How often have you told someone or have you been told to be proactive – to take problems into your own hands, take charge and stop being reactive? This sounds like good advice and often we hear people in job interviews tell us that they are proactive.

Consider the case of a company that thought it had been sued once too often. The proactive manager decided he was going to fight these law suites and stop settling out of court. They were going to stop being pushed around. To this end they increased their internal legal team so that they could take cases through to trial. Now besides the added costs of a larger legal department they also needed to spend a great deal of time and money researching these claims so that they could take them through to trial.

Now when you look at this situation systemically, at the effect the decision had on the whole company as opposed to how many cases were settled out of court, the vision was very different. The cost of fighting these cases far outweighed the small number of cases that were actually won in court. Instead of concentrating on what they were good at the company had almost become a law firm.

By identifying an enemy out there without gaining a true understanding of the whole system we can land up doing more harm than good. Too often we forget to see our company as a large integrated system instead we see our department and the role we play in that. We therefore believe my being proactive and fixing the problems within our silo we are doing a good thing. The opposite is often the case, by pushing on this side of the balloon the problem just pops up somewhere else.

Being proactive does not come from throwing resources at a problem we perceive, that is often just being reactive in disguise. Instead being truly proactive requires us to understand how we contribute to our own problems and finding a solution that takes into account the entire system and not only our silo.

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