Monday, November 8, 2010

Proactivity - Solve Problems WhileThey Are Still Small

When people ask me why I don’t do consulting work anymore, I recall the most challenging project I ever had, which was to present training in creative problem solving to the mid-level managers of Banamex (National Bank of Mexico) – 20 years ago. It was a memorable experience. During the month I was there, I learned a lot about Mexico, its people, and the language.

But two things made the work particularly difficult.

First, every aspect of the training had to be in Spanish. That meant I had to present through an interpreter, and all my materials had to be translated into Spanish—including my brain-based personality assessment. What a task that was! I must have been more optimistic and adventurous back then, because if I had to do it over, I would have suggested they find someone else.

But I eventually pulled it all together and shipped everything to Juan, my human resources point of contact at the bank.

The other thing that made my experience so challenging was Juan. Juan was a great guy. He spoke fluent English, and he treated me with enormous kindness. He made sure I was comfortable and showed me around Mexico City. A family man, he invited me to spend the weekend at his home in Guadalajara. We became friends.

What made Juan a problem was his inability to plan. He was spontaneous about everything. I watched in horror when we arrived at the first hotel and saw that he hadn’t reserved any presentation rooms. We had to take what was left. The rooms were too small, and the participants complained. Also, he failed to arrange for the earphone system for the interpreter. I asked him about the activities agenda, and he had none. He said he thought it would be great if the entire group went to a local theater that evening. But he made no reservations, and he didn’t make the call for the buses until the participants were standing outside the hotel. We arrived at the theater late. I was appalled but he seemed happy with everything. I was diplomatic as I pleaded with him to make advance arrangements. He never did though, program after program, hotel after hotel.

It wasn’t a matter of forgetfulness. He simply seemed unwilling or unable to make the effort to be proactive.

Proactivity requires a kind of mental time-travel. You begin in the present, where you sense a problem or a gap between what you want and what you have. Then you visit the future, where you imagine what’s possible. Back in the present again, you wonder what you could do to make that future happen, which sends you into the past, where you recall instances of cause and effect that have worked for similar challenges. In the present again, you use those lessons to construct a step-by-step plan to create your desired future.

Whew! No wonder Juan disliked being proactive! That’s why it’s considered a personal strength — because it takes real effort to translate a vision into action.

If you want your kids to go to college, you know it’s going to be even more expensive when they’re ready than it is today. Maybe they’ll get scholarships, student loans and part-time jobs. But if their education really means that much to you, when they’re small you’ll set up a system for saving the money.

If you don’t like being blown away by a crisis, keep an eye to the future so you can see the problem building. It’s a lot easier to solve it while it’s still small.

If you want to avoid a fatal heart attack, the time to change your exercise and eating habits is now, not after the first signs of heart disease.

Desire is good, but to get what you want, you have to go beyond that. As the saying goes, “Good days don’t just happen. You make them happen." 

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Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

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