Shoulda Woulda Coulda: Behavior Design edition


Back in 2015, before I’d started to form any presence in the Learning & Development industry (though I’d been quietly doing the work at for 15 years), I remember deciding between doubling down within L&D or going off to work in what was still a fledgling field of Behavior Design instead.

Now, looking back at the last six years, it often feels like I made the wrong call.

At the time, I’d been attempting to create several communities and innovate new projects that the world didn’t know it needed yet. Most would work for a little while with me putting in a ton of effort, but then fail when I wasn’t doing that anymore. I wanted to build from within a preexisting community or industry or field, and I thought L&D would be the best bet. At least there’s a market for that, not a huge one, but something.

Then I went off to contribute to the community and meet a lot of the people active in it. There I met some amazing people that have become lifelong friends. And…I met a lot of people who like to hide, want things to be easy, and don’t really want to work very hard. I’m happy to play with anybody and tend to get along with everybody, though I don’t particularly enjoy people who are firmly rooted in a stance of “they should” without any willingness to say “I will” or “Hey let’s”.

Maybe that’s not about L&D so much as people in general, but from my perspective it seems to be particularly pronounced in this field. I ventured forth to speak and teach and write and livestream and podcast and host and do whatever I could to connect and resonate with the “Hey let’s” folks. But I didn’t get anywhere with it. Not really.

I wanted to get good as speaking, and I think I did. Not that I’m the world’s best speaker or anything, but I’ve now done it enough that I hit all of the personal improvement targets that I had set. I spoke & taught at dozens of L&D conferences, and worked hard to deliver good and memorable information and experiences. But rarely would anyone actually pay me. I realized that it kinda doesn’t matter how good you get within that world, the only people who tend to get paid are from outside it who are invited in for their fame, not their skill.

I don’t know that the field of Behavior Design is very different, but the grass looks greener over there right now. In truth, my heart has always been more in Behavior Design than Learning & Development. There are just too many flaws in the logic of how we do learning at scale, and too few principles or models. There’s an incredibly blind fanatic focus on making things that address the conscious experience, as if learning can only happen when you are consciously aware that you’re learning?!? Even a quick reflection upon one’s own personal history shows that this actually isn’t the case at all.

I’ve got a scientific bent, and WAY too much of what we “know” about learning flies in the face of science and even just basic testing or reflection like that.

I’m not going to change streams at this point. But as there are opportunities to work in the overlap between the two, I’m there. I have some much better data & analytics skills now, which wasn’t the case back in 2015. Which was a factor in me moving to L&D rather than helping forge the world of B&D (yeah, nobody calls it that, sorry).

I don’t know where my life would be if I had gone straight from working at YouTube to learning from BJ Fogg and getting involved with followers of his who have gone on to create their own books and craft their own path. I was in the right place at the right time with the right connections already. I nearly did exactly that.

Perhaps I’d be better off. Perhaps not. Another Shoulda Woulda Coulda.

What I learned from this is that making a decision based on what I believe currently exists and what I think is likely is maybe not as impactful as making a decision based on what I’m most excited about and intrigued by.

Do you have a pivotal professional crossroads like this in your life? If so, please share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it too.

Categories ,