Two Brilliant Baseball Books With Lessons for Stuffy Intellectuals (Part 3 – Our “Put Butts in the Bleachers” Contest!!)

Derek Reed, Institutes for Behavior Resources, Inc.
Tom Critchfield, Illinois State University

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Rumbustious Reviews are conversational discussions about books that aren’t specific to behavior analysis. “Rumbustious” means “boisterous or unruly.” That might be a slight overstatement of purpose, but reading widely has a disruptive effect on our thinking, in a good way. LOTS of books can educate us on things about which we are (or should be) interested. Let’s encourage each other to read them. The approach of these reviews  is to harness the tone of a decently elevated bar conversation: light on the stiff academic language and minus that drearily conservative expository style that journals demand of us. 

Heward, B., & Gat, G.V. (1974). Some are called Clowns: A season with the last of the great barnstorming baseball teams. Crowell. Click here to download pdf for free!

Cole, J. (2022). Fans first: Change the game, break the rules, & create an unforgettable experience. Lioncrest.

Tom: Derek, it’s time to get to the point of this series of posts. Our last two discussed what innovative baseball teams like the Indianapolis Clowns and Savannah Bananas do to put butts in the bleachers. They do this by adapting — purists might say subverting — the staid old game of baseball.

Derek: The end product is still recognizable as baseball, but it’s also something more. Maybe we could say that it’s what baseball would be if it were designed around what makes fans happy rather than around simply allowing athletes to compete.

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A conference speaker works his magic on the audience.

Tom: As mentioned in our earlier posts, we’ve delved into this because behavior analysis has its own spectator sport, the annual conference. Conferences today aren’t too different than what they were back at the dawn of science. They are designed to be informational. For a spectator sport, that’s about as inspirational as the user manual of your automobile. You have to ask whether, over the past few hundred years, smart people couldn’t have improved on the model. 

Derek: With conferences as with sporting events, a key goal is to get butts into the bleachers. There may be good reasons why only a tiny fraction of the behavior analysts  attend ABAI’s annual meeting. This is what got us thinking about opportunities to do better. That is, to preserve some essence of this conference “game,” but make it something more.

Tom: Together, the baseball books we discussed identified three strategies that seem to put butts in bleachers.

  1. Modified Rules: If there are things about your serious product that reduce customer enthusiasm, change those things.
  2. Fans First: The sponsoring organization should show at least as much excitement for paying customers as you expect them to show for the organization.
  3. The Sideshow: Your product may be a serious thing, but around its edges can be silly, fun, or frivolous stuff that livens up the experience.

Derek: Now we want readers to help us imagine a re-design of the annual behavior analysis conference based on those three strategies. This is a nothing’s-off-the-table thought experiment, and we want your ideas!

The “Put Butts in the “Bleachers” Contest

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The behavior analysis conference of the future.

Imagine an alternate reality in which the organization BananABA International wants to spruce up its annual convention. If you were the all-powerful executive in charge, how would YOU change the model we’re currently familiar with into something people would enjoy more… that is, something that would put more butts in the organization’s bleachers?

We want to feature your creative suggestions in a future post.

And we have a prize for the best idea: An author-signed copy of the Fans First book, plus a 1949 replica Indianapolis Clowns cap, plus of course all of the fame and glory that comes with being acknowledged in our upcoming blog post (P.S. If you’re the shy type, you can still enter but have your name withheld.)

PLEASE give this a few minutes consideration and generate some suggestions for BananABA ’24! Since this is hypothetical you’re limited only by your imagination (and what ABAI will let us print!). Be as outrageous as necessary to allow  the conference of the future to get butts into the bleachers, to inform people without being a snoozer, and to inspire true passion for the organization. To help you brainstorm, below are some of our own starter ideas. Apologies if some of these give you too clear a glimpse into our demented psyches.


Submission deadline is November 1, 2023.

Postscript: Sample Ideas

Modified CONVENTION Rules
  • Problem: We see the same speakers give the same exact talks over and over at multiple conferences. Might as well have an Alexa device read the paper. Solution: Invite really smart people to speak, but have them draw a topic from a jar at the podium. Then they have to extemporize intelligently. This should be fascinating because nobody, not even the speaker, knows what’s going to happen next!
  • Problem: Our conferences are mind-numbingly passive. Speakers speak and audience members stare at them blankly. Snoozer! Solution: Every session has designated Bullshit Monitors. Any time a speaker doesn’t make sense, or digresses painfully, or asserts something debatable as if it were established fact, a Bullshit Monitor immediately stands up… shouts “Bullshit!”… identifies the problem… and demands that the speaker make it right, right now. This will work best if audience members hiss and boo when the problem is identified. [Note: One of us thought Bullshit Monitors should wear hats shaped like poop emojis, but the other one thought that a step too far. Stop it, Derek.]
  • Problem: Conferences are overscheduled. They leave very little time to grab coffee or take a bio-break or discuss what you learned with colleagues, much less get away to a restaurant to eat. To relieve the time pressure, schedule fewer sessions with more time in between. To make more efficient use of scheduled time, make sessions BYOB (bring your own beverage, whatever that may be) and BYOF (bring your own food). The beverages alone should do amazing things for the conference experience.
Fans First
  • At book signings authors, instead of signing book copies for purchasers, chase members around to get them to sign their own personal copies of books. Or, taking a page from the Bananas playbook, imagine Bill Heward’s white dress shirt covered with sharpie autographs from devoted White Book fans.
  • Prior to releasing the Call for Papers, BananABA’s Executive Director calls 10 randomly-selected members to ask what they would most like to be covered at the convention. Sessions are organized accordingly and each of those members gets to chair the session they suggested.
  • At the SABA (SABAnana?) awards ceremony, prior to the introduction of each award recipient the master of ceremonies acknowledges one regular member for some “mundane” (but personally important) milestone or accomplishment: defending a dissertation, being promoted, publishing an article, getting a community contract to deliver services, etc.
The Sideshow
  • The BananABA President-Elect has to walk around the Expo on 10-foot stilts.
  • While people file in to the lecture hall for the Presidential Address, a supercut of embarrassing video clips of Council Members plays, while BananABA staffers shoot B.F. Skinner boxer shorts into the audience with t-shirt cannons.
  • Pat Friman delivers his address from handstand position (he can do it, we promise).