The Who Cares Test


The difference between Investment and Commitment explains a lot about whether people will go with a proposed change.

The conventional take is that if they are not committed then they will not invest. If nothing else, 20/20 hindsight shows us that this is apparently true.

But what about before the fact? Something happened on the way to being committed or invested.

Let’s look at both investment and commitment simply, as things that can go from not being there to being there, and did. What can we say is the featured reason for the difference between being committed or not, and being invested or not?

The key feature of investment is not commitment, but familiarity. When someone has already expended the effort to understand, engage and maintain something, they associate strongly with it, and we know that they are invested. Those same features also give us great clues as to how an investment decision can erode over time: things that make understanding, engagement and maintenance difficult will tend to create alienation and undermine the logic of continuing to be invested. Meanwhile, if things have gone well, giving up that investment can be a tough decision. Why should they give it up?

On the other hand, the key feature of commitment is opportunity. Commitment is, simply, a level of desire for the opportunity. The effect of the desire is to maintain attention to the probability of the opportunity, and to give it higher priority when it seems to have arrived. Because desire can rise and fall, we know that commitment can do the same. But without an opportunity, there is nothing for desire to do.

Logically, then, the punchline is that we want to invest in someone’s opportunity. It’s not a new thought. But what too often escapes attention is what that actually means.

Unfortunately, commitment can go a long way without becoming an investment by the committed party.

If you are the proposer of the change, you want commitment from others. But the other committed party is not the primary investor.

Instead, you are the primary investor. Your first move is to invest in the opportunity of the party that you ask for support, so that you’re making it more probable. Your second move is to make it easy for them to invest in their own opportunity.

One danger to be wary of is getting an investment from a party lacking commitment. Commitment means “I care”. Investment only means “I accept”. If your plans are dependent on their acceptance, your dependency means you need to understand this difference between what is necessary and what is actually sufficient.