Reacting, Responding & Initiating

Most knowledge workers spend their day doing one of three things:

  • React (badly) to external situations
  • Respond (well) to external inputs
  • Initiate new events or ideas

Zig taught me the difference between the first two. When you react to a medication, that’s a bad thing. When you respond to treatment, that’s a plus.

So, think about your team or your front line staff or your CEO. Something happens in the outside world. An angry comment on Twitter or a disappointed passenger on your airline or a change in the stock price…

Do you react to it? How much of your time is spent reacting to what people say in meetings or emails?

The rest of your day may be spent responding. Responding to a request for proposal. Responding to a form in your inbox. Responding to emails or responding to status updates on Facebook. Responding is gratifying, because you go from having something to do —> to having something done. There’s a pile in a different spot on your desk at the end of the day. You responded to the needs of the tribe you lead, or you responded to password-change requests or you responded to the boss’s punch list.

And that’s it. You go home having done virtually nothing in the third bucket.

We tend to reserve the third bucket, initiate, for quiet times, good times, down times or desperate times. We wait until the inbox is empty or the new product lines are due (at which point the initiative is more of a response). It’s possible to spend an entire day blogging and twittering and facebooking and never initiate a thing, just respond to what’s coming in. It’s possible to spend an entire day at P&G (actually it’s possible to spend an entire career) doing nothing but responding…

Take a look at your Sent folder. Is it filled with subject lines that start with RE: ? Consider your job at the University–do you actively recruit people who don’t even apply for professorships? What about your blog–does it start conversations or just continue them?

What did your brand or organization initiate today?

What did you initiate?

Think about the changes you’d have to make (uh oh, initiate) in your work day in order to dramatically change the quantity and scale of the initiatives you create.

Some marketing jobs are about responding. None are about reacting. The best ones are about initiating.