By Anant Gupta
Here in New Delhi, my co-founder, Neal, and I have very different Uber experiences. For context, Uber does a poor job of training its drivers in India. Still, his drivers get lost more often, take longer to find the pickup spot, miss more turns, and generally give him more trouble.
The only difference between us is language. I don’t speak Hindi.
I can barely communicate with the drivers, while he can speak fluently. It didn’t make sense, until we looked closer.
When Neal hails a car, the driver assumes he will receive directions. He mentally prepares for someone else to guide his path, shifting his focus from navigating to following directions. The driver is on autopilot — putting the responsibility on the passenger. If Neal doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, that ride is doomed.
Still, I’m an even less capable passenger. I shouldn’t have better rides. I can’t even explain that I don’t know where we’re going. And that’s the point. When I get into an Uber, the driver cannot rely on me. I’m not a passenger, I’m cargo. With nobody else to hold responsible, the driver becomes a problem solver and figures it out. He enters a proactive mind-state. He uses the GPS. He plans the route. He asks people for directions to navigate the last mile. And I get where I’m going faster and with fewer issues.
In Neal’s case, the driver is waiting for the next direction. In my case, the driver is planning the entire journey.
What’s the lesson here? We already know we need to be proactive to succeed in life and especially in our careers. It seems like every job description asks for “self-starters” who “take initiative” and possess an “entrepreneurial spirit.” It’s even Stephen R. Covey’s first habit of successful people.
The importance of being proactive is not the lesson. To me, this is a daily reminder of something more actionable:
You can design your environment to trigger proactive and reactive mind-states and behaviors.
We are not inherently proactive or reactive; rather, we can be swayed in either direction. Think about your morning routine. Checking email when you wake up is a reactive trigger — it’s a stream of things you have to respond to. Visualizing the day is proactive — it helps you focus and fosters your sense of self-control.
Environment unlocks proactive behavior. And yet, even though everyone wants proactive employees, many workplaces don’t make it easy. They are full of reactive triggers. Micro-managers, endless meetings, lack of planning, constant interruptions, and lots of busywork turn people into firefighters. They don’t have opportunity to look beyond the immediate obstacle to the bigger picture because they’re just trying to keep everything under control
We all have the capacity to be “self-starters.” But if we truly want people working with us to be more proactive, it’s our job to encourage the right environment.
To encourage proactive behavior for yourself and your team, here are a few replicable tactics we’ve found useful at nhance
Making a daily to-achieve list
What we do: Everyone at nhance is responsible for planning their day and publicly commits to the things they will accomplish.
What you can do: The night before, prepare a short list of the 3 or 4 things you will accomplish the next day before you go to sleep.
What we do: We don’t have meetings in the morning or evening. This creates time dedicated to uninterrupted work. Importantly, it allows people to start their day from a place of self-control, so they can plan and get a productive start to the day.
What you can do: Find parts of your day that are in your control and guard them. Try blocking out chunks of time on your work calendar, or waking up early to visualize the day and ease into work.
What we do: We want everyone to understand their ability to impact the company and their own career. To that end, each of us are owners of specific outcomes and are empowered to manage the rest of the team for assistance and advice to achieve them. We’re an education company, so every person is also responsible for planning their learning and development at nhance. Our job is to provide opportunity and support to help them reach those outcomes.
What you can do: You may not have much control over your immediate assignments and projects, but you do have control over your development. By being mindful of your objectives, you can identify parts of your current job that serve your goals, seek out projects at work that might serve them better, and find opportunities outside of work to learn and develop additional skills and experience to help you progress.
Whether we do this consciously or not, our environment, habits and systems of behavior affect our ability to think and act proactively.
What helps you foster a proactive mindset? What triggers reactivity for you?