At a time when Myanmar is striving to achieve economic and social development, it can be considered to be fortunate that about one-quarter of its population is between the ages of 15 and 29. However, how fast the country can progress and how quick it catches up with the rest of the world largely depend on our young people’s ability to harness information and communication technology to acquire information and knowledge swiftly and to develop the thinking skills necessary to create new knowledge, new products and new services speedily.
Our rigid education system, still measuring achievement largely based on memorization and reproduction, whether at school, university or tuition, requires very little analytical and synthesizing thinking skills and the ability to solve problems, both of which are required to develop creativity to be able to respond to complex challenges of this century. In addition to this problem is the very slow transition from top down management system to collaborative management system, both in the public as well as the private sectors which again stunts the development of new ideas, the expression of opinions and collaborative decision making. People appear to be rewarded more for strictly following orders and abiding by decisions rather than for coming up with creative thoughts and solutions. Moreover, the general complaint among those in management is the lack of motivation and ambition, and a poor attitude to work among many young staff which have led to apathy and have inhibited self-improvement. These have probably been caused by inability to specialize in subjects of one’s choice, lack of opportunity to follow a career of one’s choice, and slow career progression. Worst still is the lack of initiative in young people, whether at home, school, or at work, which creates a very poor opinion of the person concerned and hinders both personal as well as professional development.
The word initiative according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (7th edition) is “the ability to decide and act on your own without waiting for somebody to tell you what to do.” This ability to decide and do things without having to be told is a crucial factor in developing higher-order thinking skills, forming a good impression on colleagues and superiors, improving the home and work environments and in being considered for training, promotion and salary increase at work.
Since the ability to take initiative is important in a young person’s life, let us first consider some of the reasons that inhibit the use and growth of initiative. The first is being accustomed to being ordered about by one’s superiors and elders, doing whatever one is told without an unquestioning mind and not having the chance to use one’s initiative. The second is the fear of arousing the disapproval and wrath of one’s superiors for taking the initiative to do something. The third is not being shown appreciation by one’s seniors, or elders, for having taken the initiative to doing something that has a beneficial effect. The fourth is not knowing what initiative is, and so not showing it, or not giving any thought to the needs of one’s home or work. The final one is knowing when initiative can be taken, but not wanting to exert the necessary effort, or going the extra mile.
On the other hand, the benefits of taking initiatives can be numerous. By getting into the habit of making decisions without waiting for the orders of others, one learns to think for oneself and one’s thinking skills are gradually developed. Moreover, by constantly taking initiatives, new ideas are generated which creates a dynamic working environment. Next, by taking initiatives and not waiting for somebody’s decisions, matters can be settled more expeditiously which can contribute to the creation of harmony at work, and also have a positive impact on social relationships. Finally, one’s positive actions serve as a good example to others, and one is likely to gain the recognition of one’s colleagues and superiors.
Much as taking initiative is beneficial to those who do so, as well as to the people and organization involved, care needs to be exercised in taking initiatives, or the action can misfire or be misconstrued. The most important thing is having a clear picture of the rules and policies of the organization one works for and to what extent it will allow showing initiatives, so that one knows well the limits of one’s authority, and when one needs to consult others so as not to overstep one’s boundary. Furthermore, for one’s initiative to have positive results, it is also important to have the ability to think correctly and be aware of the limitations of one’s thinking ability. Consequently, one must keep assessing oneself constantly to discover if one’s decisions have been correct or not.
Since the ability to take initiative is beneficial not only to the person concerned as well as to the organization one serves and the general public, it is vital that we train children from young, both at home and at school, to do so. This can be done by parents and teachers explaining to children the set rules and asking them to do small things on their own accord, within the perimeters of the rules set. They should also be shown appreciation for having taken initiative to do something good in order to reinforce the habit. Parents and teachers should also set a good example and explain to children the benefits so derived by doing positive things without being told to do so by others. The training should be continued at work and appreciation shown, so that young people will know the beneficial effects of showing initiatives on them, as well as on the organization they work for, and the people they interact with daily. Finally, we should constantly remind ourselves that everyone of us has the ability to contribute to making a more harmonious and happier world and the more influence we have, the more we can contribute to making the world a better place by taking positive initiatives and not waiting for somebody to tell, or remind us to do something, whether major or minor.