by Ian Ayres, author of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done (Bantam, 2010)
Rob Harrison is one of the most beloved teachers at Yale Law School. He has improved the writing and emotional outlook of generations of our students. He is the kind of guy who unabashedly ends his emails “Love, Rob.” He is staggeringly kind. So it came as a bit of a shock when Rob told me that he had used unforgiving commitment contracts to help students overcome writer’s block. For more than a decade, students have given him checks of up to $10,000, signed and made out to charity, and authorized Rob to mail the checks if they failed to turn in a paper to the course professor by a specified date.
To date, his check-holding commitments have never failed. Rob has never had to mail one of these commitment checks. This is a spectacular result—particularly because Rob only offers the contracts to students who are hard-core procrastinators, kids who have already demonstrated a deep psychological inability of putting pen to paper (or nowadays, finger to keyboard).
I wrote Carrots and Sticks in part to understand why Rob has been so successful. Continue reading