Thursday, May 04, 2006

Act Before You Must
Do things long before they become necessary; by then they may be life-threatening*

Test yourself. Over the past one year, in whatever business or activity that you have responsibility for, what is your degree of agreement with each of the three statements below?

- All customer complaints arose due to factors that were completely beyond control.
- All deadline overruns happened due to reasons that just could not have been planned for.
- Every crisis that happened was truly unforeseeable.

If you agree completely with each statement above, congratulations! You perhaps truly have no headroom for improvement. However, I suspect a vast majority of readers will, upon reflection, feel compelled to disagree with at least one of the three statements (as I do!).

Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO, GE, counsels in his book Winning: “You need to change, preferably before you have to.” Louis Gerstner, Former Chairman and CEO, IBM said in his autobiography, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: “I hate surprises”.

Most of us know from painful experience that the above advice is very true indeed. Yet, why do we resist doing the difficult stuff, such as meticulous planning, even when we know it's really important to do so?

One reason: Action has romantic appeal; preparing for action doesn’t. The folklore that we grew up with lionizes the hero who swings into action in a flash, and not “the system”, which imposes constraints that cramp his style. (If the hero, in the course of his good deeds, breaks a few rules and incurs the wrath of the system, so much the better.. !)

For a deeper insight into the reasons why we are often not very proactive, and some ways to overcome that situation, read my piece Act Before You Must, which talks of the importance of proactivity in organizations.

A tongue-in-cheek corollary of the celebrated Murphy’s Law goes: “There’s never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over “. What would you rather spend your time on: doing it right or doing it over?
* By the time the Doctor peers grimly at your examination report and orders a crash diet, it’s probably too late – you should never have put on that weight in the first place!