Are you Proactive or Procreactive™?

Several years ago I trademarked a word. I created it to differentiate the two types of action that I teach in my Time Management and Territory Management seminars. Experience tells me that the primary force separating successful from unsuccessful people is action. Successful people act, while unsuccessful people don’t. Achievers do what failures beg off doing. Chinese proverbs put it this way: “Talk will not cook rice,” or “Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth will wait a very, very long time.” Wayne Gretzky, the great hockey player, phrased it: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

I teach two types of useful actions, but we actually have four choices.

The first is inaction, doing nothing. People who do nothing accept, in their minds, the status quo as the norm, and choose to simply park themselves. Their motive for inaction may be fear, helplessness, laziness, ignorance, or procrastination. Whatever, and however much they may mope, blame, shame or justify it, inaction leaves their aspirations in a dream-world, and them moving backward. Inaction actually makes life harder. “Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry, all things easy.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Second, we can act without thought, merely by habit. This is reaction. Reaction gets us into trouble when we don’t consider long term consequences. Such thoughtless reaction is no better than inaction. “Failures are divided into two classes—those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.” (John Charles Salak) Most of us have experienced this, as when we lost our temper and thoughtlessly lashed out. Later, we regret our reaction and wish we could re-live the moment. We realize that we simply reacted to another’s actions. We let their emotions and ours enslave us.

We admire people who control their emotions. The beginning of controlling ours is realizing that “There is no Fate that plans [our] lives. Whatever comes to us, good or bad, is usually the result of our own action or lack of action.” (Herbert N. Casson) We gain control of our emotions by gaining control of our actions. “[B]y regulating our actions, which are under the direct control of the will, we can regulate the feeling, which is not.” (William James)

The third type of action is proactive, that is, action driven by careful thought and initiative. Proaction is the antidote for fear, helplessness and procrastination. “The most drastic and usually the most effective remedy for fear is direct action.” (William Burnham) When we carefully choose how we want to respond to problems and thoughtfully estimate the possible consequences, we take charge of our destiny. Doing so, we usually achieve our goals and desires. “[H]onors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.” (Aristotle)

I believe that being proactive is often, but not always effective. At Mohawk University and in our consulting practice, I see and work with many proactive dealers. They work hard to accomplish their goals—to make more money, increase their sales, improve their employee’s productivity, and increase their company’s market value. They apply tried and true business systems that in good economic times have produced results. Recently, however, the results for many dealers have been meager. To them, I say, “If you are not getting the results in your business want, even if you are proactive, you are doing the wrong things!”

Recently, flooring sales have been flat or falling (the exceptions being tenant improvement and commercial building). Tough times call for innovation and creativity … different actions. Many dealers are trying new things, taking bigger risks, and some are flourishing. I believe tough times call for a higher level of action: procreaction™.

Procreaction™ is undertaking to act when you can foresee the outcome you desire, but not the path to it. Someone may ask, “How are you going to do that?” You may reply, “I have no idea!” Thomas Edison used procreaction™ when he wanted to invent a light bulb, but didn’t know exactly how to do it. Procreaction™ is driven by four ingredients: a clear vision, focused thought, dispatch (effective execution), and persistence. On the new path that you draw to your goal, you should expect some trial and error. But, you should also expect success.

Procreaction™ requires us to create new solutions. The human brain is a marvel that will create solutions. But first we must give it a clear picture of what we want—a vision. Then, we must fill it with information—pertinent information it can use to analyze the issue and its obstacles, and find new ways to solve them. When we put our brains to work, we will not notice most of its work—it is subconscious. But one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the germ of an idea will come to mind. Consciously then, we can elaborate it, experiment with it, and eventually design a solution that yields the outcome we sought. As we thus create and act on the idea, we become procreactive™.

Many dealers feel that they are not creative. Fact: all of us can create new ideas; we just need to develop the ability. Try this method. First, feed your mind. A mind cannot create anything out of nothing. Like a computer, it needs data. (Good stuff in, good ideas out.) Second, give your mind time to work on this fertile field of ideas. Third, sit in a quiet place and let your mind talk to you. Write down all ideas. Consider their potential. Think of different ways to apply them. Pick the best. “It’s all a case of trimming the useless branches and throwing the whole force of power into the development of something that counts.” (Walter J. Johnston) Finally, act them out. “Contemplation is necessary to generate an object, but action must propagate it.” (Owen Feltham) When you create new solutions, mountains become valleys! This is procreaction™!

This month, many of you will go to “Surfaces”, or local vendor road shows or marketing group conventions. There, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a rich pool of information about running a better flooring business. Here’s a tip: before you go, sit down and reflect on your business. (I recommend this tip to all readers whether you are an owner or salesperson. All of us should think of ourselves as “ME, Inc.”.) As you reflect on your business, ask yourself: “Which goals do I want to set?” “What’s my ideal outcome for 2008?” Think about satisfaction: what about customer satisfaction? What about employee satisfaction and retention? What about your satisfaction? Envision how your company and your own life will be when you achieve your goals. Can you vividly foresee them? Write your goals down. (All this gives your brain a clear and detailed picture of the end-result you seek.)

Then, as you work the flooring shows or seminars, think like a student, soaking up information as a thirsty sponge. “The best [managers] are students of the game.” Renew old acquaintances, network with people you don’t know, make friends with new vendors. Devour industry publications. Take copious notes of everything you hear, see and feel. Become a master at asking questions. “What are you doing that’s working for you?” “What isn’t working?” “What are you doing differently?” Listen to all ideas. Don’t think, “Oh, that wouldn’t work for me.” Or “I tried that once.” Soak in everything, so your mind has ample fodder to chew on.

These are times that try dealers’ souls. But, “We must not sit down and wait for miracles. Up and be going!” (John Eliot) I believe that “No one can defeat us unless we first defeat ourselves.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower) Your company’s life may depend on your becoming procreactive™. I also want you to expect success: “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” (Horace)

That’s why I invite you to move up from being proactive to procreactive™. I still believe that consumers want to buy from one person.

“There’s a man in the world who is never turned down, wherever he chances to stray;

He gets the glad hand in the populous town, or out where the framers make hay;

He’s greeted with pleasure on deserts of sand, and deep in the aisles of the woods;

Wherever he goes there’s a welcoming hand—he’s the man who delivers the goods.” (Walt Whitman)

Sam Allman, December 2007