Do What You Can't

Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

*This was influenced by the video linked below.

You Can’t

How often have you heard this?  Really think about it – being a behavior analyst you know that the form of “you can’t” can have many shapes and that functionally similar responses are what really matters. I think it varies based on your experiences and history the degree to which you may be told “you can’t” and what it means to you (and even how you handle it).

Every employer that I’ve worked for has told me at this at one point in time. Now, it’s not necessarily a bad thing – if it’s used properly. But man, have I had some damn good ideas that we couldn’t pursue because of reasons that I thought were able to be conquered.

One that I personally perused was bringing behavior analytic technologies to non-traditional recipients. A few years ago I entered into an agreement to help out a business idea that needed my skillsets and connections to help successfully launch. In return would be an opportunity to explore options to work with non-traditional populations in novel ways (e.g., telehealth models). As the business began to grow there were a few options, but the owner wanted to pursue the current funding streams that we had available to us and go all in on resources in that area for the next 2-3 years. It was a difficult decision to hear, and with all due respect it wasn’t my decision to make, after all I wasn’t the owner of the business. But what little bit we had done in a pilot really inspired me.  I had a taste of what it could be like to expand into a non-typical model (telehealth) – and was it empowering! Respecting this decision and the course of the business I had to step back from my role to pursue what I had experienced (knowing that it would come at a cost, mainly that I would have to begin again in a new role and find another solution).

I began a role at a non-profit in the Reno area where I ran into some new things. First, this was the first time I was responsible for watching and maintaining a budget – a pretty big one at that (~$1.2M). Luckily there was help – and I’ve actually learned a lot from my almost three years at that organization – but that’s for another time... This organization was my next place to explore innovative approaches to behavior analytic technology, and after 6 months of getting my feet wet I realized one thing… I needed to stop pursuing my dream within someone else’s… I needed to pursue it on my own.

I wasn’t going to be able to achieve what I wanted to solely on my own, and I actually think a collaborative environment with really varying skillsets and critical team members can lead to some really great solutions.  So my “do it on my own” really was “do it on my own terms with those I love around me.”

So what have we done?

Well, myself and two other partners took a business idea that we talked about from time to time over the occasional beer and decided to act on it one day. It started as an email describing our first benchmark (an in-person service model) to a local stakeholder and turned into a reply with a nationally known stakeholder that said “This sounds great, but make it online now.”

What did we think we could do?

A four-week micro-course for gifted and talented students and their parents called Exploring Tomorrow.

It’s now almost two years into the grind, and we’re not rich. In fact, we’ve put money into the project every month since it’s started. But what’s happening as a result?

  1. We’re getting invited into novel areas outside the typical funding and practice streams of behavior analytic services (CAG Presentation 1 - CAG Presentation 2)
  2. We’re beginning negotiations for contracts with schools and school districts after two years of development and iteration
  3. We’re bringing the science to an area that is looking for behavioral technologies
  4. We’re just beginning, and we have a lot more work to do. But if we didn’t believe in ourselves and each other we wouldn’t be in a position to talk with anyone about the possibilities behavior analysis has to offer. 

A Day of Doing:

Imagine a day, with 60 other people that share the same passion you have for the science – all with varying degrees of success in implementing behavioral principles with different populations, in different settings, and with different technologies. Who could you meet? What skillsets could you learn? What collaborations could you form?

What Everyone is Going to Take Away from a Revolution Summit

Most behavior analytic conferences forget to include the science itself into the event.  We’re looking to change that in a systematic fashion with each event that we host. A starting point is a quick set of questions to help you determine whether a Revolution Summit will provide you with anything of value.

But we’re going to go a step further. Each member is also submitting a 30 second to 1-minute video of what they are looking to achieve with behavior analysis. There’s a few things that we’re going to do with these.

First, we’ll make sure that every single attendee of the Revolution Summit has access to each other’s ideas. This will allow those who succeed from public commitment to get their word out there. It will also allow those of you that are looking for people that are inspired to create similar products or whom could utilize each other’s skillsets to create something amazing to finally connect.  It will also allow for a permanent record of your manifesto – which is an important starting point to moving forward with your idea. For some people, this makes us nervous…

What if I don’t succeed?  
What if someone doesn’t like my idea? 

Let me pause you there…

Your loss is your loss.  NO ONE is in a position to judge you for your values and actions. I mean, we all know that the learner is right, right? So why worry? This is one thing that I struggled with a lot, and it’s taken a lot of practice and courage to get over it, but a little positive vibes and the right community of doers that share the vision of taking behavior analysis to the next level is empowering. It’s leads to the beginning of that project, the signing of that paperwork, the behavioral contract, whatever it is that’s holding you up to get started.

Don't let someone tell you that you can't.

Don't let that somoeone be you either.

Love to hear your ideas, struggles, or thoughts on this piece in the comments below - and make sure to like and share around - let's do more!

Shout out to the video that inspired writing up this piece of content: