I'm both a millennial and a startup founder and both of these groups are often considered flaky perhaps, unable to commit. They seem like they're, flip-flopping between startup ideas or between jobs, between relationships. And I think all of this comes from different expectations to commitment. So I want to explore commitment. Some of the places where you're expected to make commitments are as small as choosing a restaurant where to eat tonight. Or arranging a meeting with your friends, when RSVPing to a party, getting into a romantic relationship or maybe getting married, where the commitment is more explicit. Getting a full-time job, which is a clearly large and explicit commitment. So let's talk about commitment a little bit.
Committing is willfully constraining your future. It's taking some options off the table so that you either have to do something or you commit to not doing it.
If you are invited to an event on Facebook it's so much easier to click the maybe button. Because it makes no commitment. If you say yes, you're committing to actually going to the event. If you're pressing no you're also committing, to not going. It would be kind of weird if you showed up, maybe the host would be happy, but still. So you constrain the future for yourself.
The opposite of commitment is optionality. And optionality is something that people generally consider a good thing. Having the option to go to a concert or the cinema tonight is a good thing.
Holding an option means you can choose a course of action later. It's not making any plans for the evening so that when the time comes, when it's 6:00 PM after work, you can then choose what to do based on what it feels like. So optionality is something that is generally considered good.
So we have these two opposites: optionality, which is something good and commitment which on first glance seems bad or costly because you would rather have the option of doing anything.
There are good reasons not to commit. The obvious one is opportunity cost or whatever you could have done instead of committing that possibly could have been better. Maybe you'll commit to going to a friend's party, but something even better comes up that evening.
Flexibility is usually the term people use when they think about, I want to be flexible. I want to leave my options open. And it feels bad to commit to something, but then realize you have a much better option and then you're stuck with a bad option.
So there are reasons not to commit, but I would also like to go through some of the reasons why people still do commit and why, in some cases it is necessary.
1. Reduces overhead
The first reason is that commitment reduces overhead. If you keep all options open, you spend much more time picking between them. And you do so on an ongoing basis. So if you have nothing committed every evening after work, you have to spend a lot of time figuring out what to do that evening. And from my experience, it's quite difficult to, to find an interesting experience. With a five minute notice. Another example is relationships. So if you commit yourself to be with another person you're foregoing the option of being together with someone else, which, you know, might seem like a bad thing.
But the upside is that you can avoid this whole category of efforts. The mental effort. The time. The emotional energy , you spend thinking about is this the right person for me? Is this the right relationship for me? So once you commit or commit to a certain period of time, You don't have to spend your cycles on that anymore.
2. Valuable for your partner
The second reason to commit is that it is valuable for your partner. So in business, for example, a partner that can commit to an outcome or commit to a project is much more valuable than one that might jump out at any moment. The same relationships.
The third reason you might commit is that it may be a prerequisite for some things. An obvious example is baking a cake. You need to purchase the ingredients before you start baking. Which is a kind of pre-commitment. Or if you want to go wakeboarding. It either requires pre-booking a coach and equipment, or actually buying the equipment. And neither of those can be done with 10 minutes of notice. You need to have some sort of pre-commitment to going wakeboarding that evening.
In professional life, you not only need to be committed, but often have to show it as well. For example, people will not take a startup as seriously. When they see that the person is not working on it full-time. I spoken to people who have tried to recruit me as a technical founder . Yet they themselves are not working on it full time. And this makes me also hesitant because if you haven't committed, then why should I commit?
4. Feels good
And the last of my reasons to commit is a very simple one. It can feel good. It can feel meaningful to have committed, to be in the service of others or to provide something for others, whether it is in business, to friends to a romantic partner or anyone else.
But how do you balance the good things that come from commitment with the obvious opportunity cost? There is something called exponential commitment which is basically making increasingly large commitments as you go along.
It comes very naturally, for example, in relationships. When you meet someone for the first time, you might spend five minutes talking to them at a party. If it seems like you're a good fit, maybe invite them for coffee. After that, maybe you hang out a couple more times, and , as you go along, you make larger and larger commitments. Maybe at some point you are willing to go on a trip with them, et cetera.
When you're considering whether to start dancing salsa , the minimum amount of commitment you could do is probably going to one training. Once you've gone to the first practice session you make a decision. Will I drop it or will I continue with it for another two sessions. After that four sessions, et cetera, or you could also do it by time. You could commit to one week of salsa. And if it works out, great! You commit to another two weeks. If it doesn't no harm done. You only committed one week.
Exponential commitment helps avoid the trap of getting into something and never quitting because you've committed so much because there are natural points in time at which you're expected to quit or to choose to continue. It's okay to quit at the end of every period after one week, after two weeks, after four weeks, et cetera. On the other hand, exponential commitment also makes it easier to commit because it's so much easier to say to yourself: let me try this out once. And if it works, I'll do it twice again. If it doesn't. No harm done.
This is the way I think about startup ideas. You do one week of intense work to figure out whether you want to continue. And at the end of that week, you have a pressing question. Do I want to do it for two more weeks or twice as long as I've spent already. And it's a good pressure on yourself to actually spend the one week well, to figure out whether you can make this work.
Exponential commitment can also reveal internal conflicts. If you were considering starting a blog and you couldn't make yourself write even one blog post it's clear that you don't really want it enough to sacrifice other parts of your life. So exponential commitment can also help you say no to things easily.
So in summary: while intuitively we're often unwilling to commit, there are upsides to committing. And one way to get the benefits of commitment without the huge opportunity costs is exponential commitment. Thank you.