Don’t react. Proact

It’s 11:40am. A perfect summer’s day. Not too much humidity. The streets are alive with people. I’m in a taxi, trying to get through New York City traffic to Penn Station to catch my train to Washington DC, which leaves at noon. My train leaves in 20 minutes and I’m still not near the station. The possibility that I might miss my train is looking highly likely. The perfect day vanishes. Oh no, I’m going to miss my train. How do I react?

1. I cross my fingers and hope I don’t miss the train.
2. I play over in my head all the repercussions of missing my train.
3. I sweat and get agitated.
4. I start giving the cab driver “polite” advice how to drive better.
5. I beat myself up for leaving my apartment late.

“React” is the strategy and my list of reactions are the tactics – the tangible ways in which I would implement my strategy. It’s too tactical to start looking for alternative options for each reaction. It’s too inefficient. What I need is a completely different strategy. I need a new guiding principle. So what’s a better strategy than react?

Sitting in the taxi – I make a strategic decision – I am going to proact to the situation. Now what are my options? How do I implement? What’s my proaction?

1. I accept that I may very well miss my train.
2. I consider what my course of action should be – get a new ticket for the next train which will probably get me to Washington, at most, an hour later.
3. I ignore the factors that contributed to the possibility of my missing the train (traffic, passive cab driver, my leaving late). They are of no value to my proaction strategy.
4. I plan who I’d have to call in Washington, what plans need to be adjusted if I catch the later train.

My new strategy fully implemented, I notice something profound. I’m completely relaxed and completely prepared to miss my train. I sit back and enjoy the rest of my cab ride and the summer day outside. My attitude also changes – I’m now enjoying the possibility of making my train instead of the fear of missing it. The situation turned from a race into a game.

We need a new verb. To proact. If we have the verb, it becomes a viable and actionable strategy. Telling someone to be proactive is passive, not as powerful, as telling them to proact (think of the opposite – telling someone to be reactive instead of telling someone to react is a very different instruction – the latter demands action…but in the wrong direction).

A reaction forces us to consider what has happened to determine a solution. A proaction forces us to consider what will happen to determine a plan.

In business, developing strategies to proact to situations instead of react to them forces us to think ahead. It changes any situation from a stressful short term race to a strategic long term game. The stress I had in the cab is no different to the stress of losing a client. It’s no different to missing financial goals or watching a project go awry…or operating in a “bad” economy.

When we react, we look to point fingers and assign blame (to others or ourselves) for the existence of the situation. We work to compensate or prevent bad things from happening.

When we proact, we accept the situation as fact and start looking for solutions or alternatives. We work to make good things happen.

I’m using the verb “to proact” on a regular basis now, especially at work and in a strategic context. No matter the situation, I want proaction to be the primary strategy. The impact is profound. It’s forward focused. It’s optimistic. It’s productive and it encourages people to come together.

As for my train? I made it. I didn’t have to implement my proact strategy. And I didn’t run on to the train and feel relieved, I walked on to the train felt like I won something. This is the impact of proaction.
Imagine if we all went to work and treated it like a long term game and not a short term race. Chess instead of a mad dash sprint. Easily done if we just proact to everything that happens.

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