Precommitments

✍️ Thomas Countz

When John O’Nolan founded Ghost in April 2013, he made the same “we-won’t-sell-out” pitch to customers that every other startup was making at the time:

“We’re building Ghost because we want online publishing to be better. We want to make decisions focused on that goal, not on building a startup that we can sell to Facebook for $1billion.” — Ghost, Kickstarter Campaign

But for Ghost, this was more than just some cheap corporate-speak to woo consumers. John and his team took drastic measures to ensure that they would remain committed to this promise: after the crowdfunding campaign became a success, Ghost was founded as a non-profit. That meant that Ghost’s founders were, and forever will be, legally locked-out of owning any part of their business. Even if Facebook in theory wanted to buy Ghost, it would now be impossible.

As it turned out, just two years later, that very theory was put to the test.

“In 2015, I was in San Francisco and we had some investors trying to convince us to do a series A and we were like, ‘We’re a non-profit, we can’t,’ and they were like, ‘We’ve got $10 million and we really think that you can go far,’ and we were like, ‘We’re a non-profit, we can’t.’” — The Indie Hackers Podcast Episode #139

John’s story is an extreme example of the power of precommitments. Precommiements help us make calm decisions today, in order to prevent us from making rash ones later.

At work, the same concept can be used to define boundaries between what our jobs ask of us and our own priorities.

A few of my personal boundaries related to work are:

  • I work up to 40 hours/week
  • I read/respond to email between 8am - 6pm U.S. Eastern Standard Time
  • During vacations, I will only engage in personal communication

When boundaries are not defined, it can be difficult to be principled about them. As simple as some boundaries may seem, it’s important to articulate them both as precommitments to ourselves and as expectations that others can have of us.

“Your resolve waivers, no matter how much you believe something. Having the safeguard of, ‘I’ve already made this decision and I’ve… locked myself into this decision…”’I’ve never been more grateful for [it].” — The Indie Hackers Podcast Episode #139

Boundaries are malleable and may change over time in good-faith negotiation with ourselves, our partners, or our workplaces. What’s important, before you make commitments to others, evaluate your priorities and make precommitments to yourself.


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