Tuesday, November 08, 2020

Paying Attention

In her marvelous book "Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up"Patricia Ryan Madson devotes a chapter to paying attention. Here’s part of what she says:

“Life is attention, and what we are attending to determines to a great extent how we experience the world. We are usually focused on ourselves — our problems, desires, fears. We move through life half awake and ruminating, living in our heads — thinking, planning, worrying, imagining. The detail of each day takes place in front of us, moment by precious moment. How much are we missing? Almost everything.”

Your attention is precious. It’s also finite. You have only so much available, so if you fragment it between tasks, thoughts, fears, daydreams and memories, what’s left may not be sufficient to achieve much of what you wish. Outside events and people are also greedy claimants for your attention. The ever-present cellphone, television, advertising, all those folk who want “just a moment of your time” to persuade you to buy, taste, vote or donate, all clamoring for as much attention as they can grab.

Leaders have extra demands. They must pay attention to the needs and concerns of those they lead. They must set direction and deal with corrections when events push them off course. And they must often take part in the wider process of corporate strategy setting, contributing their expertise and input on topics beyond their departmental brief. When all this distraction is compounded by haste and the stupidity of multitasking to show how well they can cope, it’s little wonder their attention span shrinks below that of the proverbial goldfish. If, as is reported, the average American’s attention span is now measured in seconds, the typical leader’s must be mere fractions of a second.

This is neither a sensible way to live nor a wise way to run an organization. Jumping from topic to topic in a frenzy of superficiality ensures nothing — and no one — gets the attention needed.

Slow Leadership can help you take back control of how and where your attention is directed. Cherish your attention. Defend it against attention thieves and those who want to waste it for their own ends. Like money, once attention is spent, it’s gone. But unlike the cash in your pocket, there are no places you can go to borrow more.

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Patricia Ryan Madson said...

Once again I am in your debt! Thanks for quoting the book and giving credit. I passed on the idea of "slow leadership" at the Stanford Entrepreneurs Conference. It got many folks attention! Keep up your fine work.

1:32 PM  

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