Young Entrepreneurs Get It

I spoke last week to a group of 500 managers at Fortune Small Business Growth Summit, a yearly conference in Dallas organized by Verne Harnish. The group was composed of small business owners and their key managers. (By the way, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA) in certain classifications a business can have over $175,000,000 in sales and up to 1500 employees and still be considered small.) The youthfulness of this group is important for a couple of reasons. First, they are quick to see the advantages of arranging conditions for change through rapid reinforcement and secondly, they are dedicated to early adoption of strategies that will make their businesses successful.

When you explain the science of behavior to this audience, they get it! The reason for the exclamation point is that I have spoken to thousands of more seasoned managers who take a long time to get it-and some never really understand the importance and value this technology brings to their businesses. A common question I got from these managers was, "When can you help me do this." The seasoned managers often say, "Sounds good, but I'm going to have to think about it some more." When I was presenting in India in 2005 I was frequently asked after presenting the 13 Oops, "Should we change all thirteen at once or one at a time." They didn't question whether to do it, rather how to do it. This bias for action is one of the reasons that young Indian managers believe that India will soon become the dominant player in global business.

The new generation of managers gets positive reinforcement. They have grown up with it all around them. Often older managers have to be convinced that positive reinforcement is vital to maximizing organizational performance. Not so with younger managers. Don Tapscott wrote a book, Grown Up Digital, a sequel to Growing Up Digital. To paraphrase him in Growing Up Digital, the present generation is the first generation in the world to know something of significance to society more than their parents. Those who have grown up digital, people born in the last 20 years or so have lived in an environment where each year of their lives has produced more positive reinforcement for their behavior than the last. Think video games, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

For a number of years I spoke to classes of young entrepreneurs at an MIT program called Birthing of Giants. More than 95% said they started their companies because they felt that they were undervalued and underappreciated for the contributions they made. When I asked them what management model they used to manage their own companies a sense of shock comes over them almost immediately as they realize that they manage in the same way as the company they hated and left. In growing their businesses they have all experienced management problems and when the science of behavior (behavior analysis) is explained, they get it.

When young managers imbed positive reinforcement into their business processes and into their management systems, larger competitors had better watch out. Since positive reinforcement accelerates behavior, which accelerates performance, which accelerates profits it becomes clear to me that soon many of these companies will be snapping at the heels of their now much larger competitors.

I am biased by my reinforcement history like everyone else, but I am very confident that after 40 years of working with managers and executives on accelerating business performance, the future belongs to those who can apply the science of behavior to organizational design, strategy and execution. My recent history tells me that young people are doing this at a much faster rate than older executives realize. It is not the businesses that change that will survive; it is the rate of change that is important. Positive reinforcement accelerates change. I hope you get it.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.