- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Harper (October 8, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062114867
- ISBN-13: 978-0062114860
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 308 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence Hardcover – October 8, 2013
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Attention is a “little-noticed and underrated mental asset,” sorely tested among modern distractions but essential to success in work, play, relationships, and self-awareness, asserts Goleman, psychologist, journalist, and author of Emotional Intelligence (1995). In fact, the ability to focus, more than IQ or social background, is the key to performance and success. Neuroscience, case studies, and personal experience contribute to Goleman’s exploration of focus, which includes concentration, selective attention, open awareness, self-awareness, empathy, and systems awareness. He breaks them down to inner, other, and outer focus. Among examples of the significance of focus: a doctor’s ability to shut down emotions to focus on gory medical procedures; an epidemiologist’s attention to patterns and systems to track the human connections that lead to global pandemics; and a gamer’s focus on spatial perception, decision making, and ability to track objects. In commerce, education, sports, and personal life, Goleman offers concepts and techniques, including mindfulness and meditation, to train ourselves to be more focused, exercising those areas of the brain involved in focusing attention. An engaging, wide-ranging look at attention and intelligence. --Vanessa Bush
“Daniel Goleman has surpassed himself in the breadth, depth, and readability of this fascinating meditation on what is most important for human, organizational, and planetary flourishing. Focusshows us how to go about paying attention in all the ways that really matter.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and author of Mindfulness for Beginners Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and author of Mindfulness for Beginners Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based St)
“With compelling insights, wide-ranging examples, and cutting-edge science, Daniel Goleman makes the convincing case that the ability to focus is a key to excellence, in both our personal and professional lives-and also explains how to boost that focus.” (Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project)
“Daniel Goleman has written the perfect prescription for today’s deficit of attention in business and life....Highly recommended!” (Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and author of Peak and Emotional Equations)
“Goleman has provided a highly readable manifesto for turning our smartphones off once in a while.” (Financial Times)
“I’ve been studying attention for more than a decade, but I learned something new on every page of Focus. It is a powerful guide for taking control of our attention and will lead you to nothing less than taking control of your life.” (Tony Schwartz, author of The Power of Full Engagement and CEO of The Energy Project)
“Attention is so important that ordinary people take it for granted, while scientists subject it to microanalysis. Steering deftly between these extremes, Dan Goleman synthesizes what is known and what we need to know.” (Howard Gardner, John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Howard Garnder, John H. and Elizabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Educati)
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The opening chapters contained the rudiments of correlation to brain areas such as the effects of the amygdala, hypo campus and insula. Having studied these brain regions and the common best understanding, I conclude that he offered facile connections that were unjustified by the current state of the science.
Then, looking at the author's list of books, I came to the personal conclusion that the amount of padding in this book was secondary to an author having used up the stronger material he has and now he is moving to weaker, less well developed ideas that are really not justified.
It was author, Daniel Goleman, who popularised the notion of emotional intelligence. “My goal here,” he writes, “is to spotlight this elusive and under-appreciated mental faculty in the mind’s operations and its role in living a fulfilling life.”
To enjoy a “fulfilling life,” requires a three-part focusing ability: inner, other, and outer focus. Much like a muscle, focus improves as we deliberately use it more and weakens without conscious use.
“Inner focus” makes us aware of our intuitions, our guiding values, and assists in making better decisions. “Other focus” aids in our interpersonal relations. “Outer focus” is necessary for navigating our way in the larger world in which we operate.
It is not that we are paying less attention these days; it is that the attention we pay is decidedly different.
Goleman observed a mother and her daughter on a ferry to an island vacation. “The little girl’s head came only up to her mother’s waist as she hugged her mom and held on fiercely… The mother, though, didn’t respond to her, or even seem to notice: she was absorbed in her iPad all the while.”
The mother’s indifference is a symptom of how technology captures our attention and interferes with our connection.
An eighth-grade teacher told Goleman that she has observed a decline in her pupil’s ability to read. “She wonders if perhaps her students’ ability to read has been somehow compromised by the short, choppy messages they get in texts.”
The distracting effects of technology has led to a number of companies in Silicon Valley (the home of technology!) to ban laptops, mobile phones, and other digital tools during meetings.
An executive coach, Tony Schwartz, who helps leaders manage their energy, told Goleman, “We get people to become more aware of how they use attention— which is always poorly. Attention is now the number-one issue on the minds of our clients.”
Decades ago, Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon presciently warned of the implications of the coming information-rich world. He warned, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
There are two main types of distractions: sensory and emotional. The sensory distractors are easier to deal with, the more daunting distractions are the emotionally loaded issues. Such thoughts intrude in for a good reason: to have us think through what to do about what is upsetting us.
Too often, the intrusions are unresolved and so the distressing thoughts recur in the same loop of worry.
Focus, or attention, works at many levels. “What’s trending now” is a signal of how we are allotting our collective attention. Workplace surveys show where employees are spending most of their attention. Large numbers are daydreaming, wasting hours cruising the Web or YouTube, and doing the bare minimum required.
“To get the disengaged workers any nearer the focused range demands upping their motivation and enthusiasm, evoking a sense of purpose, and adding a dollop of pressure,’ Goleman suggests.
Life today is enmeshed in the digital distractions that create a near-constant cognitive overload. Overload wears out our self-control. Lost in the digital world we forget our resolve to diet and mindlessly reach for the Pringles, or forget the names of people we know well.
It is easy to assume that attention needs be in the service of solving problems or achieving goals. However, our best ideas often come from the mind’s tendency to drift. Focused, goal-driven attention does not have more value than open, spontaneous awareness. Our minds will wander towards our current personal concerns and unresolved business, matters that do require our attention.
At the corporate level “Directing attention toward where it needs to go is a primal task of leadership,” Goleman asserts.
The leader’s task is to capture and direct the collective attention of staff. This requires, firstly that leaders focus their own attention, and only then attract and direct the attention from others. The requirement for the leader to have clarity of focus is largely because the attention of staff is guided by what leaders attend to – whether they explicitly articulate it or not.
Organizations, as with individuals, have a limited capacity for attention. Organizations have to choose where to allocate attention, what they will focus on, and what they will ignore.
“Signs of what might be called organizational “attention deficit disorder” include making flawed decisions because of missing data, no time for reflection, trouble getting attention in the marketplace, and inability to focus when and where it matters,” Goleman observes.
In order to focus an organization, the leader must simplify the complexity. This is never a simple matter. Steve Jobs’s dictum that Apple products should allow a user to do anything in three clicks or fewer, demanded a deep understanding of the function of the commands and buttons being given up, and finding elegant alternatives.
Focus at the strategic level is no different. It too demands a deep understanding of what can be overlooked and of the alternatives.
This issue of individual ability to focus and well as our corporate ability to focus is too urgent to ignore. This book is a excellent place to start.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +_--- Low
Practical High --+-- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy
You may remember Goleman as the author of the huge 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, which taught us all that psychological factors other than IQ were better predictors of success on the job and in life. Goleman was trained as a psychologist but soon after his post-doctoral studies turned his hand to science journalism, writing about new developments in brain science and related topics for The New York Times for a dozen years and later turning to writing independently. Over the years, he has shifted back and forth from teaching and research to science writing and back again. To date, he has produced ten books. Focus is the most recent.
I vividly remember devouring Emotional Intelligence much as I would a compelling murder mystery. The book was a revelation. Focus falls far short of it. To begin with, the book’s central theme — that focused attention improves outcomes in daily life, in work, in sports, and in leadership — is no surprise at all. Many others have delivered this message over the millennia, from the yoga masters of India to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who introduced us to the concept of “flow” – the single-minded immersion that, like Goleman’s focus, enables peak performance. No doubt, Goleman’s new book updates the brain science underlying these concepts, but his repeated overuse of the anatomical labels for obscure regions of the brain would have been better suited for a professional audience rather than the general reader.
The author’s academic posturing aside, I found Focus fascinating when Goleman described the application of contemporary psychological tools to pre-school and primary education. (Parents with children in school today may find this subject all too familiar; I didn’t.) The extraordinary improvement in school performance brought about by exercises in mindfulness was startling news. And the application of similar training methods in various aspects of emotional intelligence yielded similarly impressive results in the workplace, boosting job performance, job satisfaction, and workforce morale. Clearly, there’s something truly significant going on here. I just wish Goleman had found a way to report it in a more accessible and congenial way.