Reactive vs. Proactive Strategies and Tactics

Reactive vs Proactive

The word “reactive” implies that you don’t have the initiative. You let the events set the agenda. You’re tossed and turned, so to speak, by the tides of life. Each new wave catches you by surprise. Huffing and puffing, you scramble to react to it in order to just stay afloat. __ ActivePause

The default state for most humans is the “reactive state.” Coasting in cruise control, people typically spend time waiting for something to react to. This can be true for the surgeon on call, the soldier on sentry duty, the fighter in the ring, the cop on his beat, or students in a classroom. Waiting, reacting, waiting, reacting . . .

When I started out fighting professionally

, I was a very reactive fighter. I used to get beat up a fair amount in the first round, and then typically come back to win in the later rounds (or, I’d just lose, ha).


I was known as a “slow starter”.

So, in a fight, I was reacting more than anything. I’d react to my opponents punches and takedown attempts, then later try and mount my own offense.

I did this because in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to get tired early on, then pretty much be a punching bag in the later rounds due to fatigue. __ Chad Hamzeh

What Chad learned as he progressed in fighting, was that the right kind of proactive exertion in the beginning rounds of a fight can pay dividends toward the middle and the end.

Most “self-defence” training is oriented around reacting to an attack. By honing the reflexes, one can react far more quickly, appropriately, and effectively, than if one does not train his rapid subconscious reactions to unexpected provocations. And there is no getting around the fact that the unexpected happens — life is full of surprises!

On the other hand, taking a broader, more aware, less emotion-laden, and more “proactive” approach to potentially hazardous situations, can deliver results that are closer to optimal.

. . . the image we associate with “proactivity” is one of grace under stress. To stay with the previous analogy, let’s say you’re in choppy waters. Now, you look more at ease. It’s not just that you anticipate the waves. You’re in tune with them. You’re not desperately trying to escape them; you’re dancing with them.

It would be great to dance with the rhythm of life, using the ebb and flow of events as a source of energy. __ Proactive vs. Reactive

This is the essence of Dangerous Child training for dangerous jobs and environments. Not only is the Dangerous Child better prepared for the situation, he is using broader and higher forms of dynamic thinking and moment to moment planning — before things start going sour.

What I call the proactive mindset is the human ability to engage the more evolved neural circuits, and perform a sort of due diligence to improve the quality of the information that we get through the reactive mindset. I am not talking about ignoring our more primitive reactions, far from that. I am talking about building up on these primitive reactions. Instead of reacting impulsively, we use the reactive impulse as a starting point for a more sophisticated process that helps us respond more effectively to a given situation. __ Beyond Reactive

Here is the idea of “proactivity” as described by author Stephen Covey:

Underlying the Habit of Proactivity according to Covey are:      

  • The ability to set goals and work towards achieving them.
  • Creating opportunities, not waiting for them to come your way
  • Taking conscious control of your life
  • Understanding the choice you have in engineering your life
  •  Applying your own personal principles and core values in making decision
  •  Having imagination and creativity to explore possible alternatives
  • Realizing you have independent will to choose your own unique response.

___ Stephen Covey quoted in Lifehacker

Do not mistake “proactivity” with a constant wild flailing around merely to have an impact. That is mindless dissipation of resources and potential. Sometimes proactivity takes the form of quiet contemplation and resolution. Sometimes proactivity involves beating the crap out of someone who has long deserved worse. It depends on the circumstances — and having the savvy to know what is best at the time. And, once knowing, then doing.

Proactivity and Reactivity are reflected in both strategy and tactics. The “element of surprise” is often a result of the conversion of proactive strategy into proactive tactics.

We will be looking at proactive tactics and strategy from the standpoint of education, child-rearing, local defence, regional defence, networked defence, politics, innovation, and more, in the future.

The modern bureaucratic mentality — which rules most governments, universities, media, government lobbies, NGOs, and other cultural institutions — is largely reactive in an opportunistic, knee-jerk way. It is important to learn how to anticipate and take advantage of this tendency in most large institutions.

There is no such thing as a fair fight, especially when a small bunch of mice are in conflict with mad herds of rhinoceri. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. It is never too late (or early) to have a Dangerous Childhood.

Bottlenecks to Learning: Spoken Language

Serial vs. Parallel
Serial vs. Parallel
This is the first mistake people make with small kids. They try to teach them by TALKING to them as if small children can simply reason along with their TALKING and automatically see the adult’s intent and adopt the adult’s logic. But even young adult brains do not learn so well by the TALKING method — much less small children!

Verbal language is processed in a relatively “serial,” straight-line manner. Visual information is processed in a highly parallel manner. Large amounts of information can be transferred in a short amount of time via parallel pathways. The image to the right illustrates the “serial bottleneck” that verbal language suffers from. Never forget that each word is slippery beyond belief, and each thought accompanying a word is both highly viscous and subject to total fragmentation.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

In the learning pyramid below, we can see that humans retain far less from a lecture than they do from a demonstration. This is infinitely more true for toddlers and pre-schoolers than it is for university students — and it is true enough for them.

How People Learn
How People Learn

More on the “learning pyramid.”

For particular areas of special interest, many young children may be ready for self-directed learning practise by the age of 2 or 3, but most of the time — for most areas of learning — they will need careful guidance, with an emphasis on exploratory play, expanding movement skills, simple music appreciation and training, basic underpinnings of art, and creative story-telling.

Such young children are not ready for lectures, or even group discussions of any depth beyond a rudimentary analysis of characters in stories.

They need to be shown, encouraged, guided, and playfully cajoled, but always with a consistent end in mind. No lectures, no debates, no group discussions except in playful, creative mode.

Cognitive Pyramid of Learning
Cognitive Pyramid of Learning

The cognitive pyramid of learning by Williams and Schellenberger, demonstrates how academic learning depends upon a deep and broad set of nervous system functions. Most meaningful learning takes place automatically, well beneath the level of consciousness.

Many years of profound preparation are needed before children and youth will be able to easily and automatically adapt to the style of learning common to modern secondary schools and universities. Unfortunately, 90% of young students never receive the preparation they need, to achieve broad success and competency in the larger world beyond their parents’ homes.

Hierarchy of Skills
Hierarchy of Skills

The hierarchy of useful skills by Kokcharov is a useful concept. But it is meant to be applied much earlier in child development than is done in many societies. A large number of “children” reach university without having acquired more than a sprinkling of basic knowledge — the bottom-most layer of the skills hierarchy! One hates to tell the young darlings and their parents that they are starting too late to achieve anything close to their best.

Keep in mind that where the term “knowledge” is used in the above pyramid, non-verbal knowledge will be key during the early years, and will serve as a foundation for later learning. An early mastery of many non-verbal skills will put the child at an early advantage in Dangerous Child training — particularly in areas of movement, art, basic mechanisms and forces, music, and the non-verbal aspects of language.

Very young children should be exposed to a wide range of situations where they must develop problem-solving skills. In fact, besides executive functions (including basic social skills), the love of difficult problem solving is at the top of vital childhood lessons to be learned.

Again, these vital early lessons are largely learned on a non-verbal level, by observing and by doing — and by creatively varying the basic approach.

Prism of Competence Clinical Medical Competence Used as an Example
Prism of Competence
Clinical Medical Competence Used as an Example

The image above illustrates development of competence in the field of clinical medicine, for medical students and doctors in training. Going from novice level to the level of mastery requires many years of training. By this time in a person’s education, he is expected to have mastered verbal knowledge acquisition, which involves a great deal of reading, testing — written and verbal — and little by little, practical hands-on skills training. The old saying in medical training is: “See one, do one, teach one.” And in basic terms, that is how medical and surgical skills propagate in training.

But a medical student, resident, or fellow will not reach his optimal levels of competence if he has not built a solid foundation of basic skills, competencies, executive functions, and a love for problem-solving, in his early years. These basic skills and competencies need to be mastered to the point of “conscious automaticity.” More on that seeming contradiction later.

OODA Loop John Boyd
OODA Loop Col. John Boyd

The OODA Loop pictured above was developed by USAF Col. John Boyd, several decades ago. It was used to help fighter pilots to gain the advantage in dogfights against enemy fighters. But over time, it has been seen to be useful in a much wider range of situations.

Here are the four steps:

  1. O…bserve
  2. O…rient
  3. D…ecide
  4. A…ct

It is called an “OODA Loop” because it should be running constantly, feeding back into itself at different points, as the situation changes.

But . . . humans should not have to wait until they train to be fighter pilots to learn this basic concept of moment to moment interaction with their environment. We have talked about “situational awareness” and “mindfulness,” but the OODA Loop gives tangible and actionable bones and structure to those verbal concepts, once it is mastered and applied to daily living.

How old do children need to be before they can learn the OODA Loop? If taught properly (nonverbally through play), children as young as 3 can learn to apply the OODA Loop automatically and unconsciously — long before they would be able to learn the concepts verbally. And to be sure, one never knows when his own life may balance on the ability of his child to act automatically with wisdom beyond his years.

More on OODA and John Boyd:

Human reaction time is defined as the time elapsing between the onset of a stimulus and the onset of a response to that stimulus. The O.O.D.A. Loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, is Boyd’s way of explaining how we go through the process of reacting to stimulus. First we Observe, and keep in mind that although we process approximately 80% of the information we receive with our sense of sight, we can and do make observations with our other senses. For instance you might hear a gunshot and not see the person who fired it. Once you look and see the source of the gunfire you are now in the Orient stage of the process. In the Orient stage you are now focusing your attention on what you have just observed. The next step is the Decide step in which you have to make a decision on what to do about what you have just observed and focused your attention on. Finally you have made your decision and the last step is to Act upon that decision. Keep in mind that the O.O.D.A loop is what happens between the onset of a stimulus and the onset of a reaction to that stimulus.

The ideas are there, but the way it is presented above is not truly practical, in action. Going through the OODA Loop step by step in a conscious, “check-list” manner is a good way of getting yourself and others you care about, killed.

Ideally, Observe and Orient should be combined and Decide and Act fused together by practice, so the opponent’s action triggers your automatic reaction, without your needing to decide. Even below such a level of automatization, not having to think about your movements improves your reaction time because reaction time is shorter when set on “signal” than when set on “action.” (For example, if you are in a car stopped at a red light and you are thinking “green,” you will move faster than if you are thinking “green: press the gas pedal.”)

Intro to John Boyd’s Strategic Thinking

John Boyd Compendium

Strategy books by and about John Boyd

Strategic Theory of John Boyd 349 PDF free download by Frans Osinga

Thesis on Air Power Strategies of John Boyd and John Warden

Children will go much farther in life if they are provided with useful and productive strategies along with a broad range of skills, competencies, and real world experiential knowledge of how people, groups, and institutions behave.

The foundations for all of this are built of non-verbal material. Sure, one should always talk to the child on a child-appropriate level (each child is unique). But in the early years, non-verbal forms of communication are much more potent than any semantic meaning of the words themselves. Even the “non-verbal” aspects of language itself exercise far more influence on the young child than the word or phrase meanings: Tone and speed of speech, prosody, speech melody and inflection, as well as facial expressions and body language that accompany the speech.

Dangerous Children master at least 3 different ways of supporting themselves financially by the age of 18. But as we have said, that is the easy part — and only the beginning.