Overcoming Three Barriers to Expand ABA

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By Nick Green M.S., BCBA

Guest Author

Before I jump into this article, we need to give bSci21 founder and fellow entrepreneur, Todd Ward, much credit. He moved the conversation of behavior analysis and entrepreneurship forward. By harnessing social media and the Internet, Todd created a platform that gives many of us a voice, and a place to consume reader-friendly behavioral content on a regular basis.

I am sure I speak for others, but we are truly indebted to Todd. Thank you Todd!

(The field needs this kind of verbal behavior regarding all-things-business, behavior, and entrepreneurship.)

Todd’s recent post, Fulfilling Skinner’s Vision Through Entrepreneurship, highlighted key excerpts from Skinner’s writings regarding the vision of “saving the world…”

The skinny: WE still have a LOT of work to do.

Although Todd offers 4 lessons to get started as an entrepreneur, here I supplement his points with 3 barriers that the budding entrepreneur needs to be ready to battle through.  I also provide examples from my own experience to each barrier.

Barrier 1 – Nobody Knows About Behavior Analysis

“What would you say…you do here?” – from “The Bobs” in movie, Office Space.

I love this quote, and it applies to many interactions that we have with non-behavior analytic audiences.

The significant problem is this: behavior analysis is a general science. Nobody calls up their local BCBA and says “Hey, I got a general problem, that I need a general solution for, can you help?”

Yes, our procedures are flexible and can adapt to any situation, but people do not know that.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) means that we apply the principles of behavior to everyday life and solve problems for people. Armed with the science (and a well-versed elevator pitch), how do you describe what you do when asked by others?

Many of us serve individuals on the spectrum or with developmental delays. That’s perfectly ok and the need is there. However, we cannot expect others hire us without a diverse portfolio of successes to refer to.

Sure, we can adapt phrases to be specific: I use reinforcement to…I avoid punishment because…I teach others using a least-to-most approach…

But, these are all general statements. So, how do you move away from being a generalist?

Solution: “Win a gold medal at one thing” – Jeff Hoffman, founder of Priceline.com

I attended an entrepreneurship club meeting at the University of Florida a year ago and heard Jeff Hoffman speak. He emphasized that it does no good to “win” at 6 things, so get rid of everything else and focus on your gold medal efforts. Equally important, Hoffman added that you need to solve real problems for real people.

How I tackled Barrier 1: I chose to be a gold medalist in workplace inactivity.

I heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” about 4 years ago now, and have been learning all I could about the topic since then. This very niche interest led me to enrolling in a PhD program and founding my own company, BehaviorFit. The cumulation of my work led to my latest bSci21 article, check it out here: Sitting – A Modern SIB for BCBAs and Their Clients.

My new elevator pitch: I help people have a healthier work day with behavior change.

If we want to expand our field, then we need people to be gold medalists in very specific areas, solve problems, and get after it. Normand & Kohn (2013) offered that behavior analysts should be cross-trained in other disciplines (e.g., physical therapy, drug counseling). This is a start, but here I add that our focus should be on solving specific problems.

Win your gold medal in recycling, solar power, libraries, moon landings, teaching teens how to drive (without texting)…whatever you enjoy and are best at (see Todd’s Lesson #1).

Barrier 2 – Nobody Is Interested In What I do.

Make them interested! Create the establishing operation! Again, find a problem and solve it.

But first, you have to get through the door, make a contact, schedule a meeting, and pitch your idea.

So you have your gold medal and are ready to drum up business. Where do you begin?

You will find tremendous opportunity from your colleagues. As a field, we are stuck in the proverbial Autism bubble. Most BACB certificants currently work in this industry. Here lies the advantage for the budding entrepreneur.

Solution: ABA Clinics are the perfect testing ground for new products and services.

When testing new ideas, as scientists and entrepreneurs, we are confronted with 2 hurdles simultaneously:

  • showing people that using data (and science) is a great way to approach real world problems, and
  • trying out a new idea with that individual or company.

Both can be foreign and unwanted to some organizations.

Because ABA clinics are already fans of behavior analysis, you have one less hurdle to worry about! All things being equal, convincing someone to take a risk on you and your idea is the only remaining challenge.

Aubrey Daniels, who many consider the father of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), said in a recent Behavioral Observations podcast that BCBAs who are interested in OBM shouldn’t go work for consulting company, but try a few things out in their own organization first! (hurdle 2 indirectly endorsed by Aubrey himself!)

How I tackled Barrier 2: Before working on the sitting problem, I accumulated 5 years of clinical experience at an ABA Center (shout out to the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism in Fishers, IN!). Raw, unfiltered, real-world experience.

Drawing from clinical experience allowed me to sharpen my focus on sedentary behavior every day. New ideas could be quickly tested through research, blogs and workshops. Testing a new workshop in front of colleagues when the stakes are low (a shaping step) has proven its value time and time again to prepare me when…stakes are high.

If you work hard, prove your worth to a company, and deposit a lot of “sweat equity,” you can create and build valuable relationships. Although behavior analysis is a small field, you can leverage, or tap into a network that is already established.

Networking is a valuable asset in business, why not tap into your resources that are already there?!?!

If you are looking for networking tips, Todd gave us four tips here.

Barrier 3 – Opportunities Are Not Obvious

The ebb and flow of entrepreneurship can be a scary one. Todd calls it an “emotional rollercoaster.”

Sometimes you do not know when your next opportunity to deliver a workshop, pitch an idea, or close a deal will happen. Finding opportunities (the unpaid work) often requires extensive rule-following behavior and, to me, is probably one of the most reinforcing aspects of building a business.

Opportunities seem few and unpredictable, but as an entrepreneur you must push on.

How do we look at this while wearing our behavior analytic glasses? We follow reinforcers!

(okay…this may never technically be called a reinforcer, but you get the point)

You never know where one interaction, conversation, contact, presentation, call, text, podcast, blog may lead to…HINT: They often lead to other opportunities!

Only over time, when you look back and trace the origins of your opportunities, can you appreciate all the behavior you put forth.

Solution: Plan for the Journey and Follow the Reinforcers (Opportunities)

I once heard a musician say: “It took me 10 years to become an overnight success.”

Success takes time, but too often in our social-media rich environment, everyday work goes unnoticed…and it seems everyone is an overnight sensation!

The hustle and bustle of social media gives us the impression that change will happen fast! We can change the world, but we must be patient.

Before you take action, or engage in lots of entrepreneurial behavior, you start with a clear vision and mission. As the journey begins, you will encounter rejection and people not persuaded by or your product. You have to refine your message, polish your craft, pivot (a common business buzzword meaning —follow other reinforcers), and try again. Most importantly, you push on. More rule-following.

You may not have an end goal in mind, but often your gold medal efforts may take you someplace unexpected.

How I tackled Barrier 3: I followed the reinforcers!

This is easier to see in reverse with an example.

Let’s start with the end result: I presented a poster at a non-behavior analytic conference, The Biannual Building Healthy Academic Communities Conference. This conference was hosted by the University of Florida Wellness Committee, and was attended by other professionals in the health and wellness industry. See my poster and other details here.

Now, I had no clue that I would end up there a year ago, but we can analyze key events that transpired which led to this opportunity:

  • January 2016 – I took a course about Worksite Wellness.
  • January 2016 – I expressed my interests about sedentary behavior to my professor.
  • February 2016 – My professor recommended me to join the University Wellness Committee.
  • March 2016 – I attended my first Wellness Committee meeting.
  • [One Year] – I attended Wellness Committee meetings for over a year (read that again, OVER A YEAR, being a fly on the wall…listening, observing, asking questions).
  • November 2016 – One Wellness Committee meeting included information on the conference.
  • December 2016 – Poster submission
  • April 2017 – Conference

That sequence took over a year! But the opportunity started with my interest, my gold medal, and then I took action. The goal was never to present a poster, but to learn as much I could about my area of expertise. Again, following the opportunities/reinforcers allowed me to contact new reinforcers. I am now in a position to assist with a possible deposit contract program starting in January 2018. The opportunities seem to never stop!

You might say that the Worksite Wellness course functioned as a behavioral cusp!

Fulling the Vision…

My goal with listing these barriers is to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs to create their own schedules of reinforcement. Because reinforcement is kind of a big deal, its application to entrepreneurial behavior is within bounds. For entrepreneurial repertoires to develop, maintain, and occur more frequently in the future, the schedule must be sufficient. Otherwise, reinforcement may be thin-to-non-existent, which may delay any of our attempts to expand the field.

Nothing is more discouraging than working hard without any feedback from the environment.

By becoming an expert in one thing, solving problems for others, and following our opportunities, we are bound to create reinforcers. At the very least, we can create businesses we enjoy working in and expand our beloved field, behavior analysis.

These are just my thoughts when it comes to starting your own business and “saving the world” through entrepreneurship. I hope this article offers insight into the world of entrepreneurship for those getting started, or a reminder to those already out there.

Keep moving my friends…

Reference

Normand, M. P., & Kohn, C. S. (2013). Don’t wag the dog: extending the reach of applied behavior analysis. The Behavior Analyst36(1), 109-122.

 

Nick Green M.S., BCBA is the founder and CEO of BehaviorFit, an organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of others through behavioral science. Visit BehaviorFit to learn more about workshops, consulting services or read other articles related to health and wellness. You can contact him at nick@behaviorfit.com.

Nick is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida and is interested in improving employee health with behavioral interventions. His research specifically aims to increase employee physical activity by evaluating variables such as education, prompting, goal-setting, and feedback.

Nick holds an M.S. in Organizational Behavior Management from Florida Institute of Technology. He previously worked in a clinical setting serving young adults diagnosed with Autism for 5 years under the guidance of Dr. Carl Sundberg.

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3 Comments on "Overcoming Three Barriers to Expand ABA"

  1. Sheila K Jordan | September 24, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Reply

    I was very glad to find this article and I thank you for these insights. As a graduate student in ABA with just one year of behavior therapy with a client with ASD, I feel like a “newbie” and am still trying to discover the career opportunities that include assisting families whose children have ASD and other barriers to the “typical” learning environments that other children enjoy. One area that I have thought about using my academic knowledge and 1:1 experience doing ABA is to combine it with my swim instructor/coach certification – this seems to me to be a “niche” that is most certainly unmet in families with special needs children and adolescents – do you have any thoughts on this match of skills in the ABA world? Thank you!

  2. I’m so grateful to read an article by Nick! I found him randomly and connected and he helped me find clarity on my vision of wellness + behavior. Watched his continuing education and had a bunch of lightbulbs go off.
    We also briefly chatted by phone and he jump started me on two different paths of combining my ideas. Brilliant.
    His sentence about the autism bubble is SO on point. Glad to be popping it!

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