Brethower, Behavior, Persons, and Environment

Start the Year with Seven Weeks of Reflection

While reflecting on the recent death of Dale Brethower, I was reminded of an article in which Brethower describes seven fundamental concepts and cutting-edge applications. You can find the seven-part article (and the combined version) in the Resources by HPTers on the Dale Brethower Resource page. What follows are notes about the first concept, a challenge to you, and the link to the first article.


Behavioral systems analysis is a collection of concepts and techniques used to build a healthy work environment. Brethower explains that the analysis originates from two disciplines:

  1. Behavioral analysis: the study of how people function within their enviroment
  2. General systems theory: the study of how an environment works

Brethower explains that putting the two together can enable us to be better at developing people’s potential and enabling workplaces to function more effectively.

Brethower’s first concept

Image of Dale Brethower
Dale Brethower

…people of good will are now wasting much of their energy. They are spending huge amounts of time and money trying to use piecemeal tactics on matters that only respond to total system approaches. Intelligent consumers say no to piecemeal approaches. Intelligent consumers seek comprehensive approaches that are consistent with well-supported theory. Intelligent consumers ask to see the data about effectiveness and ask about the specific methods used.

Dale Brethower

The first of the fundamental concepts is:

B = f(O, E)

“Behavior (B) is a function of interactions between a person (O) and that person’s environment (E).”

Brethower discusses the importance of the concept for designing workplaces to accommodate differences in O variables while discriminating against bad workplaces, not unfit people.

…both O variables, nature, and E variables, nurture, are important. What a person does, B, is a function of both sets of variables. It is not either nature or nurture, it is both.

Brethower’s examples of a river and a tree to explain nature and nurture differences are worth reading as well as three of the first and most important things he learned in Harvard’s psychological laboratories.

Behavior is the window to the person.

Dale Brethower

A challenge to you

On the Dale Brethower Resource page, you’ll find the seven-part article as well as a PDF to the combined article. My challenge to you is to read one part per week. Set aside an undisturbed hour to read, digest, and reflect on what Brethower wants you to learn.


In the Resources by HPTers on the Dale Brethower Resource page, you can find part one of the article (PDF), Behavioral Systems Analysis: Fundamental Concepts and Cutting Edge Applications.

Image of the beginning of Brethower’s article

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