Entrepreneurial tips for BCBAs who want a new career path.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

President & Founder, bSci21Media, LLC

I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 OBM Network conference in Miami Florida this past weekend. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet countless behavior analysts who have years of experience in autism services but would love to explore new ways to apply their behavioral training to better the world.

The desire to branch out is embedded in our training. B.F. Skinner himself repeatedly outlined a grand vision of a technology of behavior to solve all of the world’s problems. The only way we will realistically meet his vision, however, is through entrepreneurship – behavior analysts creating businesses that offer real solutions to real people in the real world. As a greater number and variety of businesses emerge, so to will the job options for behavior analysts, as well as new demands for university programs and certifications.

But many behavior analysts lack an entrepreneurial repertoire. Most of our bSciEntrepreneurial clients, for example, come to us saying “I have an idea for a business but I’m not sure what to do next.” Below, I offer four initial steps to start down the path of entrepreneurship and serving Skinner’s vision.

Take an inventory of your own strengths. Of course you have strengths in behavior analysis, which is great. If you have particular expertise in certain areas of the field, definitely write these down. However, strengths can include things from every other domain of your life as well. For example, before I became a psychology major I was a Radio/Television broadcasting major. I was able to harness my media strengths, combined with my eventual PhD in behavior analysis to create bSci21.org and its various services. Maybe you are good at sports, art, cooking, whatever…it doesn’t matter. Write it down. The beauty of behavior analysis is that any strength you list is behavior, and behavior is the realm of behavior analysis.

Ask yourself what you value in life, and try to align your entrepreneurial goals with your values. For my dissertation at the University of Nevada, Reno, I combined elements of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) with OBM, and was involved in several other similar projects. We found that simply putting someone through a brief values-clarification exercise, and setting goals aligned with said values, can produce dramatic effects on behavior. This is also a practice I use with my bSciEntrepreneurial clients. Take a few minutes to think about the things you have done in your life that you have truly enjoyed. For each activity, see if you can extract something that you valued in that experience, and try to make it an action word ending in -ing.

For example, if you have a strength in a particular sport, you might extract the value of “working with a team” or “competing for a goal.” If you value cooking, you might extract “bringing people together” and so on. From an ACT perspective, values are chosen life directions that can never be fulfilled, but serve as motivative augmentals (establishing operations) that can alter the reinforcing and punishing functions of different life directions. For example, if I value “learning” I can “learn” in almost every situation, and I can never stop learning. Furthermore, I can now track the degree to which I am living my value of “learning” in every situation that I am in, and it can help turn aversive situations into ones that now serve my larger life value. If someone is angry at me, I can turn that otherwise aversive situation into a learning experience.

View behavior analysis in functional, rather than topographical, terms. There is a perspective of behavior analysis emerging that views it as a set of specific topographically-defined tools designed for a specific population of people. This is not what Skinner had in mind for his vision. Behavior analysis is based on principles applicable to every aspect of behavior that is based on a specific analytic goal – the prediction and influence of behavior. The methods we use to achieve that outcome can vary infinitely, as long as the underlying principles of behavior (e.g., reinforcement) are operating. The science of behavior that Skinner envisioned is an entire worldview, not a set of tools. View the science in functional terms, not topographical, and the possibility for innovative business ideas grow dramatically.

Put the pieces together. Once you adopt a formless, functional view of the science, start putting the pieces together based on your own strengths and values. For example, some of my strengths are media, technology, and writing. One of my core life values relate to being agile and flexible. After that, it wasn’t too far of a leap to combine my strengths with behavior analysis to create the site we know today as bSci21.org. For my own values, our four bSciServices, and CEU offerings are under bSci21Media, LLC, in a way in which we can quickly adapt, kill, or create services with minimal bureaucratic and logistical roadblocks. Moreover, I was able to grow and bootstrap the business slowly on the side for two years before “cutting the cord” and becoming my boss. Now, I have a company that is impacting the field, while working less and earning more, both in money and in freedom.

Let us know about your entrepreneurial efforts, and struggles, in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Suggested references:

To learn more about Skinner’s vision, check out his books About Behaviorism, Beyond Freedom & Dignity, and Science & Human Behavior.

To learn more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, check out Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson’s classic text, as well as Herbst & Houmanfar’s (2009) article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management on values in organizations.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President and Founder of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and is an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, media production, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org.

7 Comments on "Entrepreneurial tips for BCBAs who want a new career path."

  1. Thank you for this article. You articulate exactly what I have been thinking about – that ABA is a method, not a curriculum, and therefore can be utilized to deliver almost any content.

  2. Daniel B. Sundberg | April 4, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Reply

    Great article Todd. It’s great there is so much energy of people wanting to make a difference with behavior analysis. Couldn’t agree more than entrepreneurship is the means to this end. Not an easy path, but a rewarding one.

  3. Todd, thank you for laying out a step-wise process to assist BCBAs in further developing an entrepreneurial spirit. There are a multitude of areas of application that I am interested in pursuing further both during and after my doctoral studies. The most pressing hinderance to my “cutting the chord”
    Is the loss of financial security that I have enjoyed with my current employer. What tips/suggestions do you have to aid in facilitating “cutting the chord”?

  4. This is great Todd. It’s also the kind of info people will be interested in hearing about on Nov 10 when you come up to Jersey.

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