We have two ears and one tongue so we would listen more and talk less. -- Diogenes
This advice from a philosopher known for his criticism of the social institutions of his day seems to be an ideal prescriptive as we end a year that has offered endless examples of the perils of too much talking and not enough listening.
Inequality in the workplace. The increasing culture divide. The echo chamber. Each is an outcome of the combination of closed ears and open mouths.
So, in the spirit of the season, let's consider some New Year's resolutions, starting with what we need more of and less of in 2018 to move away from our current polarization and toward the constructive debate -- i.e., talking and listening -- that enables positive change.
More of -- Real Diversity
Less of -- Quota Games
Nothing illustrates the industry's tendency to combine hyper-active tongues with clogged ears than the dramatically homogenous speakers' roster with which CES will launch the new year in Las Vegas. We are an industry that lives and dies by talent -- and we claim meritocracy as the only way to attract, nurture and retain it. But at the core of meritocracy is the assumption that everyone has the same opportunity to prove his or her merit, and situations like the monolithic CES stage confirms once again that we are very far from that goal. (Please see Editor's Note below.)
Certainly, there are many agencies, marketers, media owners and tech platforms that are doing better than others -- and these are the voices to which we should be listening rather than simply trying to match someone's volume. Successes should be celebrated and learnings distilled, discussed and shared. I am personally against quotas because I think that approach defeats meritocracy, and I am very aware that as a straight, white (middle-aged) man that's something easy for me to say. However, I also believe that progress usually requires regular shocks to the system, first to jump-start the reaction and then to keep the engine running.
The CES situation proves that unfortunately we are not yet ready to walk away from the quantitative side of diversity just yet. Can we take this mistake and turn it into a sustainable solution?
More of -- Facts
Less of -- Fake News
Thanks to the former host of The Apprentice, our entire political and cultural identity can be defined by the way we react to the words "fake news." It has become the great cultural divide, with facts and fake news on opposite sides of the ravine. While in the macro sense the facts vs. fake news war is waged over issues that literally are a matter of life and death, the phenomenon is impacting industry dynamics, as well. We spend too little time talking about the fundamentals of the marketing and the business economy (facts) and too much time on announcements and pronouncements that distract us from the core issues of branding and sales. Six second ads! New filters! 240 characters! We're learning the wrong lesson from the broader news environment, and in both cases it will require voices of reason to reverse the trend.
More of -- Discovery
Less of -- Bubbles
There is an Italian expression that perfectly sums up the negative impact of living in a bubble, social or otherwise: "Parla come mangi" ("Speak like you eat"). Bubbles serve a limited menu; think of them as a diner that only serves comfort food. Satisfying as it might be, it's both unhealthy and limiting, even boring. Choosing to dine there day after day after day, you are effectively denying yourself the opportunity to discover something that you've never tried before; something perhaps that you've never considered or never thought you'd find appealing. Something that may actually challenge you. This certainly is true of the social bubble, and I, for one, am resolved to vary my consumption menu in 2018.
The same can be said for the industry bubble in which we think, create and strategize for our clients. We'd do well to recall the words of the legendary David Ogilvy who once said, "The consumer isn't an idiot. She's your wife." Antiquated gender timestamp aside, that take-away is still valid today -- i.e., you can't look at the consumer through your own reality. Step outside of the metro/techno/espresso bubble and discover what matters between the coasts. Parla come mangi … ma prova alcuni piatti nuovi(but try more than one dish).
Editor's Note: MediaVillage is proud to be a title partner of the Advancing Diversity Honors being held during CES, where our community will honor eight companies, organizations and individuals who have demonstrated leadership in advancing diversity.
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