The Reactive Mode

In housing construction, field supervisors can take a reactive or a proactive approach to answering questions, problem-solving, and issues resolution.  The reactive approach responds after-the-fact to issues one at a time, in-the-moment, as they arise.  By contrast the proactive approach attempts to identify potential questions, problems, and issues ahead of time with the aim at prevention before some problem or mistake occurs.

The reactive mode has some clear advantages.  Problem-solving in the reactive mode is a sure thing, because it only deals with actual problems and questions.  The reactive mode invests no time upfront on the prevention of hypothetical future problems that might or might not occur.  The reactive mode is an approach that simplistically assumes the risk that most of the bad things that can happen won’t happen…and those bad things that do materialize into real problems we will deal with individually when the time comes.

A difficult thing to account for after-the-fact in hindsight, in the proactive approach, is how to calculate a value for the successful prevention of a negative that did not occur.  This difficulty tends to lend a degree of artificial credence to the reactive approach because it has the outward appearance of actively solving real problems…of actually, physically doing something.  The proactive approach of successful prevention has nothing to show for itself in terms of noticeable action because prevented issues do not surface…do not materialize into real problems that need to be fixed.

The obvious downside to the reactive mode is that it waits until problems actually mature into reality before the reactive mode for problem-solving kicks-in.  The reactive mode first requires the problem to identify itself in concrete material reality, after which it is too late for proactive prevention.  This is expressed in the old classic truism in building construction that “pencil erasers are cheaper than concrete erasers.”

Although there is some reactive mode problem-solving on every building construction project, which falls into the category of unavoidable assembly-line debugging, the reactive mode is generally the default field management approach in single-family residential construction for inexperienced novices.  People entering into housing construction from other fields such as law, accounting, engineering, or real estate fall back upon the most expedient approach of dealing with individual field problems individually as they arise, as a matter of necessity rather than choice, because they do not as yet have the construction background to formulate an effective, methodical, proactive system for prevention utilizing past “what not to do” debugging information.

There is a close analogy between the conceptual approach of natural selection acting upon genetic mutations, by definition in the reactive mode, and the reactive mode as seen in housing construction.

Novices inexperienced in housing construction can successfully operate in the reactive mode in responding to field problems one at a time…because they are sitting atop a mountain of pre-existing housing design and field “means and methods” bodies of information in the form of architectural and engineering plans, and established building trades practices, that will get the house eventually constructed regardless of reactive or proactive problem-solving occurring at the marginal edge of the operations.

The same is true for mass-production assembly-line manufacturing.  The initial trial-run debugging phase, before full production begins, is made possible by the mountain of information already embodied in the design of the product and the mechanical engineering and robotics technology invested in the assembly-line process.

Likewise, the debugging of computer software program code may involve the locating and removal of only a few scattered lines of defective computer language code hidden amongst thousands of correct lines of final-draft program code that make up the architecture of the soon-to-be successfully functioning software program.

In other words, even though “bugs” in the design plans or “human-error” mistakes made in the field by tradespersons can cause time delays, cost overruns, and poor quality, the actual information content addressed in the reactive mode in resolving these issues in housing construction is infinitesimal compared to the massive body of entirely correct and functional information contained within the “standards of the industry” technology in-place through design plans and established building trades practices.

Problem-solving in the reactive mode is not a part of the massive body of information that makes up the creation of the originally designed product, whether a new house, a computer software program, or tens of thousands of assembly-line manufactured automobiles.  It takes the outside addition of an auxiliary, separate, and novel feedback loop of identifying and recording field problems one at a time, communicated back to the design team through sketches, photographs, and explanatory text, in order to integrate reactive mode problem-solving information backwards from the field into the main body of design and construction technology.

The reactive mode is thereby translated into practical, “concrete,” proactive prevention which then can eliminate future housing design and construction problems from occurring.

Author: Barton Jahn

I work in building construction as a field superintendent and project manager. I have four books published by McGraw-Hill on housing construction (1995-98) under Bart Jahn, and have six Christian books self-published through Create Space KDP. I have a bachelor of science degree in construction management from California State University Long Beach. I grew up in Southern California, was an avid surfer, and am fortunate enough to have always lived within one mile of the ocean. I discovered writing at the age of 30, and it is now one of my favorite activities. I am currently working on two more books on building construction.

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