on October 16, 2002
This book is a delightfully interesting combination of academic and general audience writing that makes it quite readable and holds your attention page after page. The content is nicely woven into twelve chapters that explain more aspects of attention, gaining attention, and holding attention than you could imagine. You'll learn a lot from these pages. An abundance of footnotes will give you more resources to pursue to expand your learning even further.
I turned down more pages than usual in this volume. I marked all sorts of things to share with others and to go back to. I even wrote notes on some of the pages, which I don't usually do when reading a book like this. The authors explain that "attention is the real currency of business and individuals...In post-industrial societies, attention has become a more valuable currency than the kind you store in bank accounts."
The official definition: "Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act." There's more, but I don't want to spoil this delicious read for you. You'll gain valuable insight into the role of attention in all aspects of our lives, how the ability to manage our attention is all-powerful . . . and how we struggle with our own personal challenge of managing the tremendous volume of information and other stimulants that bombard our senses. Part of the attention process is filtering and sorting, which is difficult for some people and can be overwhelming. There is so much in this book that I have no hesitation in giving it very high marks. Have your highlighter ready!
The one negative-if it even is a negative-is the quotes and illustrative comments that appear in smaller type at the bottom of many of the pages. They distracted my attention from the flow of the text, making the book consciously a bit more difficult to read. Ah! The authors have made their point! Recommended for people in all walks of life; this is a book about us, not just an economy or business treatise.
This is a fascinating subject: ADD in the business world. Almost everyone continues to experience information overload. Some who have studied this phenomenon invoke metaphors such as "blizzards" of data. Meanwhile, information providers struggle to get through "blizzards" to reach those who are most important to them. How to attract their attention? Then, how to capture that attention with what has been described as "stickiness"? After conducting an extensive research project, Davenport and Beck conclude that attention is "the new currency of business." Perhaps Wolf agrees, having written a brilliant book about "the entertainment economy"; perhaps Pine and Gilmore also agree, having written a book about "the experience economy."
At the beginning of most of his plays, Shakespeare uses various devices to attract an audience's attention so that its members could then be entertained. (The play Hamlet begins with a question "Who's there?" The audience settles down, curious to learn the answer.) In today's marketplace, merchants such as Starbucks and Williams-Sonoma do everything possible (and appropriate) to attract attention by appealing to several of the senses. (The fragrant aroma of Starbucks' gourmet coffee can be experienced by many of those in the bookstore nearby.) Especially now with so many people online, there is what so many have observed as "too much information" or at least "not enough time" to absorb and digest the information available.
Davenport and Beck organize their material within 12 chapters which range from "A New Perspective on Business (Welcome to the Attention Economy)" to "From Myopia to Utopia (The Future of the Attention Economy)." They explain why understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success. They examine with rigor and eloquence three different types of "attention technologies": attention-getting, attention-structuring, and attention-protecting. They explain why companies will no longer be proud of how extensive their knowledge portals are, but rather of how targeted an information environment they create. (Davenport and Beck fully understand that "targets" are constantly moving; also, that the prioritization of "targets" is an on-going process to accommodate change.) Throughout the book, they also insert dozens of "Principles." Here are three examples:
"Types Principle: Six basic units of currency are exchanged in an attention market, each emphasizing a specific target of focused mental engagement."
NOTE: These "basic units" are Captive and Voluntary, Aversive and Attractive, and finally, Front-of-Mind and Back-of-Mind. They are discussed in detail in Chapter 2, one of the book's most thought-provoking chapters.
"Tap or Bottle Principle: The most important function of attention isn't taking information in, but screening it out."
"Action! Principle: Hollywood studio executives understand their audience before they make a play for their attention, and they manipulate setting, segmentation, and culture to hold onto it."
The authors suggest that the trend of more information competing for less attention cannot go on forever. "Ultimately, people will begin to withdraw from the stress of an attention-devouring world, and information providers will begin to focus on quality, not quantity." Each delivery day, I immediately toss (unopened) all unwanted items in the U.S. mail; I systematically delete (unread) all unwanted e-mail messages, and politely but quickly end all telephone solicitations. Everyone I know responds the same way in these situations. Davenport and Beck conclude their brilliant book noting "In the end, the greatest prize for being able to capture attention will be the freedom to avoid it." Many (most?) information providers will continue to waste truly valuable "currency" unless and until they become insolvent or until they finally understand the basic principles of "the attention economy." Davenport and Beck wrote the book for them but also for other information providers who can increase even more the ROI on the same "new currency."
on July 25, 2001
I rank this book as easily one of the top 25 books on information fundamentals, and quite possibly in the top 10. While there are other books on attention qua economic good, this one focuses on us, the attention providers, and not on the media or entertainment or other attention thieves.
The book is well-presented and what some might see as showmanship I consider to be good editing and publishing. The book starts strong, focusing on "attention deficit" in both individuals and organizations, and the consequences of failing to pay attention to the right things at the right time--corporate CEOs and their business intelligence professionals, as well as government leaders and their national intelligence professionals, can learn a great deal from this book.
Especially useful to me, and a major reason why I rank this book so highly, was its distinction between:
1) Global Coverage for AWARENESS
2) Surge local focus for ATTENTION
3) Domestic political focus for ACTION
At a national level, I found myself thinking that this book could be the first step in an evaluation of how we spend our time--and how we compensate ourselves for spending our time. Of course others have observed that we spend too much time in front of the television or eating fast food or whatever, but I found this book extremely helpful in thinking about the economics of personal and organizational information management. Applying this book's lessons, for example, might cause any manager to forbid Internet access because of the very high negative return on investment--searches should be done by specialists who can be relied to avoid personal browsing on company time. The author's specifically note that the Western culture is less well equipped to manage "attention" than other cultures.
Also helpful to me were the book's focus on the fact that client attention and teamwork *compete* with innovation, and that some form of time management guidance is needed that permits employees to focus on just one of these as a primary duty.
The author's identification of relevance, community, engagement, and convenience as the four key factors in attracting and holding attention from individuals--and the lengthy discussion in the book on each of these--is very worthwhile. So also is their specification of four "attention tracks" that each individual must manage: focusing one's own attention; attracting the right kind of attention to oneself; directing the attention of those under one's oversight; and maintaining the attention of one's customers and clients (and one could add, one's family).
This book is a vital contribution to correcting our long-standing overemphasis on collecting information (or ignoring information) without regard to what we do with it in human terms. For me, the key sentence in this entire book, one that government and corporate managers would do well to "pay attention to" was, on page 216: "Increasingly, managerial success will rely on the ability to ignore or at least filter the vast stream of information that hits the desk, ears, and eyeballs. The ability to prioritize information, to focus and reflect on it, and to exclude extraneous data will be at least as important as acquiring it." Their book is *not* a variation on the many confused knowledge management treatises (making the most of what you already know). It goes well beyond the current state of the art and outlines new ideas that could and should have a fundamental impact on how we spend our time, what information services we buy, and how we use information technology.
on May 22, 2001
Can the secret of success be boiled down to giving and getting attention? Think Hollywood - or look at the advertising industry or the "stars" of the business world - the most successful are the ones that get all the attention. The flip side of this attention coin as presented in "The Attention Economy" is the success that comes from managing your own attention effectively - something very few people recognize, let alone know how to control. The book takes on the problems that hinder productivity (both personal and business) by viewing them through a new lens: "Understanding and managing attention," the authors claim, "is now the single most important determinant of business success." A heady claim, but one that Davenport and Beck support with compelling insights - starting with an explanation of how our minds instinctively create their own attention hierarchies (yes, sex is near the top, but so is catastrophe, self-esteem, and jockeying for power among colleagues.), and then focusing the "attention lens" on topics like leadership, strategy, and organizational structure. Despite its serious business bent (both Davenport and Beck are seasoned professionals, and, the book is published by Harvard Business School Press, after all) the book has a hip, refreshing tone and manages to straddle the line between enlightening the business professional and entertaining the human within. That's what I liked about the book the most - instead of approaching professionals as slightly sentient processors of information, the authors are concerned with the limited natural resource that powers individuals and organizations - their attention - and help us maximize its potential.
on May 14, 2001
Have you ever wondered why good companies loose their way, or people tune out of meetings, fail to get the message, or heed a call to action? Could your company or customers be described by a metaphor such as "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?" If so then, you have an attention problem.
Attention is a scarce commodity that is often misunderstood and mismanaged. Davenport and Beck bring a unique perspective on the topic that crosses many dimensions of strategic and tactical business. Attention issues exist within the marketplace, company, business unit, product, team, and individual. The book breaks this issue down and answers the following fundamental questions about attention:
What is attention and how is it different from time management, prioritization and other ideas?
What are the different types of attention, how do you recognize them? How do you act when you or your team is dominated by a particular type?
How do you measure attention?
How do you manage it?
These questions are all incredibly topical in the world of information overload, emails, voicemails, conference calls and meetings. Given all of the data/information/knowledge raining down on people today it is little wonder that attention is becoming a serious topic.
Consider this as the single biggest reason to read this book "One reason that consumer products executives have been able to move into other industries is that they understand how to capture consumer attention" p.93. Attention should be a hallmark of any good executive as clearly those who are able to command attention have a significant advantage in creating wealth for their companies and themselves.
The book goes beyond describing the problem to providing tools such as Attentionscape, and techniques to help managers understand where the attention issues lie and how to address them. These tools give the book a practical basis that is of real value to the reader.
Read this book if you are:
-An executive responsible for charting your company's strategy and its implementation
- A change agent/leader looking to get their message across and deliver results
- A manager responsible for a team of people and the need to produce results
- A customer facing professional who has to address customer sales, service, and relationship needs
- A marketing executive who needs to understand how to get an inside edge on the competition and gain greater insight about current and potential customers
Davenport and Beck present the topic in an informative and open style making the topic of attention something tangible and actionable. This is not a self help book, pop psychology, or personal management guide. Rather it is a serious treatment of a subject, attention that is often overlooked and under appreciated in business, customer relationships, leadership, and management.
If you choose to ignore this book, then good luck in gaining the interest, understanding, and cooperation of others that we all need to be successful.
on May 25, 2001
I've worked nearly 20 years strategy consulting and management education and in that time I've read countless business books. Most present ideas and trends that are here today, gone tomorrow. This has been the case even more in the past five years with all the e-commerce focused books. Sadly, the books that actually present core ideas that will last for decades are usually written in a boring or academic style.
"The Attention Economy" is a page-turner, but more importantly, it presents a fundamental (and until now, overlooked) business topic--attention management--in a smart way. While CEO's might not be worrying whether they'll be 'disintermediated' in twenty years, they sure will be worrying about how to manage their attention.
My hope is that this book won't start a trend, but rather a paradigm shift in how manager's perceive and attend to the core tasks--leadership, strategy formulation, information management, planning--of their professional lives.
on May 26, 2001
Everyone knows how important attention is, but few business thinkers have had the courage or follow-through and take on the topic in a management-focused way before. I expected the book to focus more on advertising and Hollywood. Thankfully it didn't. The book's freshness and originality lies in the fact that it shows the relationship between attention and business to be far more extensive than just found in those "attention industries." On that note, the chapters on leadership and organizational structure were particularly fresh.
Davenport has a knack for forecasting where business is going; he was a pioneer in the Reengineering and Knowledge Management trends. In predicting and setting the direction of both of these, he had a keen sense for the "human side" of things. This is the case here as well: in AE he starts with that uniquely human activity-attention-and shows how it can be managed for success in the business world.
on May 25, 2001
I've spent years unsuccessfully trying to manage time better to be a more effective leader. My assumption had been that time management had something to do with success. But, in our always-on, always connected, information-everywhere world, effective time management is no longer a predictor of business success. Attention management is. The authors showed me the value of this insight, and showed me how to put it to work in a diversity of business situations.
on May 23, 2001
This book practices what it preaches! It's written in a light and occasionally funny style, has a really interesting and colorful format, and a very attention-getting cover. I found it to have lots of easy-to-use tips on how to get and keep attention. And the web site for the book - [...] - lets you measure and analyze how your own attention is allocated. It's an entirely new way of looking at business, and I can't stop thinking about attention now!
on October 27, 2002
A book which is not only well paced and well written, but most importantly, has something to say which does not echo the 'me too' mantra of most recent management books.
A truly insightful book, I recommend you pause to listen to its message and judge its insight against your personal experience.
Davenport et al present a new paradigm, a new way of viewing the causality of corporate thinking, and for that he should be applauded.