Pressing problems which require urgent action today are the direct result of a lack of anticipation in the past, and often draw resources away from more important tasks like long-term organizational development. In order to master change, organizations must correctly anticipate shifts in technological, competitive, and regulatory environments, and then do so neither too early nor too late.
A proactive approach focuses on eliminating problems before they have a chance to appear and a reactive approach is based on responding to events after they have happened. The difference between these two approaches is the perspective each one provides in assessing actions and events.
The now common expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” originally came from Benjamin Franklin, who coined the phrase when he wrote a short essay about how to prevent house fires. As he noted, it was much less expensive to practice fire safety than it was to rebuild a house that burned to the ground.
It’s easier to stop something happening in the first place than to repair the damage after it has happened.
Proactive comes when the decision is made to attack the problems at the root before they are in the wild causing consternation for your teams and your customers. This sounds hard to do and in fact it can be if everyone is not bought into what the overall vision and goal is. Each team needs to understand that they are not an independent group. They are now a part of the overall ecosystem and if one part fails the whole ecosystem fails.
Cure is reactive. Prevention is proactive. Taking the time to prevent an inopportune scenario from happening is always better than dealing with the scenario after it occurs.
Summing-up: In the context of a crisis, reactivity trumps the other attitudes. Likewise in the context of growth, pro-activity is the most important attitude, notably by way of provoking change through innovation.