Three sides of the same coin: Occam's razor, dissemination, and business impact

Three sides of the same coin: Occam's razor, dissemination, and business impact

Posted on: May 18th, 2016

Joseph Dagen

Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

 
While in graduate school, I wanted to conduct research and write papers that would make a difference to business people and the communities that businesses impact. My challenge was that I didn’t know what business professionals wanted or needed. It would have been helpful if someone would have said, "Hi there, I’m in business. I can’t give you a specific paper topic, but I can tell you what I think would help, and you can take it from there".
 
At the same time, I saw the great work other people were doing to disseminate behavior analysis and wanted to support their efforts, too.
 
For the last seven years, I have had the great fortune of working in operating businesses from the white frozen arctic to the red sunbaked desert of Australia, attended meetings from New Orleans to London, and worked alongside front-line technicians through executives.
 
Of the great many things I have noticed along the way, the need for behavioral science to continue informing mainstream business thinking remains near the top because there is so much room for improvement in business practices based on behavioral science.
 
Many business practices are based on outdated psychological perspectives, even though so much great work has already been done to disseminate behavior science. Toward the goal of continuing to disseminate behavioral science in business, it occurred to me that that perhaps I now have sufficient experience to suggest how current graduate students could drive dissemination through writing papers and conducting research that would make a difference to business professionals. If you’re in graduate school and are interested in simultaneously disseminating the science and driving business impact, please read on: what follows is a simple process to reveal topics of interest to business people, and an approach to writing that will help influence business professionals, and therefore also drive dissemination. I’ll also provide an example of following this process.
 

The process is three steps:

  1. Step one is to read one years' worth of mainstream publications for a given area of interest. If you don’t know where to start, join a few LinkedIn business groups that you’re interested in and commit yourself to reading every article posted by the group’s members over the past year. Take detailed notes from those articles and determine what challenges people have and how people try to solve those challenges.
  2. Step two is to analyze the business challenge through the lens of behavior analysis – does our science have something to contribute to that particular business challenge? 
  3. If so, step three is to write your paper and recommend solutions or research based in behavioral thinking.
The critical element of step three is to highlight that behavioral solutions are, generally speaking, the most pragmatic. When it comes to matters of business, in my experience Occam’s razor is a great launching point. I am unaware of any other branch of psychology that allows the prediction and control of behavior anywhere near as well as behavior analysis, and that is the biggest selling point for any business professional: behavior analytic solutions are pragmatic because they identify the environmental variables driving or inhibiting the behaviors we care about. Other mainstream approaches do too, but they include layers of hypothetical constructs. Those layers require extra time, muddle the analysis, and overly complicate both the analysis and recommendations.
 
To provide an example of this process, a student could read a years' worth of Harvard Business Review. From the recurring topics covered in the publication, the student might then narrow his/her focus to a topic such as organizational learning. Through reading the articles on organizational learning, the student would likely find that modern business professionals approach learning through a blend of cognitive, neuro, and common sense perspectives, and that a few writers would be referenced more often than others (e.g. Kahneman, Pinker, etc.). Next, the student could review the marquee literature on the topic from behavioral researchers. Finally, if the student thinks the behavioral approach is better than current approaches, the student could write his/her paper focusing on the pragmatism that the behavioral approach affords (e.g., better assessment methods, easier analysis of relevant variables, easier impact assessment, etc.).
 
In my opinion, the article just described would be of value to business professionals and would be considered for publication in mainstream business outlets, thus driving dissemination into the business community.
 
It has been a wonderful experience to have transitioned from student to business professional, and even more fun to hopefully influence the next generation of students.
So, reader, I can’t give you a specific paper topic, but I can tell you what I think would help, and you can take it from there.
 
Contributing Author: Featured Sponsor:

Joseph Dagen

Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

 

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