From Reactive To Proactive: Will 2021 Be Different?


(By Deborah Parenti) As managers often remind, “Telling is not selling.” Those four words are actually an abbreviated reflection of the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who said, “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”

It’s been that kind of year. One calling for more listening and at the very least, holding our tongue until we digest what’s been said.

And there’s been much to hear. No need reiterating the litany of what we’ve been through. The list is fairly extensive. Is anyone not eager to turn the page and get on with what all hope will be a better new year? Between daily news flashes of rising pandemic numbers, economic losses, financial crises, social unrest, and non-stop political rhetoric, this year hasn’t provided many moments for calm and undisturbed contemplation. 

Not that a new year will end the cacophony. That never happens in the best of times. Changing the page to another year is just that. Another day, another 24-hour cycle. The only different number is the year.

But back to Diogenes. If we’ve really been listening, what have we heard, and what are our next steps? Due to circumstances beyond our control, 2020 was mostly a year of reaction. Reaction to COVID-19, reaction to demonstrations, protest rallies, and even riots. And reaction to political positions that have peeled back the divisions beyond a presidential ballot. 

That’s a lot in the rearview mirror. If nothing else, the new year should be shorter on surprises. So if we are looking to satisfy the perennial  desire for fresh starts, here’s an opportunity to move from reactive to proactive. 

We’ve found what we can do under the most challenging of circumstances. A book could (and probably will) be written with examples of those who were nimble and wise enough to pivot when COVID-19 changed everything. We have, by and large, proven to be a pretty remarkable lot. But it was, indeed, fate that changed the cards we had to play. Now it’s time to turn the tables and take charge — to lead from the front and alter that hand fate dealt us.

What stands out among the revelations and conversations stemming from the unsettling circumstances, the disruptive nature of normal communications, and the emergence of technology as a key driver of connectivity, has been what those connections and discussions uncovered. And that includes how our industry uses, as well fosters use of, our platforms by consumers and ourselves. 

It began with listening — to employees, to consumers, to the market. It now moves to not forgetting what we have heard, to turning reactive platitudes and initial reactions into concrete, ongoing action. 

We found listeners need more voices that better relate to their lives, their circumstances, their backgrounds and ethnicities. And it extends to our workplaces, where diversity needs to be not just an aspirational ideal, but an actionable plan — a plan not as much about numbers as about lasting and effective impact.

That impact isn’t restricted to one’s immediate circle, either. Influence is a powerful tool. I know of at least one advertising agency that won’t participate in events not demonstrating some gender balance. Before giving in to the argument that in some areas that might be difficult to achieve, perhaps a more productive reaction would be to consider this requirement a challenge to achieve it.

Our goal at Radio Ink is to foster similar efforts. One way is to continue to seek out more diverse contributors to our publications. Our annual lists, especially the MIWs, Medallas de Cortez, African American Future Leaders, Radio’s Top 20 Leaders, and this issue’s 30 and Under Superstars, offer tremendous starting points, ones we hope to broaden with even greater outreach in the year ahead. Coupled with initiatives by others, we can turn reaction into permanent forward-moving action. And that’s a worthwhile New Year’s resolution.

Deborah Parenti is the Publisher of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at [email protected]


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