Like anyone in the public relations or communications world today, I spend a lot of time with my team planning and plotting how to help move communities and supporters up the “commitment curve.” You start with a simple action (viewing something, reading something) and work toward more complicated, involved tasks (signing up for something, petitioning for something, meeting up in a group and/or fundraising for something). You get the picture.
I’ve worked with people who do it well, and I’ve also had clients and contractors whose idea of a commitment curve seems more like a plateau. Currently, I am working with a group of people who are inspiring me to think more critically and creatively about the tried and trusted commitment curve. For those of you who don’t use the term (or the device) often, here is a sample, and explanation from The Glue Project (specifically talking about membership in a community group, with emphasis on activists et al). It’s pretty simple. You can plot how to help people progress in their connection and interaction with an issue or activity or movement* by mapping out specific things they can and should do depending on their level of connection and commitment to an issue.
It seems like the past two weeks at work have been a laboratory for one commitment curve after another – on issues as varied as UN actions to donations to advocacy for adolescent girls’ rights around the world… And so, in the spirit of transferring as much learning from one part of my life to another, I had the opportunity to import the principles of the commitment curve to a class I was teaching last Thursday night (cue ironic music here) on…commitment.
One of the best parts of my life is a weekly class I teach for single adults in my church who live in the Washington, D.C. area. This year’s course of study is on relationships and marriage. I am by no means an expert on the topic of relationships, but the class is filled with such remarkable people – bright and enthusiastic men and women – that I find that the class pretty much teaches itself with the right amount of preparation, reliance on the lesson manuals, and a healthy amount of prayer. Thursday’s class was on commitment in courtship and marriage. And so, with so much commitment “curving” going on at work, I figured I should try and employ the commitment curve principles with the students in my class. What happened during the class was a powerful reminder of not just the applicability of the commitment curve, but the learning that happens when you talk with people (not about people) and how the commit to things.
I gave each of the students a sample commitment curve after explaining to them how the PR world uses it. I then explained to them that I wanted them to plot how they viewed their own commitment curves with respect to their dating relationships. A number of students had actually heard of the commitment curve, and even a few later told that they used it in marketing or as part of business school. At first, when asked to actually write down on a curve how they viewed the steps in courtship, I saw some very interesting reactions. A few of the students filled their curves with a litany of milestones, detailing the most minute stops along their route toward a relationship with a future spouse that they wanted to be with forever. Steps included “notice her/him, call her/him, 1st date, talk about views on life, 1stkiss,” etc… Another set of students had 2, or maximum 3, stops along the line. I asked the students to talk about the curves that they had mapped out, and what they taught them about their own understanding of relationships (and what it said about courtship in the 21stcentury). These are young people who take marriage seriously, and who pray daily for a husband or wife they can be with for eternity….so these commitment curves were heavy-duty.
One comment really struck me. I never saw it coming. An astute young woman in the class told me that the challenge in the curve was not simply the outward steps along someone’s path toward a goal or relationship, but what was happening inside the person that nobody else could see. She had taken the curve and, like everyone else in the class, plotted various steps she planned to take in fostering a healthy relationship. But she had also mapped it against a second, internal curve that showed how she wanted to be emotionally and spiritually connected with the person in that relationship AND even mapped out her spiritual growth (prayer, service to others, attitude and love) as milestones moved along the curve.
Hers was the smart curve. And it reminded me that so often, whether in work or in community or church service or in relationships at home and with friends, it is easy to measure what is happening by the steps that I am taking. You can measure “clicks” in an on-line campaign or willingness to support a friend (or hours with a kid or buddy), but in today’s hectic world it is the internal commitment curve that often goes ignored. As I drove home that evening I was inspired by the humility and savvy insights of this student. As often happens, I as the teacher had prepared the lesson plan, but ended up being schooled in the most positive and uplifting way.
So whether or not it is part of the discussion in a professional or personal setting, I am going to be looking at the “internal commitment curves” in my life, to figure out how progression toward a goal is comparing to what is going on inside me, my clients’ head, or even my friends’ hearts. Or, imagine that, even mine.