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The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business

The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business

by Thomas H. Davenport, John C. Beck

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In today's information-flooded world, the scarcest resource is not ideas or even talent: it's attention. In this groundbreaking book, Thomas Davenport and John Beck argue that unless companies learn to effectively capture, manage, and keep it—both internally and out in the marketplace—they'll fall hopelessly behind.

In The Attention Economy, the


In today's information-flooded world, the scarcest resource is not ideas or even talent: it's attention. In this groundbreaking book, Thomas Davenport and John Beck argue that unless companies learn to effectively capture, manage, and keep it—both internally and out in the marketplace—they'll fall hopelessly behind.

In The Attention Economy, the authors also outline four perspectives on managing attention in all areas of business:
1) measuring attention
2) understanding the psychobiology of attention
3) using attention technologies to structure and protect attention
4) adapting lessons from traditional attention industries like advertising

Drawing from exclusive global research, the authors show how a few pioneering organizations are turning attention management into a potent competitive advantage and recommend what attention-deprived companies should do to avoid losing employees, customers, and market share. A landmark work on the twenty-first century's new critical competency, this book is for every manager who wants to learn how to earn and spend the new currency of business.

Editorial Reviews

The phrase "information overload" had become a commonplace even before the Internet changed the way we think about knowledge distribution. In our newly digital world, where cell phones, palm devices, and email are ubiquitous, the most precious commodity of all is attention. Companies that can't command the attention of their customers and employees will suffer in what Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck have named "the attention economy" of the 21st century. Drawing from a globe-spanning research project and grounded in specfics drawn from the struggles of today's corporations, Davenport and Beck's compelling book makes a powerful case for their revolutionary model for measuring and managing human attention, our most valued and personal resource.
eCompany Now
Davenport and Beck propose a straightforward model that uses technology, psychology, and knowledge-management theory to help companies keep workers focused.
Warren Bennis
In a world where hyper-speed, disruptive technologies, great new apps, and too many Emails overwhelm, where DSL has replaced LSD as an escape, and where every waking minute is clogged with information overload, what's a leader to do? First, take a deep breath. Second, read Tom Davenport and John Beck's The Attention Economy. You'll breathe—and lead—a lot easier.
Gregory L. Summe
Tom Davenport and John Beck bring a sharp eye to one of the greatest challenges facing CEOs: ensuring that key issues are at the front-of-mind of the organization. The Attention Economy shows you how to tune out the unnecessary and tune into what's most important.
John Seely Brown
As we drown in a sea of information and consistently fail to get our messages across, we all know intuitively that the attention economy is real. This insightful and informative book explains the mechanisms of attention and offers pragmatic techniques for managing your attention and capturing that of others.
Michael Schrage
After reading The Attention Economy, it is clear to me that attention isn't really 'paid'-it's either given as a loan or managed as an investment. For companies that appreciate those distinctions, Davenport and Beck's book is an essential management resource.
Larry Prusak
Davenport and Beck have written the first full exposition of how attention works in the knowledge economy. A stimulating and fun read.
Fast Company
"...a wide-ranging, forward-looking, low-to-the-ground exploration of everything from new attention metrics to the fascinating psychobiology of attention."
Time Magazine
. . . any executive who is drowning in e-mail, voice mail, instant messages, pager messages. . . will find this book thought provoking.

Product Details

Harvard Business Review Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.90(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

How Executives Can Help Their Companies Manage the Scarcest Resource of All: Attention
By Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck
For several years we have been investigating how the boom of information technology-and the concomitant "info glut"-has affected corporate leadership. Our research has convinced us that attention is the scarce resource in today's economy and that it can be managed.

Since attention management now plays such a critical role to a company's success, corporate leaders must take on the responsibility to help themselves and the people in their organization manage attention.

Why attention is a scarce resource
Attention is the bridge between awareness and action. If an issue does not receive attention, it will not result in action, because attention is always a precursor to productive behavior.

Attention is at a premium partly, but only partly, because information has been becoming less expensive for many years. Today's manager can, with just a few mouse-clicks, call up more external information than any one can ever fully absorb-all while dealing with increasing numbers of phone calls, e-mails and faxes.

But an equally important challenge is the increasing speed and complexity of our business lives. Decades of global competition have produced lean organizations, very high customer expectations, short cycle times and a need for JIT everything. Yet our research indicates while the number of targets corporate leaders must now set in their sights has multiplied, their capacity to aim at several targets simultaneously has not.

The two basic problems of the attention economy
In the attention economy, every corporate leader faces two basic problems: how to get and hold the attention of employees, consumers, stockholders, potential employees and others, and how to parcel out their own attention in the face of overwhelming options. Companies whose leaders succeed at managing attention will find that winning the battle for attention pays handsome rewards.

Pay attention to where you pay attention
A key attribute of a corporate leader is the ability to focus his or her attention. To develop this attribute, executives must recognize where their attention is directed and discern if it is appropriately and effectively aimed.

One way of determining if attention is effectively focused is to review the actions of employees. Using the AttentionScape tool, our research clearly shows that employees throughout a company make decisions on what to pay attention to based on their perception of what their leaders are paying attention to.

On that note, we recommend corporate leaders:

  • Go public about where they spend their attention. By telling others about the items in their field of attention, employees will become more self-aware;
  • Set attention goals for themselves. Know where they want to spend their future attention.
  • Get feedback. Often, colleagues, employees or friends have a better sense of how executives spend their attention than executives themselves do. Ask colleagues and customers: "What do you think I pay attention to. The answers may surprise you. When you pay attention-attention pays.
Our research reveals that attention is a valuable lens through which to view the role of corporate leadership. Attention is the scarce resource of our age-and a resource innately tied to what the human beings in the organization actually do. Executives who understand and manage it are a long stride ahead of their competitors.

Meet the Author

Thomas H. Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Chair at Babson College and a research fellow at the MIT Center for Digital Business.

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