There are clearly two ways to approach a complexity: by anticipating an issue in advance or by reacting to an issue after it happens. It is pretty commonly believed that anticipation of issues is more productive and allows for greater participation in the outcome. That is what is called being proactive.
Etymologically, this is a “centaur” word (like “bi-cycle”), combining a Greek prefix (“pro-” meaning “before”) with a Latin root, “active”. The Latin prefix “pre-” (“before”) could have been used, but perhaps it would then be confused with “re-active”. (Wikipedia)
Viktor Frankl is credited with having first used the word in publication in 1946 in reference to a person who takes credit for (his) life rather than blaming the issues of (his) life on others. It meant to take responsibility for flaws in one’s life. That meaning is common in contemporary thinking.
In business or industry, proactivity is a vital part of production. A good business or industry will spend lots of creative time in settings where experts and clear thinkers are directed to imagine the consequences of the product, or the method of producing it. It is important to tackle the potential flaws in the process and to anticipate the ways in which production and marketing will be affected by circumstances within and beyond production and distribution.
If a decision is made to “cross that bridge when we come to it” the company, industry, or organization will spend inappropriate time having to correct the situation even before beginning the process of moving forward.
It is easy to see the implications of proactive thinking in the areas of education…and politics. Taking steps to attempt to predetermine the outcomes of educational programming makes a lot of sense. It can be tested against, and there is a plethora of history to call upon in assessing the potential of a concept. Nothing is guaranteed, but that’s why we have treatment groups and control groups. In the treatment group the proposed process is employed and in the control group traditional methodology is employed. The results are measured against each other as one way of assessing the validity of the theory.
As one who was teaching elementary mathematics when “the new math” was envisioned as the best thing to come along in a century or more, it would have been helpful to have seen data from such a two-pronged study. My memory leads me to remember that data from the treatment groups were cited without any (or much) data from traditional settings beside it. It seemed to me that the treatment groups were found in communities with a high degree of science and mathematic access, such as in research cities and university cities. The results were horrendous in communities like the rust belt city where I was teaching. The propensity for adaptation to the new process was very, very low.
Proactive thinking on the process was colored by the inadequacy of data from ordinary, more isolated communities. Reactive thinking came from cries and moans of those of us who saw the lights go out in the eyes of our students who just could not grasp the concepts which we were presenting. (It was hard enough for us who were teachers to learn them quickly, to say nothing about the students we were teaching. The process was premature, to say the least.)
Acting proactively in political life is the process of testing out an idea on well-defined study groups and organizations to check the feasibility of the embracing of the ideas. Just dumping a new idea on a community or nation with no proactive analysis is to doom an idea to failure. Legislators are selected to be proactive, creative thinkers, and it is to be expected that they may be ahead of their constituents in conceptualizing outcomes. Their platforms and programs should reflect new ideas that take into account the anticipated strengths and weaknesses, rather than having to defend them after a flawed introduction.
Proactivity is not necessarily liberal or conservative. It is simply good process.
Illustration Credit: medexec.com