Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Proactivity and 'the commitment to progress' trap

As a buzz word proactivity has been around for quite some time. It is right up there with synergy. While I am not a fan of buzz words I am a fan of giving strict
definitions to common words to make them more useful. I am finding that a good definition for proactivity is "engaging in a 'worse-before-better' campaign." As before 'campaign' is a collection of actions. "Worse-before-better," as it suggest, means going through a bad time to get to a good time, closely related to 'sacrifice'.

Now if you try to characterize 'commitment to progress' in similar terms it comes to mean an adherence to 'better-before-better'. This is to say that things must always go in the right direction.

Both of these probably seem like pretty good principles, so which one are you going to choose? And you do have to choose one (at least at any one time). As you may have noticed a commitment to progress precludes all proactivity. Or to put it another way proactivity violates a commitment to progress.

But it isn't always stated explicitly. Commitment to progress can be the result of an unwillingness to engage real issues, an unwillingness to deal with issues (worse) to realize new opportunities (better).

A commitment to progress is a policy that leads to, at best, a diminishing returns plateau. As you become unwilling to take steps back the options available become less and less progressive. There is talk of perfection, doing things right and mistakes. The result is a focus on routine and crisis management. In the worst case the crises are not managed and the organization stumbles.

A focus on proactivity is different. There is talk of opportunities, doing right things and vision. The result is a focus on leadership, innovation and education. This is the kind of environment I like. Not so stable but more predictable in its own way. It provides room for unlimited growth, though miscalculations can be painful if not enlightening.

There ought to be a word in here about metrics. It is impossible to talk of worse before better, or even better before better without having some idea of what worse and better are. While many philosophies of life and management differentiate themselves on what these metrics are, money, love, environment etc, the same rules for proactivity and progress still apply. Markets correct leaving a foundation for a stronger economy;incompatible lovers leave to let us look for a better partner; fires burn and make room for more vibrant forests.

Regardless of our measure if we are not willing to embrace worse before better we limit opportunities in all areas of our world.

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