Issue # 2 - The Attention Economy

by Randi Brenowitz

Issue # 2

Brenowitz Consulting is pleased to bring you this inaugural issue of Tools for Teams, our bi-monthly electronic newsletter.

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Issue # 2 - The Attention Economy

"Financial Capital" is a familiar concept. In recent years, we have also been introduced to "intellectual capital," "social capital," and now, "relationship capital" (courtesy of Glen Toby of Hanover Strategies). I was, therefore, intrigued by the concept of "attention capital" introduced in Thomas Davenport and John Beck's book, The Attention Economy (Harvard Business School Press, 2001).

The book had my attention from the beginning, as the layout and colors look more like an issue of Fast Company than a text published by Harvard University Press. Except for chapters 2 and 3, which are extremely scientific, that feeling continues throughout the book.

Davenport and Beck recognize that in today's information-rich environment, the scarcest resource is not talent or technology—it's attention. They explain that the problem for teams and team leaders lies on both sides of the attention equation: on getting and holding the attention of information-flooded team members, senior management, consumers, and stockholders; and parceling out the team's and leader's attention in the face of overwhelming information options. As the amount of information increases, the demand for attention also increases. Davenport and Beck believe that the only resolution of this equation is to learn to mange attention as a critical and finite resource…or fail.

Time is not the same as attention, and time-management is not the same as attention-management. Therefore, using the time-management techniques we all learned in the 70's will not get us the results we desire. Here are some of the concrete suggestions offered by Davenport and Beck:

  • Create attention agendas – This is in contrast to the "time" agendas most of us are used to. Most attention probably will be given to the first and last topics of the meeting. The middle topics should be subjects that demand less attention.

  • Focus attention on novel ideas and their implementation – You and your team need to focus on innovation and implementation. If most of your attention lies outside these two categories, you are might want to consider alternative options for handling things like logistics and administration.

  • Pay for attention – Try ascertaining where team member attention is going, and reward those who are focusing their attention on the issues that contribute to the success of the enterprise.

  • Create attention guards – Allow the people tasked with innovation to concentrate on it more effectively. Have other people manage the logistics of the operation.

More than ever, leaders have to find innovative means of capturing and directing attention. If you are a team leader, you must learn to focus your own attention, attract the right kind of attention to yourself and your team, direct the attention of those who follow you, and maintain the attention of both your internal and your external customers. A good leader knows how to attach important and powerful meaning to the issues on which he or she would like the team to focus their attention.

In chapter 8 (Leadership and Attention) Davenport and Beck give helpful hints to help you manage attention the way you manage other scarce resources. In chapter 12 (From Myopia to Utopia), they give suggest policies to help leaders filter out unneeded data and focus attention on important information.

Although I did not agree with all of Davenport and Beck's suggestions, they sure did get my attention.

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Additional Resources on this Topic

  • "Getting the Attention You Need" by Thomas Davenport and John Beck (Harvard Business Review, September/October 2000, reprint #R00505). This is an earlier work by Davenport and Beck that gives a shorter overview of the topic.

  • "Attention Please" by Erika Gramer (Fast Company, June 2000). This article disuses the attention economy and how it relates to advertising, marketing, and PR.

  • "The Attention Economy and the Net" by Michael Goldhaber (First Monday, issue 2). This article gives an interesting perspective on attention and the internet.

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What’s New at Brenowitz Consulting

Randi's writing:

"Workforce Collaboration: Building a Strong Team Foundation" co-author, Information Executive, January/February 2002

Randi's speaking schedule:

Monday, March 4
South Bay Organization Development Network
Sunnyvale, CA

Monday, June 10
Institute for Supply Management
Philadelphia, PA


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