• Foreseeing and intervening in anticipation of future needs or changes
  • Initiating and preparing beforehand rather than reacting afterwards
  • Taking steps ahead of time based on training, knowledge and experience
Being proactive, taking the right steps ahead of time and being prepared beforehand, is hard work. It takes discipline, knowledge and dedication; but the results of being proactive are fantastic: problems are averted, time is spent wisely, money is saved, stress is lowered, and life is better for everyone.

But wanting to be proactive and being proactive are two different things. At times, it seems no matter how hard I try I am always reacting to events or circumstances. I see the potential benefits of being proactive, and I strive to demonstrate this GuideMark, but more times than I care to admit it, I am left feeling reactive and disappointed. Why is that? Have you ever felt that way? I have. Plenty.

But take heart. There is hope. I have come to respect that the ability to assess proactivity is extremely limited and, to a certain degree, fatally flawed because of a measurement bias. Let me explain.

A measurement bias exists when results are skewed towards a certain outcome because of the manner in which they are evaluated. Our success at being proactive is always measured after the fact. We take steps ahead of time, but it will only be later that we can assess how effective those steps were. (It is an absolutely crazy irony that our efforts at being proactive must be measured after the fact. If that seems reactionary to you, you are right, because it is. Even PROACTIVE must be REACTIVE. In a weird way, this encourages me.)

Because our success at being proactive is not known until after the fact, what usually catches our attention are the mistakes that we make. The failures stand out; but the successes go unnoticed because the problems they solved never materialized in the first place. This paradox makes it difficult to assess how well we are being proactive.

This is the heart of the “proaction measurement bias”. There will always be things we could have done differently or prepared for that we simply did not see coming. Because proactivity is measured through the lens of hindsight, it is easier to see these failures than it is to see the positive outcomes. We do not take the time to sit down and list out all of the proactive steps that we took correctly. Thus, the measurement bias: we measure the faults or shortcomings, while we have limited opportunities to measure our successes.

What are the practical implications of this?

  • Failure rises to the surface. We are more likely to notice a bad outcome that is the result of not being properly prepared than we are to notice a success because we did everything right. This is good because it is important for us to learn from our mistakes. We just have to be careful not to let the “proaction measurement bias” discourage us.
  • Success hides beneath the surface. We will need to dig a little deeper to measure successes than we will to find failures related to being proactive. It is important to celebrate successes and understand what went right (particularly if it was just luck that got us through it.) Just know that it is going to be harder to uncover the proactive factors that played into a success; and, in some cases, it will be impossible for us to know with certainty what might have been had we not taken the proactive steps that we did.

No matter how much I strive to be proactive, I have come to accept that there is a certain baseline level of reactionary living that will be in my life. I should not be discouraged by this fact; furthermore, I need to remember my measurement bias: it is often times easier to see the failures than the successes. If we want to accurately assess our efforts at being proactive, it will require looking past the obvious outcomes to get a fuller picture of all that we are doing. And this is the last little irony I will share with you today: if you want to measure success at being proactive, you need to be doubly proactive. Proactive in what you do, and proactive in trying to measure it.


Key words and phrases

Acting in anticipation; Causing something to happen; Taking steps based on experience; Foreseeing; Preparing beforehand; Intervening ahead of time; Initiating instead of reacting; Farsighted planning and action

Opposite terms

Shortsighted; Reactionary; Improvident; Myopic


GuideMarks – Distinguishing Characteristics of FFL E-rate Guides

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