A Playbook for Proactivity
By Adam Grant
Published as a part of a collaboration between McGraw-Hill and Character Lab, where this piece first appeared. Character Lab advances scientific insights that help kids thrive (you can watch a short video here). By connecting researchers with educators, Character Lab seeks to create greater knowledge about the conditions that lead to social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being for young people throughout the country.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
Why does proactivity matter?
Proactive people don’t accept the world as it is or wait for direction from others to initiate change. Instead, they take matters into their own hands, acting to make the world better for themselves and others. They speak truth to power, take charge to solve problems, and champion new ideas. For instance, there’s evidence that proactivity is one of the qualities that distinguished the greatest American presidents from their peers. And there’s also evidence that it’s a trait you can develop.
Think about yourself. How many of these things are true?
- I am always looking for better ways of doing things.
- I love to challenge the status quo.
- I enjoy being a champion for ideas, even against opposition.
- I like to be the one to take initiative.
How do I encourage proactivity in others?
Model it. When something isn’t working, question why. Replace “that’s the way we’ve always done it” with “what if we tried it a different way?” For example, if you think your street could use sprucing up, organize a block cleanup or a neighborhood flower planting.
Celebrate it. Applaud proactivity when you see it to help others recognize the behavior and associate it with a positive response: “I love how you dive into projects ahead of schedule and bring people together — I think you could organize a meeting of the American Association of Anarchists!”
Enable it. Invite young people to point out problems even if they don’t have a solution. Ask a question and give everyone in the room a chance to answer, so they all have a voice. Criticize yourself out loud, which shows people you’re open to being challenged.
About the author
Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, where he has been the top-rated professor for seven straight years. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Give and Take, Originals, and Option B. His TED talks have been viewed more than 16 million times, and he hosts the chart-topping podcast WorkLife. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s 40 under 40, and received distinguished scientific achievement awards from the American Psychological Association and the National Science Foundation.