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buster


Buster Benson

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Accountability tools
bird poops on plum branch
buster
I'm doing a talk next week and it's for people who consider themselves "geeks" and so for some reason when I think of geeks I think of "productivity apps". Things that people think they use to be more productive: PDAs, complicated Excel spreadsheets, tricked out Outlook apps, synching things, dodgeball, text messages, everything web 2.0, etc. My main gripe against the "geek crowd" is that they prize productivity over direction. That, productivity without a grand vision is a fate worse than death. But surely geeks don't prize productivity over grand visions, I just have a gripe and need to get over it.

Anyway, I was thinking about my talk and trying to find a subtle way to make it seem geeky, but for it to really be more about the cult and our ideas about McLeod Residence. In short, I need to distract people from the fact that I don't know much about computers. Oops, did I just admit that?

I thought of the term "accountability tools". Sounds a little like "productivity tools" and yet I can own it. What's the first accountability tool? Perhaps a mirror. What is the essence of an accountability tool. Perhaps it's something to do with the public narrative of our lives. We have our private lives, but it's not until something's in the public narrative that we become accountable for it. For example, we become accountable for telling people about our vacation when we put pictures of it online.

What is accountability?

Maybe it's some kind of public record (a photo, a web page, or even just a memory with witnesses) plus a predictive or declarative statement (for example, "I'm going to open a bar" or "I'm going to run a half-marathon").  From these two simple ingredients, a giant explosion of mental activity get awakened and we feel COMPELLED to satisfy the public record of our declarative statement.  It becomes our responsibility to do the thing that we said we would do.  And it compels us not to say that we're going to do things we aren't going to do.  Because we become sullied.  Or rather, our reputations do.  But really, how different are we from our reputations?  What's more real: our idea of ourself, or our reputation?  What's more accurate to reality?

I think Web 2.0 is all about accountability.   I used to think it was all about people, but it's that magic element of accountability (that moment you realize that anyone can see/read what you're putting on the web... even people from your future) that turn it into something crazy and life-changing.  Putting accountability tools onto the web, making the public record rich with reputation-altering documents, photos, stories, goals, etc.  It brings us closer to people when we demonstrate who we are to them by publicly stating who we are to them, and then becoming the people who we say we are.

Does that make any sense?  Am I smoking crack again?

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You're not smoking crack. A few weeks ago I decided that I actually had to bring my 43things goals in line with my actual goals. I mean, if I'm going to spend any sort of time playing with this goal-oriented "productivity tool", I might as well make it useful to my actual goals, right? I'm not working towards "learn to swallow pills" any more than the guy in your lifehacker article was working on "write the great american novel". I realised that because I liked bathering over there and keeping track of the goals that let me post pretty often, I should harness that for good over evil. I love being able to write out what's going on with my extracurricular activities. It's actually helped me get going on the project I'm supposed to be working on right now, and I've been able to document the gifts I'm making for the holidays without boring my friends or telling them what I'm up to, really... There's a big difference between what I post here on lj [which is basically a way to broadcast a message to fifty people I know in real life] and what I post on 43things.

Not everyone needs to do that. Some people have bosses and fires to put out at work and daily deadlines. Some people don't need to be any more accountable than they are. Des uses her 43things list almost as a moral checklist, and I'm sure you could find other people in the same situation... I need all the structure I can get. My office is within arm's reach of my bed, I have no boss 25% of the time, and I rarely contact my clients other than with "How's this" and a movie file. I could very easily just spin off into the ether, never leave the house and only accomplish watching movies and knitting crap.

You might try to track down a few people who use the site as an affirmations tool. I know NYCinephile has reshaped a lot of his goals so that he follows the happiness manifesto. He's also marked all of his daily goals, etc and I know that he does a lot ocf thinking about web-related stuff than I do. You could also contact some of the people who have open blogs about a topic that would otherwise be closed, like all those people who broadcast their financial data and withold their name. I found Millionaire Artist a few days ago, and I know I've seen others.

Why do I always write novels!?! Back to work!

so totally off the subject, but the weirdest thing just happened. i googled the word "who've" and your flickr page came up as the last hit on the first page of results. strange?

You're right, that IS pretty random. Who knew I had such sway over the word "who've". I should try to monetize that or something.

seriously! it's bound to be some kind of sign. a sign of... something...

It's a sign that I should open a bar/gallery. I interpret all coincidences as signs that I should open a bar/gallery basically.

But really, I think it's a sign that you search for strange things on Google. What were you looking for anyway? :)

maybe *i* should open a bar/gallery! :)

i had seen the word "who've" in an email request i sent out last week, and it suddently looked funny. you know how that can happen. so i tried m-w.com, but it wasn't there. so i tried google to see if any reputable websites showed up as using the word. but your flickr page didn't even tell me why it was a hit! ?

accountability tools

(Hi. Got here via interimlover. This is interesting, hope you don't mind if I ramble a bunch.)

There's definitely some link between public declarations and accountability, but I also think there are some distinct scenarios here that deserve separate attention.

There's a difference between shared goals and personal goals. In a work or group project context, writing down who's going to do what helps, but in the end it'll be the consensus, the shared expectation, or exercise of authority that makes things happen. With personal goals, what happens when you state your goals publicly? The best outcome, I think, is if you draw others to share your goal, so they help you achieve it by adopting it.

If this doesn't happen, what does sharing the goal accomplish? For some, merely having made a commitment may be enough to help with follow-through, whether it's simply because you keep to your word, or because of a sense of shame. But if there's no active participation from other people, reminding you of the goal, there's really no accountability being created.

For those who have trouble moving forward, accountability is only going to work if there's someone at the other end. And how do you get people to care about your goals when they don't share them? Your friends may care about some of your goals, but they're not going to nag you on whether you got the bathroom cleaned.

So I think the key is: how does this vision for accountability help you find other people who care, and/or who are going to hold up the other end of the accountability?

One way to find them is to find people with shared interests. (Someone who'll sign up for the marathon too and thus train with you, someone else who needs to diet, etc.) Another way might be to merely find an "accountability buddy", as a mutual exchange. We both want to stick to something that the other doesn't care about, but we'll make a mutual deal to check in with each other.

So there are several things here you could build to create accountability tools: 1. community forums where you can proclaim your goals and look for others to adopt them and collaborate. 2. a place to find people with the same interest, who want to approach it together. 3. a way to find accountability buddies who'll hold you accountable in with you in return for the same favor from you, regardless of the topic.

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