Interview conducted by Michelle Nelson
Joe Dagen received his undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in behavioral psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. He joined BP in 2012 to guide the company’s behavior-based safety (BBS) efforts and to contribute to global safety leadership programs. In 2014 he moved into the central leadership development team where he now provides leadership development programs for leaders ranging from the front-line to the executive team. Dr. Dagen has contributed to BP’s incident investigation procedures, safety guidance documents, and he sits on the internal Human Performance Capability Team. He is a trustee of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies and is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.
How did you get into the field?
I always loved science. Around 2006 at WMU, I stumbled into my first behavioral science courses. They were taught by incredible faculty like Jim Carr and John Austin. I was amazed to learn that the scientific method could be successfully applied to behavior and even more amazed to learn that people had been doing this for decades and an entire behavioral science field already existed! The science resonated with me and it didn’t take long before I recognized that my behavior was a function of history and context, too (how radical!) I was inspired by the entire WMU faculty to continue my education, and felt very fortunate to be admitted into UNR for graduate school. I studied under Mark Alavosius for five years at UNR and soaked in the culture, history, and deep knowledge of the department. My interest in working with hazardous industries was also peaked during graduate school by working with an oil refinery in Illinois for my dissertation. After graduation, I was invited to join the CCBS safety accreditation team to help accredit world-class behavioral safety programs. During that time, I moved to Texas and eventually joined BP.
What are some ways that you use the science of behavior in your career?
I use the science of behavior every day! The energy industry is very exciting, and now more than ever. The global demand for energy is increasing and the future will look quite different from the past. Successfully accomplishing our Mission of delivering heat, light, and mobility solutions for a changing world will require people to work together, solve incredible challenges, and harness cutting edge technology. All of these activities require behavior, so behavioral science can be leveraged everywhere! I currently work in the central leadership development team where I help build and manage programs, processes, and tools to help BP leaders be even more successful at enabling and inspiring their teams to achieve great things. I think I must have the coolest job in the world. There are probably less than 10 other Ph.D. psychologists working for BP around the world, so I feel incredibly fortunate to able to contribute my passion and energy to a great company like BP.
Do you have any advice for students?
- Become a great behavioral scientist – deeply understand the science, theory, and philosophy.
- Find great mentors and learn from their experiences – the very best people want to help others learn, develop, and be inspired.
- Gain as much experience as you can in as many diverse contexts as possible.
- Great things are not accomplished in isolation, so learn how to be a great teammate, colleague, and leader.
- Read even more than you already do.
- Study ACT, stoicism, or any other approach that helps you separate your emotional reactions from your ability to choose how you behave.
What are some challenges of behavior-based communication to non-behaviorists?
This is not a unique challenge to behavioral scientists. But unlike other sciences, behavior is a topic that everyone has direct experience with, so there are many colloquial viewpoints. In my experience, this means that people won’t automatically recognize your technical knowledge IS technical knowledge, and therefore your view may be seen as just another opinion. As an aside, this would never work in physics – we wouldn’t launch a rocket based on a common-sense understanding of physics! So in the behavioral sciences, we have a unique challenge. One of the best ways I’ve found to communicate is to use the jargon of the people I’m working with. I would gently caution new behavior analysts to not use strict behavioral language when outside of an academic environment. It is important for us to communicate in a way that will help make an impact. So try to figure out what the audience needs and then determine what kind of language will be the most effective. Stay true to robust science, but communicate in a way that will be maximally impactful.