October 13, 2007 - The Commitment Principle

Elizabeth Hendrickson is a tremendous facilitator and a canny manipulator.


In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini describes various techniques for making people do things that, if they were thinking clearly, they would otherwise not do because of lethargy, laziness, or because it would offend their better judgment.

One of those techniques is The Commitment Principle which was used on American POWs to great effect by the Chinese during the Korean War.

The prisoners were invited - for a very small reward - to write short essays on topics like "Why America is not perfect" and "Why unemployment is not a problem in communist countries" and then to read them aloud to their fellow prisoners.

In follow-up studies many years later, the POWs were found to be much more sympathetic to communism than the general populace.

In multiple experiments since then, psychologists have shown that subjects are far more likely to follow up on a commitment if

  1. They have written it down and
  2. They have spoken it aloud to a group of their peers.

No doubt that is why, at the conclusion of the quite marvelous Agile Alliance Functional Testing Tools Visioning Workshop, Elizabeth, obviously familiar with the psychology literature and with the success of the experiments on prisoners of war, invited us to

  1. write down a short list of commitments and to
  2. read them aloud to this group:


Here's my list:

  1. I will blog about the importance of writing tests at the appropriate level of abstraction
  2. I will blog about why there is a useful distinction to be made between executable examples that illustrate the desired behavior of a system and automated functional tests that provide feedback on the actual behavior of the system.
  3. I will provide some examples of examples and (for Anthony's benefit) show how they might be different from automated functional tests.
  4. I will attempt to identify whether there are common elements and patterns in those examples.
  5. I will investigate whether those common elements can be put to good use in advancing the craft of driving agile software projects through examples or whether the whole exercise was a complete waste of time (I don't think it will be).

Posted by Kevin Lawrence at October 13, 2007 12:34 PM

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