After all, the popular adage "standing still is going backwards" is not strange to us and we are not alone in this. The urge to save what can be saved is the reason for everyone to quickly launch commercial campaigns and new initiatives. However, that's not always the best idea. It is precisely because we sometimes do not stand still that we regress. Just look at the Top Gear programme presented by men who, like us, don't want to grow up.

One of the producers described Top Gear as "the car show that has mainly non-car enthusiasts as viewers". In its original form, the coarse-mouthed Jeremy Clarkson (nickname Jezza), the youthful Richard Hammond (the hamster) and the serious James May (Captain slow) presented this series. With controversial comments or reviews like "this car is like herpes, fun to run with but less fun to live with," and flashy montages, the three miscreants portrayed their crazy adventures. With over 8 million viewers in the UK alone, Top Gear became the most watched BBC programme ever. The theme tune of Top Gear played a central role in my living room for years. Unfortunately, presenter Jeremy Clarkson fell out of favor after a strong dispute with a producer. Following his resignation Hammond and May also left, leaving the BBC with the rights to the format. Hoping to continue the success story, they hired a new trio to get the programme back up as soon as possible. Unfortunately the first episode had about half the viewer numbers. The figure halved again after the second episode, to stand under 1.9 million in the season finale. Ironic that just by switching presenters a programme about cars went down almost ingloriously.

© Top Gear

But it is human to want to leap into action quickly in times of bad luck. This can be partly explained by "the illusion of control". This means that we overestimate how much influence we can exert on a situation through our behavior. It is often wiser to halt our reactivity and pay more attention to the "look before you leap" principle. You can call it "thinking ahead".  This is at the heart of the buzzword proactivity. It requires us to suppress for a moment our natural tendency to take action, thus creating the time and space to think ahead. It can be done by building in a number of mechanisms.

A first mechanism is daring to say 'no'. However, this is not as easy as it seems. Our enthusiasm often causes us to say "yes" to too much. When Arnoud and I launched StreetwiZe in 2007, we lost a lot of focus by saying "yes" too often. We've used them all: that "yes" to yet another "interesting meeting", a "yes" to that "unique opportunity" or a "yes" to a "chance of more exposure". In retrospect, we should have said “no” more frequently to people or proposals. This doesn’t only apply to us. Ask yourself or your organisation the question "what should we say" no "to?" A good touchstone is the mission of the organisation, then it will get some attention.

As a second mechanism, we would do better to install the habit of allowing frustration, rather than seeing frustration as something we need to get rid of quickly. The Mobile School story can serve as inspiration here. Rather than wanting to quickly resolve a frustration Arnoud, all credit to him, admitted and analyzed this frustration. Suppressing the tendency to solve something quickly has led to a more sustainable approach in the form the school takes and that we now use in 30 countries. 

Daring to stand still, to take a break, is a third mechanism that allows us to think ahead more clearly. I am always amazed at how many people eat their lunch in front of the computer screen. The downside to this isn't just a malfunctioning keyboard. Lack of a break leads to overstimulation and fatigue. Literally give your mind a rest, take a walk or a nap.

Finally we can best install the "what if" mechanism. Few, if any, people are able to work proactively in times of absolute crisis. We would therefore do well to take a moment, in tempore non suspecto, where we ask ourselves 'what if' questions. As an individual you can ask yourself "what if I can no longer do this job?". As an organisation you can introduce the question "what if our service is no longer possible?". To have a meaningful answer to these questions, you should ask them before they become a reality.

And if you’ll excuse me now, I'll just take a break.

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