The Secret Danger of Progress Logs and Public Accountability

Note from Caleb: This is a guest post from Danny Iny at Firepole Marketing. Danny is a star student from Traffic School, and he has been a regular contributor to Think Traffic over the past few months. 

No, I’m not ragging on Pat or Corbett – I’m a big fan of both.

But as friendly, generous and inspiring as they are, they also present a bit of a problem. Not on purpose, but they do.

You see, they’re both big on public accountability.

They’re completely transparent about how much money they’re making and how much traffic they’re getting. They tell us exactly what is working for them, and what isn’t.

And that creates a problem…

Why Progress Reporting is a Good Idea

First of all, credit where credit is due: progress reporting and public accountability are both great ideas.

As Corbett has pointed out on numerous occasions, the people who consistently track and report their results tend to get much better results, for a bunch of reasons:

  1. We all tend to feel a lot worse about not doing our work when we know that other people are watching.
  2. When we track and report our progress, we have to think about why we’re getting the results that we’re getting, and explain our thinking. This makes us examine assumptions that we otherwise wouldn’t examine, and gives us an opportunity to spot problems before we otherwise would.
  3. Since we’re doing it publicly, we’re also opening the door for other people to weigh in – both by offering encouragement, which helps a lot, and with critical feedback about what they think we can do better, which can be priceless.

So yes, no question, progress reporting and public accountability are both great. It’s worked for me personally in Traffic School, and I’m really excited to see the results of the Million Dollar Blog Project.

So what’s the problem?

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc?

You’ve probably heard about the 1953 Yale study about goal setting.

They asked the students of the MBA program’s graduating class whether they had set specific goals for themselves, and whether they had written the goals down. They found that about 20% had specific goals, and 2% had written them down.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and they checked back to see how the students were doing. It turned out that the 20% of students who had specific goals had made 98% of the money of the entire class, 80% of which was made by the 2% who wrote their goals down.

Now, never mind that the story is apocryphal, and probably never really happened.

My point here is the conclusion that everybody seems to draw from the story, which is that if you want to be rich and successful, you should right your goals down. Makes sense, right?


This is an example of the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy. The words mean “after this, therefor because of this” – in other words, first they wrote down their goals, and second they made lots of money, therefor one must have caused the other.

But that just isn’t true. Just because something happens after something else doesn’t mean that the first thing caused the second thing (thunder comes after lightning, but lightning doesn’t cause thunder). Writing down your goals doesn’t have a magical power, it’s just that the sort of people who are likely to do all the other things that make them successful are also likely to write down their goals.

So why did I bring up the story? What does this have to do with progress reporting, public accountability, Pat Flynn or Corbett Barr?

Another Fallacy: Results Not Typical?

Here’s what it has to do with it: the trouble with Pat Flynn and Corbett Barr is that they’re only two people – but they’re two of just a few people that you follow.

Which means that their two examples grab a pretty large proportion of the examples you are exposed to about how people go about growing a blog and making money in all kinds of different ways.

But they’re just two people, and they probably aren’t very representative of most of their readers.

Not because they’re better, not because they’re smarter, and not because they have magical money- and traffic-making powers.

Just because they’re different:

  • They have different strengths, and different weaknesses.
  • They have different skills, and different gaps in their knowledge.
  • They have different personalities.
  • They have different relationships with others.
  • They have different backgrounds.
  • They have different circumstances.
  • And the list goes on…

What does this mean for you?

It means that while Pat and Corbett are both inspiring people to read about, teachers to learn from, and even examples to follow, their experience might not be representative of your results.

Does that mean you can’t learn anything from their examples?

No, of course not – it just means you need to interpret it the right way.

More of a Compass than a Roadmap

Sometimes, you can learn a lot from the specific tactics that people like Corbett and Pat have employed (I know I have – our Semi-Local Business Survey is exactly the B-List Breakthrough that Corbett teaches in his Traffic Toolbox).

But more often, the best lessons that you can learn from the experts are at a higher level; the tactics can be different from industry to industry and blog to blog, but the high-level lessons are usually good across the board. For example:

–  They play to their strengths. We all have different strengths, and that’s fine – the key ingredient for success isn’t any particular strength, but rather the consistent emphasis on playing to strengths rather than trying to compensate for weaknesses. To get a sense of your own strengths, a good place to start is Gallup’s Strenthsfinder assessment, which you can take for free if you buy a copy of Strengthsfinder 2.0.

–  The listen to their audience. This is huge, and everyone who is successful does it consistently, and well. They do it in posts where they explicitly ask readers to share and weigh in, and they do it when they develop courses and launch projects that their audience is asking for – like the Million Dollar Blog project.

–  They create awesome content. This isn’t enough to make your blog a winner, but as Corbett says, it is the price of entry. Successful bloggers don’t just write average post after average post – they consistently try to write epic shit.

–  They’re honest with their readers. Not just when they share their earning and traffic reports, but also about their experiences, and about what’s working and what isn’t. They’re up-front about what they’re trying to do, and don’t pretend to know things that they don’t.

These lessons are more of a compass than a roadmap, in that they point the direction in which you should be going, but they don’t tell you about all the specifics that you might encounter along the way.

For that kind of information, you need hard data about what seems to be working across the board, and while there’s a lot of anecdote and hearsay, there isn’t much hard data about what results a large number of real people are seeing, and how long it’s taking them to get there.

We wanted to change all that, so we created the Semi-Local Business Survey. The survey will ask you how much of your income is generated locally, how much is generated remotely, and how you came to be where you are today.

Your answers are completely anonymous, and will be added to the answers of many others, so that we can see what the real trends in the industry are. There’s no offer here, and nothing for sale – we just want to gather the data and share it with the community.

So please, take a few minutes and complete the survey!

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the program that turns non-marketers into expert marketers. He wants to know where entrepreneurs, freelancers and small businesses are really making their money – help out by completing the Semi-Local Business Survey today!

44 thoughts on “The Secret Danger of Progress Logs and Public Accountability”

  1. Great post. However, when I went to the Firepole site and decided to sign up for the free thing I had to “pay with a tweet or a share” first. The suggested tweet states that “I’m in and the videos are great”. Well, I haven’t been able to see the videos yet because I haven’t tweeted or shared. So much for honesty.

    1. Thanks, Sherrie.

      Actually, no, you don’t have to “pay with a tweet” to see the videos – you opted in, and you should have already received the first one.

      At the bottom of the video pages, you can “pay with a tweet” to get the bonus infographic and worksheets, which presumably you would only want if you found the videos valuable.

      Did you not read the text on the page?

  2. Nice clarification Danny – just took the survey! :) The important thing is to expose yourself to many sources of inspiration and cherry pick the tactics, ideas, and strategies that work for you in whatever industry you’re in.

    But to nitpick…thunder IS caused by lightning.

    1. Hey Jason, thank you for completing the survey!

      You’re right – the more sources of inspiration you’re exposed to, the more you stand to learn – in any industry. :)

      And if we’re nitpicking, no, it’s not… thunder and lighting are the sensory outputs of the same thing (lightning is the light, thunder is the sound), they just come one after the other because light travels faster than sound. 😉

  3. There is some truth to what you’re saying.

    Yet, overall you’re very wrong. It’s not just that effective, successful people also set goals, but the act of setting goals in and of itself is extremely powerful. You can take the biggest loser, but give him some realistic, motivating goals and make him review and visualize them every night and every morning. Something powerful will happen. Goal setting and visualizing are the very things that do turn you into effective, successful people and cultivate those other factors that matter so much.

    It gives you focus, it exposes areas where you’re unclear, it is motivating. And as Corbett so often mentioned, doing it in public is doubly effective because the idea of looking like a fool in front of others is extremely motivating. This is not just true for some people. This holds for pretty much everyone (except, perhaps some levitating buddhist monks in the Himalayas.)

    Read ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill.

    1. Hey Brian, that’s a good point, and I agree that there is a reciprocal relationship between behaviors and attitudes.

      I think that relationship is exaggerated, though – in your example, it’s not just writing down goals, it’s also taking the time to make them realistic, make them public, take actions to achieve them… you’re describing a lifestyle change, not just a five-minute goal-writing exercise.

      Either way, though, the point of the post is that while the midsets are important, it’s even more important to find your own path, and recognize that it will probably be different from the paths that a few others have taken – which means the more information you have, the better.

  4. (I hope this ain’t a duplicate post as my first one didn’t show up after 10mins).

    You know how much I absorb your content Danny, and I like the Compass-not-a-Roadmap analogy.

    I got to know Corbett via Pat’s podcast, and you via Corbett’s.

    Having that association tells me that if I can get to understand how you guys make it work for your businesses, I can use them as a guide to make my own strategies and tactics because I like how your public ‘styles’ are.

    If we can put our mindset that all these great content and case studies that we have access to are nothing more than journals and reference materials and not operation manuals, we’ll be able to enjoy this market space more and have a better long-term business model for our muses.

    I think people just have to realize that they need to bring real-life/physical world common sense into the online world. That is surprisingly rare in the online business market space.

    We never assume that just because we know exactly where Starbucks gets their coffee we will be able to copy the success of Starbucks easily.

    But in the online world, we, especially newcomers, tend to think “Mr. X makes 5 figures a month just selling ebooks! I’m going to be rich in 3 months if I buy his program!” without hesitation.

    I think the post isn’t about goal setting but public accountability… There are folks who really don’t care if they fail in public, while others may just be doing it for public approval and not because it’s their goal (like politicians? hehe).

    As enticing and motivating as it is to be publicly accountable from your results, it only works if your goal is to motivate others and/or to prove you can do something well enough in public (which can lead to auxiliary income like selling services or goods in the future).

    Hundreds of successful businesses (online or off) rarely show us their progress and failures until the final product comes out… In reality, you don’t need to…

    Being public about progress tends to work best when you already know what you’re doing one way or another and you have relatively little to lose.

    Dave T

    1. “If we can put our mindset that all these great content and case studies that we have access to are nothing more than journals and reference materials and not operation manuals, we’ll be able to enjoy this market space more and have a better long-term business model for our muses.”

      That’s very well said, David. There isn’t an operations manual for building a successful business – it just doesn’t work that way.

      I think accountability can be great, as long as it’s within the right context – to drive you to keep on experimenting and learning, and trying new things, and to help you get feedback and motivation when you really need it. :)

  5. Excellent analysis, Danny. The amount of really bad reasoning in Blogistan is epic. Other fallacies abound, especially conflating correlation with causality, and The Appeal to Authority.

    1. After rereading the post (!), I looked up Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, which is the technical name for the notion of confusing correlation and causality. Nice to know.

  6. Hi Danny,

    Hope you’re well – I keep seeing your name pop up everywhere! You’re getting some great exposure, which I am sure you are pleased with. Props to you for putting the hard yards in.

    This was a good article – your “results may vary” point really resonated with me. Too many people see the likes of Pat and Corbett doing fantastically well and get frustrated when they cannot emulate their success.

    Don’t emulate. Do your own thing. Set your own realistic goals and work to achieve them. Corbett’s and Pat’s positions are the results of years of hard work and circumstances that do not not reflect your own.

    1. Hey Tom, yes, I’m definitely pleased, and thank you very much! :)

      And yes, exactly, Corbett and Pat’s position is a result of years of work and experience. Not to say that other people can’t achieve the same results with time, but their backgrounds and circumstances are probably different, so their paths will probably be different, too.

      The Million Dollar Blog project should be a great source of data for people to be guided by – I’m excited to be watching it! :)

  7. Hi Danny,
    I like it when you say that Pat or Corbett’s lessons These are more of a compass than a roadmap.
    I see many copycats around and sometimes people don’t even know they are copying their favorite blogger instead of getting inspired by him/her.


  8. An interesting post. I feel like most people that take advice to success already know that it needs to be appropriated and not simply copied. While I think it’s insightful, no doubt, but maybe preaching to the choir?

  9. Great post Danny, I love your site too. The “compass not a roadmap” advice is so sensible. But I do think we can improve ourselves and our writing style and how we interact with our readers by emulating such successful bloggers as Pat and Corbett. It’s their tone that works so well. Not authoritative in a preachy way, but their confidence and experience is obvious. Getting the balance of personal brand, chattiness and authority is quite an art and one you can only learn by a) immersing yourself in really good writing and b) practice, practice, practice.


  10. Shouldn’t the post be named something like: “The Secret Danger of listening to successful bloggers”? I found not a single argument that is relevant specifically to “Progress Logs and Public Accountability”. I wanted to, as it doesn’t seem right for me, but the post is more of a general statement that what works for others is not always right for you, rather than what the title says. I think the title was a wrong choice and a bit misleading. Other than that, I agree with the premise.

    1. Nope, I’m happy with the title. The trouble with progress logs and public accountability is that it gives people who read them a sense that they can replicate the efforts, and by doing so replicate the results – which isn’t the case. Of course, I respect your choice to disagree. :)

  11. I agree with your analogy and your emphasis on using others as a compass and not a roadmap, but not so much on how you present the use of goals.

    Although I think people put maybe too much emphasis on the writing down of goals, don’t you think it’s more of a case by case things in how it effects people?

    Sure, maybe the correlation is more between motivated people and goal writing rather than goal writing and success, but surely writing down goals has been beneficial for at least some people who didn’t do it before.

    Overall though, a really refreshing and original post, as always, really enjoying your content Dan!

  12. Hi Gregory, yes, I agree with you – it is very much a case by case thing, and that’s the point; just because it worked for somebody else doesn’t mean it will work for you, and vice versa – especially when all that is being copied is the practice of writing down the goals, and not all of the other supporting behaviors.

    I’m not saying that writing down goals can’t be helpful, but at the same time it isn’t the panacea that personal development pundits sometimes make it out to be, that’s all. :)

  13. Good stuff Danny.

    It’s easy to get caught up in trying to follow someone’s method precisely and hoping to get the same result as they did..But their method is not THE way, it’s THEIR way.

    I believe in gathering info from different sources, mixing them all together and adding our own flavor to it, and that’s how we achieve the results we want while being true to ourselves.

  14. Danny,

    I read your title and HAD to read your post.

    Everything you wrote rings true. When I began blogging I wanted to simply copy Pat Flynn. I found out quickly this was impossible. I couldn’t figure out why at first. Then I realized he had a different skill set than I do. So I realized I had to adjust for my skill set. (Which, every month when he posts his income, I realize is inferior in terms of business savvy. But I am working on it.)

    Pat is an inspiration to me and many others. As are others online that blog accountable.


    1. Hey Allie, I’m glad the title grabbed you! :)

      We’ve all been there – we see a success story that we respect, and we want to do what they’re doing. It takes a while to develop the maturity to realize that we can’t just copy somebody else’s success.

      Don’t worry, acquiring the savvy will happen with time. As they say, even Jack Welch wasn’t always Jack Welch. 😉

  15. Hi Danny,

    great post & great food for thought. I have to agree with an earlier commentor, Brian. I loved your post/article but found the overall message a little confusing. Did you perhaps give it a slightly controversial title just to grabn attantion when actually your really agree to public accountability being a good idea overall? I think so.

    The pros certainly outweigh the cons for me (but then most coaches would probably tell you that when it comes to setting goals and taking responsibility for your own thoughts and actions),

    very nice post though,

    1. Nope, as I answered to Brian as well, I think it is a real danger. I’m not condemning progress logs or accountability, but there is the very real problem of giving a lot of people the wrong impression (or rather, people choosing to draw the wrong impression).

      But that’s just my opinion, of course. :)

  16. This is so, so, so good.

    Emilie Wapnick of recently made a post about whether it was better to announce goals or not.

    I weighed in there with this:

    “I’ve tried it both ways. [Announcing goals publicly as well as keeping them to myself].

    I’ve admitted tons of big ideas and goals (most of them ‘so big’ to people that their eyes glaze and jaws drop, and so does the subject.)

    I’ve also written down tons of private goals, and had them realized with no fan-fare whatsoever.”

    To me goal-setting is a tactic, as you said, that is the unfolding of the root principle of Structure + Flow Balance, which I wrote about here:

    1. I’m glad you liked it, Jason, and thanks for sharing the post!

      You’ve raised an important point here. While it’s true that public accountability helps to get things done, there’s also something to be said for keeping goals private, and there’s research showing that in some cases, it’s the better way to go.

      I remember back when I was writing fiction, I found that if I told someone the story, I no longer cared as much about writing it down. :)

    2. Most things in life aren’t ‘either/or’ one best way for everyone.

      They’re usually a personal balance + blend. Public goals work at some moments for some people, and secret goals work at some moments for some people.

      Either way, beautiful post, eye-opening, and relevant :)

      Do you still write fiction? Can I read some?

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