Take a quick second to think what this title even means. Do you even think about “attention” as you go through your daily routines? Do you think about it more with your family and friends or at work? Do you observe others and whether they have the ability to pay attention? Do you judge the attitude of others by how much they pay attention to you and what you are saying? These are incredibly important issues and quite frankly may be one of the real dysfunctional problems in business today.
Take a look at this piece in The Atlantic and note how much Linda Stone’s piece resonates for the world we live in today. Her famous concept of “continuous partial attention” has become a way of life for most of us. Everyone has mastered the skills of multitasking, perhaps at the expense of ever really paying attention or focusing in on a particular problem or even a person.
Being an independent consultant, I am fortunate to be able to work with a lot of different “for profit” and nonprofit groups. It is very interesting to note how the meetings with nonprofits seem to be so focused, based on their lack of computers and cell phones in the meetings, whereas the “for profit” meetings all seem like technological carnivals with wifi connections, cell phone vibrations and heads more in computers than paying attention to what is going on. Perhaps it is because nonprofits care more about what they are doing? More about the mission? More about the colleagues who are present? Or is it about everyone in the “for profits” just wanting to show how busy they really are all the time?
It might be worth pondering the little story from the interview about the child who always watches TV with the father. Something changes when the father gets an iPad and begins multitasking while watching TV with the child. The child claims that now she watches TV all by herself. It is a simple story with a simple message, but think how that carries over into the workplace. Perhaps a more important question to ask is how much real value all this technology is bringing into meetings? Are we becoming more or less productive at work? Are corporate profits up or down? Is creativity increasing or not? How about innovation?
A second concept in the article called “relaxed presence” seems to tie in very nicely with the quality of attention. I love the research with the Nobel laureates that shows how important play was to their childhood and how even now these incredibly successful people still consider their work to be play. I have always felt that the less tension somebody is under at work the greater chance they will have to succeed. Golfers who squeeze the club too tight can’t hit the ball with any distance. Divers who fear failure are a disaster. Those who are afraid to speak in public make everyone uncomfortable. Take a minute and think about how your level of fear vs. security impacts your performance in various different work situations you have experienced. The more play you can build into your job, the more effective you will be. Leaders who can make play dominate over fear in their organizations will get the most return from their people.
These issues around attention are critical. Part of the way we overcome these issues is to bring them out in the open. I love the idea of the folks who put their cell phones in the middle of the table and whoever answers their’s first has to pay for the dinner. This is how you bring a real issue to light. If I ran an organization I would make sure all my meeting rooms had no Internet connection and had no cell phone reception. Think about how that would change the culture. Perhaps more importantly what could you do in your personal and work lives to show others they are important enough for you to pay attention?