The human brain sees through attention. Focused effort improves mastery. Managing attention shapes success. Where’s your focus?
We see that to which we are paying attention. Our brain screens out things that aren’t changing and can ignore the raft of elements irrelevant to our focus. We are programmed for confirmation bias. This also means that focus often brings us that we seek. Shifting focus enables us to see things we missed before.
Focus also creates the positive sensation of flow. When we concentrate on matching our rising skill to rising challenge we become absorbed in the task. We enjoy the timeless feeling of growing mastery in that focus. Sustaining focus is essential to continued development over time. Focus and you create your own unique expertise.
In coaching, you often find people can’t see the opportunities and the strengths that they have. They are so focused on barriers, issues and threats that the opportunities surprise them. That has been my personal experience of taking the leap from corporate life to consulting. I was so worried by the risks that I was surprised by the opportunities. I needed to retrain my attention to the opportunities.
Where’s your focus? How is your focus helping you achieve your purpose?
What are you doing to cut through the challenges of attention in the future of work?
Yesterday a client found me in a busy activity-based workspace by my colourful socks. There were too many dark suited males sitting at desks but only one was wearing loud socks. A distinctive trademark cut through the challenges of attention.
Our attention discriminates. We deliberately focus to exclude distractions. When humans lived on the African savannah there was already too much information and attention was a way to economise.
When we enter the future of work that issue of attention explodes. Streams of updates, flat networks of relationships to follow and complex rapidly changing environments create a load on our attention. If you want to be recognised for your efforts in this environment you will need to stand out.
Wearing colourful socks won’t cut it. Socks don’t scale. The traditional response of the extroverts among us just adds to the noise. One pair of colourful socks is a discriminator. Many are noise. We see the same with the ‘look at me’ cries on social media.
The future of work might not be about standing out. Perhaps it is about standing in.
The way to get noticed in a network is to be a valuable node. Your goal is not to push yourself to isolation at the edges, it is to contribute to value creation at the core. In short, you need to stand in (networks).
How can we stand in more effectively? The Value Maturity Model offers us a guide:
- Work for a purpose and gather those around you who share that purpose
- Make connections between people to improve the efficiency of the network
- Share relevant information, add new information to your networks and don’t pass on the dross. Working out loud is a great practice that helps others and John Stepper has described how working out loud works for introverts.
- Help solve problems of others in your network
- When you see an ability to make a unique difference, take that chance. Innovative opportunities don’t happen often. Take a risk and leverage your network to make something unique happen.
To fight the discrimination of attention in the future of work, focus on standing in (networks).
I stood at the traffic lights this morning beside a toddler in a pram. As the gathered adults stared blankly ahead absorbed in their thoughts or their phones, the toddler intently studied the traffic passing. Every car and truck got intense focus. The toddler was trying to learn something about its strange loud and colourful new world. The adults were elsewhere.
If you want to start small and start now, you need to pay attention to the little things. Small problems, small opportunities, small conversations and small moods all need to be noticed and acted on.
Here’s a question: do you know the shoe colour of the five people nearest you? Shoe colour is not that important but the act of paying better attention is. Paying better attention leads to other insights. For example, if all five are wearing black shoes, perhaps you might want to move somewhere more diverse.
Attention is a sign of respect. Attention is the foundation of learning. Attention drives the opportunity to change.
What small things can you notice today that can lead to a small action of change?
In the spirit of paying better attention, RU OK Day is 11 September. Find out more about how a little attention and a little conversation can make a difference at https://www.ruok.org.au
This morning, a car passed in front of me as I drove through the traffic. The driver’s head was down looking a phone. An example of a driver taking risks by distracting their attention from a complex system in a rapidly changing environment. A driver who assumes that things aren’t going to change much and that the car can continue on business as usual while their attention is elsewhere. Importantly, they chose to put their attention somewhere that they can’t have much impact while driving a car.
We know driving and texting is dangerous. Studies show it impedes performance of drivers more than alcohol.
Do we ever consider how dangerous it is to lead while using a smartphone?
- Others notice your lack of attention to the issue that was worth your presence and that changes their attitudes and behaviour
- Things aren’t going to stay the same while you are distracted because the environment is complex and challenging. That’s why the issue was worth your presence
- You made the issue more challenging and complex by changing people’s attitudes and behaviour to the issue at hand.
- Great leadership requires presence and attention to others and to the detail of the situation.
- Great leadership is purposeful. Responding to emails, texts and calls is shifting from your agenda to the agenda of others.
- You can’t usually do much that has a meaningful leadership impact about the emails, texts and calls but you are surrendering a huge leadership impact on the task you have at hand.
So next time you feel tempted to pull out the smartphone while leading, ask yourself:
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper