Attention and enthusiasm are hard to produce and expire quickly. They're already valued as commodities and carry with them immense power which can be used for good or ill. Even though they are precious, we squander them every day. Recognising their precious nature has profound implications for the way live and what we create.
Precious and often wasted
Attention and enthusiasm are precious because although they are not strictly finite, it is hard to produce more of either. Opportunities for using attention well pass us by every minute of every day. We are enthusiastic for the things that give us fulfilment and enjoyment. When we do what we love, we don't feel as though we're working.
If you need proof of the commodity value of attention and enthusiasm, see how they are recruited and traded by social media companies. Apps which reward our lizard brains with dopamine every time we are notified and jump on for an update; the little tickle of something new. They hold us for as long as possible, tempting us to keep scrolling, following the clickbait and liking the next thing. With our passive consent they consume hours of our attention. Our posts and shares are a voluntary donation of our own enthusiasm - from joy to despair and everything in between.
We all know what it feels like to get stuck doing things that neither make us more happy, nor move us toward our aims. Not that we shouldn’t take rest. Down time is essential; our brains need plenty to be able to focus and achieve great things. But does continuously scoring dopamine hits from Facebook and our inbox really count as a rest? We think not.
Most organisations squander at least some of their team's attention. How many times did people have to copy and paste, update cumbersome spreadsheets or otherwise manually handle data between their various systems today? How many repetitive and boring tasks are we using our brilliant human workforce to get done? It's like using a supercomputer to add 1+1. Whichever way you do the maths, there's a colossal waste of attention, enthusiasm and sheer potential.
In automation we trust
We believe automation is a good thing because we believe human attention is too precious to be systematically squandered on menial tasks. What we do with information today is akin to what we did in factories a hundred years ago. We want to liberate humans from this work, and enable them to do more of the things only they can.
The potential for harm
Organisations of all kinds have always harnessed human attention and enthusiasm to achieve their broader aims. Every ancient civilisation, army, religion, brand, family, pop star, sports team, entrepreneur and political party has done it in some form.
Collective attention and enthusiasm combine to create the most powerful force ever known, and this will be even more true as automation takes hold. We must be alert to the potential for harm.
Just as a simple tool like a knife can be used to either cut someone free or mortally wound them, the powers of attention and enthusiasm are sometimes used for the worst of reasons.
The need for true leadership
There has never been a more important time to ensure our work is good for us, and good for everyone else. We face immense challenges as a civilisation: tackling climate change, ensuring social justice and negotiating the complex balance between individual freedoms and communal safety. Progress itself carries a considerable leadership burden as we wonder what work humans will do when most current occupations are held by algorithms.
True leadership will involve more than just work with good causes. Most of our lives and most of our decisions take place in the interesting grey space between either the exclusively good or the obviously bad. It’s also where most opportunities for change exist.
We want the precious nature of attention and enthusiasm to be recognised by everyone. By the organisations, brands and institutions affecting the everyday - when tech for good is a mantra for the mainstream, so more of us can benefit.
With great power comes great responsibility. We expect those holding that which is precious to take good care of it. Attention and enthusiasm need to be nurtured for the good of all.
Amplified by advancing technology, these forces could lead us towards dystopia. We're starting to see huge advances in physical and digital technology - the internet of things, ambient computing and the automation of almost everything. So these exciting developments need to be guided by more than just a belief in progress.
You can't automate leadership, care or craft. We will always need humans to make the complicated decisions, look after one another and design the next generation of organisations and technologies to keep us moving forward.
The software we create for the true leaders we work with becomes the medium through which they transform the world.
We must respect the power of attention and enthusiasm and ensure that every new system, device and application we create leads to the sort of world we want our children to grow up in.
Are attention and enthusiasm precious to you?
We'd love to discuss and consider working with you to bring these ideas to life. Call 0161 850 1692 or email firstname.lastname@example.org