June 18, 2004

Shackle The New Media

Traveling as I do, I live in a connected world: email and cell, primarily. We all do. But when do we say, “enough?”

Just five years ago, you could actually conduct communication network research … find out who talks to whom, and with what frequency, so you could identify the connectors and opinion leaders in an organization. Not anymore … between email, instant messaging, cell phones, blogs, and all the other communication channels at our disposal, asking people keep logs of their communication (which are central to the research methodology) is now simply too difficult.

But the demise of organization-wide network analysis isn’t the only consequence of channel proliferation … another, more important consequence is the rise of what we call audience inattention: the challenge of getting a recipient to attend to a message given the vast increase in the volume of communication in which most people now engage. But it’s not just about awareness … making the message stand out … it’s about retention … having an audience attend to a message well enough that they process its meaning.

The problem is described by Linda Stone, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Corporate and Industry Initiatives and founder of Microsoft Research’s Virtual Worlds Group as “Continuous Partial Attention.” Regarding CPA, Inc.com noted:

[It’s] just the way it is nowadays, said Microsoft’s Linda Stone, vice-president of corporate and industry initiatives. Despite her bureaucratic title, Stone is a creative thinker who has coined the term continuous partial attention to describe the way we cope with the barrage of communication coming at us. It’s not the same as multitasking, Stone says; that’s about trying to accomplish several things at once. With continuous partial attention, we’re scanning incoming alerts for the one best thing to seize upon: “How can I tune in in a way that helps me sync up with the most interesting, or important, opportunity?”

On the sender side, CPA is a significant problem. The only practical advice: keep messages concise, keep them consistent over time, and commit to communicating a few key messages with extraordinary depth, rather than communicating many things only marginally well.

On the receiver side, you need to create space in your day and your work to process information. You need to “shackle” the new media: to know when to turn off the cell phone, close Outlook or Notes, and process what you have. Stone notes this as well:

She says: “It’s crucial for CEOs to be intentional about breaking free from continuous partial attention in order to get their bearings. Some of today’s business books suggest that speed is the answer to today’s business challenges. Pausing to reflect, focus, think a problem through; and then taking steady steps forward in an intentional direction is really the key.”

Bottom line: If you’re attending to everything at once, you’re attending to nothing. Disconnect and process … the world will adapt around you.

(And that’s what I’m doing with increasing frequency: disconnecting. So if a few days go by without a post, please understand: Avocare, too, must be put in shackles from time to time. And while we’re at it … when’s the last time you went outside for some sunshine?)

Posted by Avocare at June 18, 2004 09:32 AM | TrackBack
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