it!”. That’s all it is – but it works. Once you’ve put your name down, other people are counting on you. Social pressure is brought to bear on you even through the anonymous internet. You don’t want to let these people down, you don’t want to feel like a hypocrite, and so you carry out your pledge.
Pledgebank changes the point of buy-in. Your Action Of Commitment isn’t writing “Dear Minister of Health,” it’s being online, seeing something you agree with, and putting your name on a list. That’s a much easier action, but it is almost as likely to result in the task getting done.
Pledgebank works off many of the same principles I seized on separately. Check out this quote from director Tom Steinberg:
We all know what it is like to feel powerless, that our own actions can’t really change the things that we want to change. PledgeBank is about beating that feeling by connecting you with other people who also want to make a change, but who don’t want the personal risk of being the only person to turn up to a meeting or the only person to donate ten pounds to a cause that actually needed a thousand.
Which brings us back to Small Group Action.
We need to create a better and easier point of buy-in. Our good intentions come to nothing a lot of the time because it’s hard to get to a point where we feel committed to following through.
The SGA approach says, when you feel like doing something, the first action you should take is this.
meet with a couple of your friends to talk about forming a small group
That’s all. Meeting up with friends is something we do all the time. This technique says, just do that, but agree to actually have a focus.
Easy. And because it’s easy, it’s also powerful, especially combined with all the rest of the SGA approach.
There’s more. Tomorrow.