The Virtues of Public Accountability

I’m a huge fan of public accountability, a concept I first read about on Sebastian Marshall’s blog. The basic idea is that stating your goals publicly makes you a lot more likely to follow through and achieve them.

For example, a few years ago I was working on a web-based high fidelity mockup tool and kept pushing back its launch. I decided to experiment by publicly committing to launch by a specific date that was aggressive for where I was at with the project. I wound up working like hell to meet that deadline and actually beat it by more than a week.

Why does publicly committing to something have an impact? For a lot of people, including myself, it’s important to be perceived as consistent. If I tell people I’m going to do something, I want to be the type of person who does. By publicly stating that I’m going to do something, the fear of failing and being perceived as someone who says they’re going to do something but doesn’t creates a strong incentive for me to actually do it. Even though I know there’s no real risk in failing (who cares?), it still pushes me to work faster and harder than I otherwise would have.

Another benefit of publicly stating your goals is that people will often try to help you achieve them. Maybe it’s encouragement; maybe it’s advice because they’ve been where you are and know the ropes; maybe they have resources or connections that will help you reach goals faster.

I encourage you to try publicly writing about your goals. You might be surprised by how well it works for you.