II. Bias Toward Action

Elite military units push their teams to have an aggressive, forward leaning stance. They live in a world of “flank or be flanked.” Sitting idly by is not a safe option - the world keeps moving around them.

While life behind a desk isn’t exactly life and death, a proactive mindset can help us be more successful. If we see something that’s holding us back at work, rather than waiting, we should have a bias for action. Inaction and reactivity are often laziness clothed in practicality.

Let’s look at a few common situations where a reactive mind1 can surface.
  • I have to wait for the roadmap to start research.
  • I don’t have enough time to validate the design.
  • I can’t get the sales team to provide access to customers.
  • If only my executive team would understand the value of what we do.
  • I don’t have the resources to prototype our solutions.

The mindset embodied in these examples moves us no closer to progress, but rather insidiously justifies inaction, and excuses the resulting lack of success. In each case we have, with simple language (bolded), made ourselves a victim of circumstance. We are hitched to a yoke or our own creation.

Action is the antidote to despair.
— Joan Baez

Adopting a reactive attitude lets us feel like we are working the problem, while accomplishing nothing. Success is placed outside our control - absolving ourselves of responsibility. This is a strategy to optimize your status report not your results.

The alternative is to manifest our own reality through creativity, optimism and determination. Default towards humble action - humble enough to put our head down and do what needs to be done in the face of challenge and uncertainty.

Does this mean if we take initiative things will always work out? Of course not, we can’t choose the results of our actions. Yes, some time may be wasted. Yes, our creative solution might not work. But then again, it might, and which approach sounds like more fun? 

We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.
— Stephen R. Covey

To find a way, or find an excuse. That is the choice we all have to make every day, at work and at home.

Again and again.


  1. The language of a reactive person is detailed within Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

articles in the series