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Commitment Contracts for Business—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86

The following commentary was posted on newyorktimes.com on January 26, 2010.

Commitment Contracts for Business
By Ian Ayres ’86

[Shameless plug alert: I am a co-founder of stickK]

I had a wild morning in Boston a few days ago — participating in a satellite media tour for the launch of the Staples “stickK to it!” Business Challenge. (I sat in a studio and was serially plugged into about 20 local radio and TV shows … grueling, but efficient). The “Challenge” is a way to help small businesses and entrepreneurs reach their professional goals.

Lots of people think of stickK.com exclusively as a tool for achieving personal health goals — like losing weight or quitting smoking. But this free program underscores that commitment contracts can be used on the job as well. People have already used stickK to commit to do all kinds of career-oriented tasks — write iPhone apps or call five new clients a week. Now it’s also easy to promise to use recycled paper or update your resume.

Lots of people also think that the stickK site is solely about putting your own money at risk. But the Business Challenge shows that the platform is also about positive incentives. As a carrot, users who follow through on their commitment contracts can earn “EasyPoints” redeemable for office supplies and gift cards and donations to charity. For example, if you make a 12-week Commitment to keep your office desk clean you can earn up to 135 EasyPoints to spend on all kinds of things, from new business cards to a donation to Boys & Girls Clubs of America — even Staples’ famous “Easy Button.”

What I love about the promotion is that Staples realizes that old-fashioned procrastination is a barrier keeping some of its customers from using some of its products. We sometimes put off upgrading our wireless network or reorganizing our files because other aspects of our day-to-day lives keep intruding.

The challenge site has dozens of suggested commitments to jump-start the New Year.