The Attention Economy

Authors Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck stress that "Understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success," and they identify three paired opposites as types of attention: aversive and attractive, front-of-mind and back-of-mind, and captive and voluntary. Plotting the strength of each of these types on the x and y axes of a graph produces an "AttentionScape" that identifies where and how intensely attention is being directed.

The authors are disciples of psychobiology who insist that human attention is organic, not mechanical, and they stress the implications. Nevertheless, they believe that technology can relieve an "information hangover" by means of attention-getting, attention-structuring, and attention-protecting devices. The advertising and entertainment industries can offer broad lessons, and a chapter on "Eyeballs and Cyber Malls" scrutinizes what is being learned about attention on the Internet.

Superior leadership demands focusing attention effectively, especially in coping with the complexity of modern global operations. A chapter on organization spells out effectively the rewards and hazards of mergers and acquisitions, urging strict attention to organizational structures in such corporate marriages. The information overload managers struggle with today has become a "pathology," say Davenport and Beck, and it leads to what a Reuters Business Information study calls "information fatigue syndrome." Significant distractions from effective attention are the barrage from the Internet, activities that interrupt routine, and a lot of needless messing around with technology. The only solution to these distractions--the road "From Myopia to Utopia"--lies in "attention-conscious knowledge management." The authors have thought a lot about their subject and have distilled a wealth of common- sense observation into a clear narrative with an attention-getting layout. Their boxes and circles and green ink apparently demonstrate what they term the "Counterintuitive role of distracters."