Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Whether you call yourself an entrepreneur, solopreneur, executive, or leader, they all have one thing in common – you are in the drivers seat calling the shots. Your paycheck is more directly tied to your behavior in these roles, in comparison to an employee. The sharpened contingencies in such roles are why it is important to take an inventory of your own strengths if you are starting out on a new venture. A recent article by Forbes connects with this idea as well. They stated “successful executives know where they excel…and they do as much of that as possible.”
In practice, this is actually very hard to do. Especially if you are trying to make it on your own. But for the Applied Behavior Analysis industry, this is the main way the field will grow – by going out on your own and doing things that haven’t been done before. The more ways behavior analysts can make money to pay their mortgage and feed their kids, the more ways the field will grow. It’s as simple as that.
Going out on your own can be a scary prospect, but exciting as well. You can easily lose sight of what you are doing, and get blown off course. Believe me, I live it every single day.
For me, my main strength is writing. I’m good at it. I published a lot in academia, and now I write for the rest of the world. As a behavioral systems analyst, I also like data and complexity. Hence, a broad focus on how the principles of behavior apply to the larger world. I’ve also put in the time to clarify and continuously refine my own life values. In my personal view, going out on your own is a vehicle for pursuing your own valued directions. As an employee, by contrast, you are helping someone else live their valued directions. Your view may differ, and that’s fine.
I’ve given many in-person and online talks about how behavior analysts can expand the field through entrepreneurship, within the context of Skinner’s original vision for the field – as a technology of behavior for the world. One of the things I emphasize is how to find your way, if you have that itch to one day leave your day job and go out on your own as a behavior analyst.
Take an inventory of your own strengths in the field and in your life. We are all good at something. In behavior analysis, you may have particular strengths in research, writing, data analysis, the pairing process, or a myriad of other things. In your larger life, you may have particular strengths in sports, art, music, cooking, a love for the outdoors, etc…
Adjust your view of behavior analysis. I’ve seen a trend in recent years of behavior analysts equating the field to a set of procedures. Supposedly you aren’t “doing behavior analysis” if it doesn’t look a certain way. Don’t fall into this trap. If this was true, we would still be running rats and pigeons with Skinner and never evolve as a field. Drop the forms and topographies and focus on the underlying behavioral principles. This will unlock unlimited creativity, which is what our field is about.
Clarify your values. Behavior analysts have discussed values for decades from a few different perspectives. The perspective we take here is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Values in this case are behavior. They are continuous actions that can never be fulfilled. By taking the time to clarify your own values, and revisit and refine them regularly, you can better track the contingencies that are most important to you, and adjust your behavior accordingly.
If you are interested in going more in-depth on this topic, we invite you to check out our on-demand course here. We go into greater depth on these topics, discuss what Skinner had to say about taking the field to the world, and we will also look at what has been done in the past few decades.
If you are an executive, leader, or entrepreneur, how do these themes resonate with your work? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest emails directly to your inbox!
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition. He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org