Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is

Friday, March 14th, 2008

This appeared in my newsletter, Tools for a Change, earlier this week.

Dean Karlan, an economist at Yale, found that people are more likely to act in their own self-interest if they sign a contract. And, they are significantly more likely to meet their goals if they could lose something of value if they failed. Karlan and some colleagues ran an experiment where people who wanted to quit smoking signed an agreement that they would lose money if they failed a urine test at the end of the experiment. . . . Those who signed the commitment paper were about 30 percent more likely to pass the test than the control group or a group that just received educational materials. The lesson: Many of us work harder to avoid losing than to gain something.

Based on this, Karlan and friends started a free website Stickk.com where you can make a commitment, pledge money to a charity if you fail, choose a referee to judge if you met your goals, and join a virtual support group. I think this may have something to teach us about leading change. I’m not talking about inflicting punishment on others. So put away your club, Atilla. But I do think that the notion of 1. voluntarily making public commitments, 2. adding consequences to failure, 3. and having like-minded people to talk to just might make a difference.

This has my attention today. I’m thinking about it. And, as always, I welcome your thoughts.

Want to know more: The original report appeared on National Public Radio. And you can read Karlan’s working paper on smoking cessation at: Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is