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On a debt of attention

It’s one of those common-sense truisms: something that seems easy to grasp on the surface but is a hard pill to swallow.

Or a difficult mindset to shift. Especially when we, our organisations or our entire industry come from pre-digital times.

A time when information was scarce, when gatekeepers stood on higher pedestals.

Before the internet, information was costly to produce, costly to distribute and costly to access. If you hoped to learn about a thing, you’d have to put in the work one way or another, even if that just meant getting out and looking for it.

Finding an encyclopaedia, tracking down an expert, visiting a bookshop or a library - always patiently waiting to find the answers you need. Sometimes, you would need to go to greater lengths: researching and ordering a specific book, enrolling in a course or university, or praying for serendipity.

But times changed. We may not be any wiser, but we live in information-rich times: abundant to an excess, to the point where we’re drowning in it.

Using the smart devices that rarely leave our sides, we have access to all the information in the world, from anywhere, anytime.

When information tends to infinity, our attention tends to zero. Turned into a scarce resource, our attention is commoditised, directed and redirected: monetised and exploited.

Your attention is a scarce resource – and everyone’s fighting to get it.

With a large part of our world built upon the attention economy, our attention can be converted into worldview, and then action.

As we move the coordinate axis from ourselves onto the other, as we start to listen to understand rather than make an opinion, and work to change organisations and the world for the better, it may be good to remember:

No one owes you their attention. If you want it, you need to earn it.

And even then, never take it for granted.

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