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The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business Hardcover – June 1, 2001
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If you like to keep on top of what's going on in the world but find it difficult to get through more than a section or two of the Sunday New York Times, take heart. Were you to actually plow through the whole thing, even just once, you'd be taking in more factual information than was gathered in all the written material available to a reader in the 15th century. And that's just a Sunday paper; what about all the e-mail, voice mail, meetings, Web pages (2 billion or so of them), and publications (more than 60,000 new books and 18,000 magazines published annually in the U.S. alone) vying for your attention? According to Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck, we live in an age of information overload, where attention has become the most valuable business currency. Welcome to The Attention Economy.
If yesterday was the age of information, today is the age of trying to attract or employ people's attention. Indeed, leaders and managers in the business world face this two-fold problem daily, constantly seeking the attention of their customers and employees while managing their own limited supply. Declaring that "understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success," the authors examine what attention is, how it can be measured, how it's being technologically constructed and protected, and where and how attention is being most effectively exploited.
Predictably, nowhere are these economics more important than in the realm of e-commerce. In the chapter entitled "Eyeballs and Cyber Malls," the authors discuss the strategies needed to gain and maintain attention "stickiness." The book contains numerous suggestions on how leaders can manage their own attention and that of their employees more effectively (and how to avoid and treat info-stress), but always with an eye on the ultimate goal: affecting the type and amount of attention your customers give you. Already, more money is often spent on attracting attention to a product than spent on the product itself (we're reminded of The Blair Witch Project, which cost a mere $350,000 to make and $11 million to market). And as our information environment gets increasingly saturated, holding a person's attention becomes an ever more difficult proposition; as the authors suggest, actually paying for someone to receive your information is a realistic prospect in the not-too-distant future. Indeed, the book's final chapter is devoted to what the authors predict will affect attention in the future, and how attention can and will be acquired, monitored, and distributed.
The Attention Economy is peppered with anecdotal pull-outs and "overheard" comments; though intriguing in as random factoids and zippy, little quotes, this sideline information doesn't always tie in with the authors' points and often seems distracting. The book is well written, though, and the authors, both of whom work at the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change, take an informed and well-balanced look at what is perhaps our society's most priceless, ephemeral commodity. --S. Ketchum
From Publishers Weekly
The most significant problem in today's business world is not competition, lack of skilled employees or an uncertain economy, but an attention deficit, declare two consultants affiliated with the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change. Put simply, with all the noise from meetings, faxes, voice mail and e-mail, it's hard to get consumers', employees', stockholders' or executives' undivided attention anymore. The companies that will succeed in the future, the authors state, will focus their efforts on this problem, instead of on conventional approaches to time management. Using research from such fields as television programming, Davenport (a distinguished scholar in residence at Babson College and author of Mission Critical) and Beck (a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management) explain how to attack "organizational ADD" on both an individual and corporate level. In one example, the authors point to an executive who postponed certain technological initiatives, noting that there were already too many demands on the company's attention. Though some of the writing is pedantic, the authors accurately describe corporate life and deliver a worthy message, along with short, practical sidebars. (June)Forecast: The authors' fresh message and an attention-getting jacket along with a $100,000 advertising campaign (including ads in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Business Week and PW), 20-city radio satellite tour and author speaking engagements will help this book capture the business world's attention.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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The book is written in the multi-visual short burst style of a magazine, as opposed to a more in depth prose. Some reviewers have commented negatively on this, and while I would agree it renders the material a bit lighter than it could be, it also uses the context of the subject matter ironically well in presenting the information in a way it can be absorbed quickly and in disconnected settings.
The highlights for me included the section on the different types of attention; captive, voluntary, aversive, and so on, describing each type and giving examples of how to alter and adopt your message to reach through the pitfalls of each style. The sections on customer stickiness are well traveled but fitting to this subject dialog.
Also discussed were several elements of organizational structure, design, leadership and how these foster or hinder the kind of attention the business needs from its people to get the desired results. Anyone faced with the challenge of trying to gain buy in for a cross group, or cross cultural, implementation of an organizational process knows the value of the message and the ability to gain the attention and focus of the recipients is the key to the success or failure of the change.
I would have liked to see more in depth study and examples on best practices and methodologies used to overcome the information saturation present in most businesses. The ability to create and deliver clarity and purpose, and stay on message long enough to gain the change needed is a key leadership component that is often overlooked. The author's examples of Jack Welch were right on, as he is likely one of the best ever at getting messages, and most importantly attention, through a large and diverse organization.
Overall, the book is a great overview of an important subject for businesses now and in the future where this becomes even more difficult, it is always interesting and readable, and therefore worthwhile.
On page 20 the book defines attention as a "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" (original italics). From this definition it follows that The Attention Economy is a system for managing the attention asset. And why manage attention? Because attention is an economic (scarce) resource. Like Joan Robinson is believed to have put it, "Scarce resources command a positive price." In this case the price of attention is attention, or as the authors suggest: to get attention one has to give attention. In other words, scarcity compels (rational) choices, and on the margin of decisions choices have opportunity costs as well as benefits. To say that attention is a "focused mental engagement" is to say that producing attention requires lowering the opportunity cost of producing attention by specializing on the basis of a comparative advantage. Standard economics.
The book argues that the study of attention is important because business success depends on attention and attention management, just as it does other resources. While the options theory of asset pricing seems to apply to the attention asset as well, a key difference is that the attention asset is a perishable intangible. Information designed to get attention often perishes into gluts that may lead to "organizational attention deficit disorder" and on to bankruptcy, suggesting a need for attention management.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 are nuggets of gold both analytically and in terms of descriptive content. Chapter 3 deals with the measurement of attention - pay attention to pages 40-47. Chapter 4, on "the psychobiology of attention", outlines general hierarchical schemes for understanding human needs relevant to giving, getting, growing, and keeping the attention resource. Chapter 5 is particularly about how a business can get people (its employees, customers, and competitors) to pay attention to its attention. Among many examples: It can use attention technologies such as customizing solutions; it can avoid shoving its attention onto others; and it can use its people to keep the attention it already gets.
The sixth chapter of the book gives examples of industries where one would find the attention resource in practical uses. These include: advertising, movies, TV, and publishing. A defining characteristic of attention in these industries is "stickiness", i.e., paying and keeping attention (see p. 115ff).
The next five chapters stress e-commerce, leadership, strategies, changes of organizational structure, and information and knowledge management, all in the attention economy. The last chapter looks to the future, especially to the challenges and prospects the attention economy presents.
This is a good book, and the first five chapters are especially good. Some of the last chapters sound more like the revolutions we heard so much about during the dotcom era. The revolutionaries then told us to completely forget the "old economy", and singularly embrace the "new economy". Such predictions turned out to be hoity-toity, mainly because revolutions rarely succeed; they are generally too destructive even for their own good. Many revolutions have failed because, whereas people dislike the effects of change, they hate the disruptions of revolutions. Having said all that, I would still recommend The Attention Economy as fine work and good reading.
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