by Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
In modern society, our behavior ultimately functions to do two things – to pay your mortgage and feed your kids. For those of us in the behavioral community, we would prefer to achieve said ends by doing what we know best – behavioral science. For many, that means getting a job in your industry and working as an employee to fulfill someone else’s dream. Even in the halls of academia, drawn by the allure of the tenure track, faculty commonly succumb to a byzantine bureaucracy that saps brilliant people of their motivation. Trapped by the golden handcuffs of academia, many simply “settle” for security at the expense of passion. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I know because I’ve been there.
It’s 2018, and the world has finally figured out how to use the Internet. Today, we can reach millions of people easier than ever before, and without any “middlemen.” The Internet is the great equalizer, giving everyone a voice. Those with just a dash of entrepreneurial know-how are able to leverage the freedom and opportunity brought about by our interconnectedness in ways that were never before possible.
So, if you find yourself “spacing out” at your desk, staring blankly at your computer like Peter Gibbons in Office Space, now is the time to do something about it. You can liberate yourself from the confines of a steady paycheck to start down a path that will allow you to follow your valued directions more so than ever before.
Members of the behavioral science community have a major entrepreneurial advantage that others don’t have. Our emphasis on behavior change means most businesses emphasize services rather than products. And if we do have products, they are commonly logistically light, such as ebooks, apps, online courses, and the like.
This means we can be light and agile. We don’t need to negotiate complex logistical chains for our products. We don’t need to purchase large amounts of inventory or buildings. We don’t need to chase investors and submit to their strings. We don’t even need to be location bound. A single person can create an independent business and make it on their own in 2018. If things take off, you can always scale up with contractors and employees down the road.
I know because I’ve done it.
Below are a few simple steps that you can take today to find a new life as a values-driven entrepreneur.
Take an inventory of your own strengths within behavioral science.
We all came to behavioral science because we have a passion for behavior change – to improve people’s lives and make the world a better place. But within the science, we each excel at something. For you, this could mean a passion for data analytics, writing, research, or even building relationships.
Take an inventory of your own strengths in your larger life.
We all have professional strengths, but we also have strengths and passions in our larger lives. Perhaps you enjoy art, cooking, fishing, or sports. Anything goes here, because whatever you list is behavior, which is within the realm of behavioral science. The important thing is that you are passionate and motivated to do these things.
Adjust your view of your own field if necessary.
Behavioral science isn’t really about procedures so much as the underlying principles. After all, if we were really that hung up on procedures, we would still be running rats and pigeons with Skinner. If you are able to see through particular techniques and procedures to the underlying principles, then you have a formless science with unlimited applications. This is what Skinner repeatedly talked about with his “technology of behavior” – a science applicable to any human problem. “Let those extrapolate who will” he said at the end of Behavior of Organisms. This is your moment to answer Skinner’s call.
Clarify your life values.
Values are chosen life directions that can never be fulfilled. It might be more appropriate to talk about the behavior of “valuing” rather than “values” as a thing. Clarifying your own life values can function to establish new reinforcers in your life, and can help you track the extent to which you are living in accordance with your valued direction and adjust as needed. When thinking about your own values, try to come up with words ending in “-ing”. For example, if you value “learning”, you can learn in any situation in life, and you can never stop learning – no one can ever “learn everything.” But you can gauge the degree to which you turn each moment into a learning opportunity and adjust accordingly.
Put the pieces together.
So now you have clarity on your professional and personal strengths and your life values. Now it’s time to put the pieces together. Create a relational network amongst the elements that you outlined above. In doing so, consider how you can leverage your own strengths towards the development of a values-based business that is personally fulfilling to you and creates value for larger society. A great tool that will help map your ideas onto a business model is the free business plan template developed by SCORE. The template covers all aspects of a business, from mission and vision to pricing, competition, and more. As Skinner once said, you often have to “discover what you have to say” – and the first step is putting pen to paper. You are guaranteed to come up with ideas you never would have otherwise.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org, a world leader in the dissemination of behavior analysis to the public through articles, video production, web design, and entrepreneurial consultation. He is a passionate believer in the role of entrepreneurship in fulfilling Skinner’s vision of a technology of behavior change to improve the world. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2013 and specializes in Organizational Behavior Management and Behavioral Systems Analysis. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor for the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and currently serves on the Editorial Board of Behavior & Social Issues.