Proactive Strategy or Self-Defeating Prophecy?
Fear of a future negative consequence from inaction often encourages proactive thinking to get ahead of the issue and cut it off at the pass.
Anytime we create a solution for a problem that has yet to materialize, we are thought to be proactive, acting in anticipation to avoid an avoidable problem. Enacting solutions before the problem occurs sounds smart. Unless the problem was never going to happen in the first place.
What would happen if we predicted that a competitor was going to lower prices and our best strategy was to beat them to the punch and lower prices first? If we were correct in our prediction, we would benefit from the early action.
But if, on the other hand, our prediction was wrong, then we would suffer a loss of profits for no reason. Planning proactively can sometimes actually hurt our performance.
Take, for example, the anticipation that a star colleague is likely to leave the team for greener grass elsewhere. If the team leader decides to cover that colleague's responsibilities by proactively giving them to others, that move will likely lessen the negative effects when they depart. This proactive strategy is designed to curtail the negative outcomes of our prediction.
But what if that star colleague doesn’t leave or never even intended to leave? The result could be tremendous upset and dissatisfaction and a star that no longer shines as brightly.
The point is that not all proactive strategies and tactics are good by definition.
Anticipating problems requires a fairly accurate crystal ball. When our predictions are accurate, being proactive is a sign of preparation and insight. But when our predictions are faulty, our proactive strategies can actually make matters worse.
Predictions and prophecies need to be challenged and not presumed. When a prediction has a relatively low probability of coming to fruition, proactive moves should be held at bay and not enacted until the picture becomes more clear. Jumping the gun and acting on an early prediction sounds smart but it can lead to trouble.
Great leaders remember that planning proactively is not always a good thing. This fights common wisdom. But acting in anticipation of an outcome that never happens will prove the point.
Who knew that getting ahead of the game can sometimes put us behind? Did you anticipate that?
I don't think planning is the problem, executing prematurely is. I think that is the intent of this post, just making a minor clarification.
This idea is so very counterintuitive.
Have to sit with it for a bit before knowing how adopting this doesn't just leave me with paralysis :)