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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Proactive vs. Reactive – Part 1: Individual and group differences

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Proactive vs. Reactive – Part 1: Individual and group differences

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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#Proactive vs. #Reactive – Part 1: Individual and group differences

Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Proactive vs. Reactive – Part 1
Individual and group differences

Isn’t it encouraging to meet someone who takes pride in doing their job well? I’ve met several such gems recently here in town. 

Do you know someone like this? Tell them that you noticed. Even if it’s not the same person that I had in mind, the one you compliment will receive that positive recognition from you. You can make their day. My most recent contact made the comment that they “believe in being proactive rather than reactive.”

A person who is only REactive waits for something to happen and then responds to that event. A person who is PROactive takes initiative to make change happen, anticipates potential threats or opportunities, and takes steps ahead of time to be prepared. Things seem to go better for proactive people. The reason is explained by the saying, “Good luck is found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.”

As individuals, we have an advantage over lower life forms. A bacterium may simply react by moving toward food or away from an irritating chemical. In fact, when there are no
opportunities or threats, there is no need for change. On the other hand, when change is at hand – when compelling change is afoot all around us – we need to respond.

Reactive change allows us to adjust with less urgency and in smaller steps. A mountain shepherd can lead his sheep to greener pastures as the season matures. However, being overly fond of old habits, characterized by reactive change, can leave us unprepared for a crisis (or even an unexpected windfall).

Proactive people are in the habit of staying so aware of their situation that they can anticipate needed changes. More than that, they are, by nature, open to examining, evaluating, and possibly embracing new ideas and opportunities. Proactive people are more likely to prosper during a time of dramatic transition.

In groups, however, there can actually be benefits to reactive behavior. You have heard the phrase that “too many cooks spoil the soup,” or “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” When change is necessary, it can do harm to the entire group if someone selfishly obstructs progress in defense of their private interests. For instance, a tribe works best with a strong, competent, visionary leader who can find solutions to difficult problems, inspire hope, and show the way forward when change is necessary. I’ll talk about this in more detail in Part 2.