This has to be the greatest quote to have the misfortune to make its way into faux-leaders' mouths. Mostly because every time someone said it to us, they were trying to politely tell us to shut up and listen to their lecture. Which, we'd like to point out, is intensely ironic. If you're using a quote about how valuable listening is to explain why you talk so much, you've completely missed the point of what you're saying.
Let’s break this quote down as if it had just been invented.
First off, clearly Epictetus was not a biologist. We have two ears so we can tell direction and distance. But, let's cut him some scientific slack and say he's using basic proportions to prioritize. That's totally fine. Generally speaking, the larger pile of paperwork is more important than the small folder.
Since he's speaking philosophically, we can also assume we don't have to be strict about the proportions. If we sometimes listen three times as much as we talk, or have a day where we hit a 1:1 ratio, the saying doesn't break down.
After a little puzzling…and listening, we get to what he's actually saying. Slow down and listen.
You might think every single idea that seeps from your grey matter makes up the primordial ooze of genius, but we'd like to remind you that most things that crawled from the ooze died on the beaches. If you depend solely on yourself, you're not going to make it past the basic bacterial stage of corporate evolution.
People will also like you more if you take the time to listen to their input. We can't think of a time when someone said, "You know what I like about him? He's constantly talking. All the time. He never stops. The last word I said to him was in 2005 when I asked, 'What?' It's great." The sentiment is generally the exact opposite. People like a boss who's attentive, takes suggestions, is open-minded, and who, when he or she speaks, builds on what's already been said. Similarly, customers don’t value what you say until you’ve shown that you’ve listened. Prioritizing the customer or your employees’ needs or thoughts above showing off what you know will lead to a far more favorable impression and loyal relationship.
The obvious problem here becomes how easily someone who listens well and often can get overridden by someone who doesn't even close their mouth to sleep. These are the sales and marketing teams that go for the metaphorical kill. They analyze fleeting consumer trends and make snap recommendations based on trends that often have shorter shelf lives than memes on Reddit.
They’re the ones who told everyone to move their products and services to Facebook. In the moment, using no foresight or hindsight, they told companies to take their content to a single social media platform, to basically hand over their entire publishing operation to a company that repeatedly stated it wasn't a publisher.
Now, because those sales and marketing teams didn't bother to do their research, those companies are getting shafted. They're seeing next to no ad revenue, rapidly declining visiting rates, and are facing enormous layoffs, like the ones that recently happened at content juggernauts like Cracked and Funny Or Die.
Social media engagement was the unquestioned advice given to every client, regardless of how applicable it was to any individual company.
It was treated as the penicillin of marketing.
But if those sales and marketing teams had spent any time listening to their clients rather than jumping on a bandwagon, they would have realized major social media engagement doesn't make much sense for their platform.
If whoever told Funny Or Die to move their content to Facebook had thought about what they were doing for any extended period of time, they would have realized Funny Or Die's existence depends on getting people to visit their dedicated page. Directing traffic to a site that's notoriously difficult to get user information or extended reach from is the death knell for creative, productive companies.
Instead, had they listened to Funny Or Die's needs and gotten to know the company as best they could, they would have been much more prepared to give advice tailored to exactly those needs. If Funny Or Die's success depends on views of its dedicated site, as it did, marketing techniques could have driven traffic there. Social media wouldn't have been uninvolved, but its involvement would have been ancillary, not the complete package.
That's what we do here at The Alias Group. We listen to our clients' needs, make sure we understand them fully and completely, then begin to make recommendations. Sure, we have a few standard modules we offer or rules we follow, but our clients have found their needs met with them. If out of the box offerings won't accomplish what they want, we work to create a plan that will.
It's not about being the first to follow trends. Often, that only amounts to competing to see who can make a huge mistake first. Instead, we stay informed with what's going on in trendy marketing, analyze what works (or what amounts to vanity metrics or will cause fundamental failure for a client), and make recommendations with our eye on the long game. We plan on being around for awhile, and you don't survive for long if you're rushing from trend to trend, dragging companies down with you.