Information Glut has Caused “Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder”

New Book Calls ‘Attention Management’ a Key to Business Survival

New York, NY, June 4, 2001 – Imagine what it’s like to face a couple of hundred e-mails, numerous voice mails, countless inter-office memos and regular meetings every day, as well as take the time to absorb those publications, newsletters and Web sites that allow you to keep up with your clients, industry and the competition.

If you work in America’s corporate corridors, you don’t have to imagine it. You’re living it.

That’s the theme of a breakthrough new book written by Accenture consultants Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck. The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business focuses on in the “info-stress” caused by a wealth of information that has created a poverty of attention. Companies, as a result, suffer from “organizational ADD,” a malady that exhibits such symptoms as an increased likelihood of missing key information when making decisions, diminished time for reflection on anything but simple information transactions, difficulty holding others’ attention, and a decreased ability to focus.

The authors define attention as focused mental engagement on a particular item of information, not to be confused with awareness, a precursor of attention. Awareness only becomes attention when information reaches a threshold of meaning in the brain and spurs the potential for action. While awareness may be the target, write the authors, attention is the bull’s-eye.

“With a couple hundred messages zinging by every day, how do we know what’s important? If we believe that humans work best when they have some time to reflect before acting, we need to assess how much room we have for concerted action and reflection,” according to the authors.

“Further, it’s unlikely that any project can get the concerted, long-term attention it needs if everyone is so busy responding to incoming e-mails and flashing voice mail lights. Any ambitious initiative in business needs substantial attention over substantial periods. Yet we’re becoming used to skipping from topic to topic like fairy sprites.”

Managing attention is critical, say the authors, in terms of catching and holding the attention of employees, customers and, in the case of public companies, investors and analysts. It plays a huge role in such business domains as electronic commerce, project and process management, organizational leadership, strategy, and information and knowledge management. “It’s no longer sufficient to be a solid, competent organization; you have to stir the brain cells – and the hearts – of your intended audience,” say the authors. The authors examine four perspectives on attention management they consider particularly relevant in the business context:

  1. The measurement of attention.Introduced is AttentionScape, a revolutionary tool that helps diagnose attention distribution problems, determine how the company is directing employees’ attention, analyze the attention the company receives from customers, and complete tasks that require a detailed understanding of attention levels.
  2. Its psychological and biological dimensions.
  3. The strategy of the information age has been to deluge management with enormous amounts of information. This has proven wildly counterproductive, overloading workers’ attention abilities and thwarting productivity. In the attention economy, managers must recognize and accept the reality of human biology on attention.
  4. New technologies that attempt to structure and protect attention.
  5. Can technology cure an information hangover and help solve the problem it created? Explored are attention-getting, attention-structuring, and attention-protecting technologies.
  6. The industries most successful in generating attention. The attention industries – advertising, movies, television and publishing – may be the best place to learn about effective attention management. These industries have already encountered virtually every issue an attention manager will come across, from a lack of attention, to attention flows across content and channel, to attention management.

The Authors
Thomas H. Davenport, cited by Business Week and Darwin Magazine as one of the leaders behind the ideas of the new economy, is director of the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change and professor of Information Management at Boston University. Davenport, who holds a doctorate from Harvard University in organizational behavior, is a frequent contributor to leading academic and business publications and the author of three other books, including the best seller Process Innovation.

John Beck, who has a Ph.D in business studies from Harvard, is an associate partner and senior research fellow at the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change. A Visiting Professor at UCLA, he frequently writes on such topics as business in Asia, strategic management, globalization, leadership and organizational behavior.

About Accenture
Accenture is the world’s leading provider of management and technology consulting services and solutions, with more than 70,000 people in 46 countries delivering a wide range of specialized capabilities and solutions to clients across all industries. Accenture operates globally with one common brand and business model designed to enable the company to serve its clients on a consistent basis around the world. Under its strategy, Accenture is building a network of businesses to meet the full range of any organization’s needs -- consulting, technology, outsourcing, alliances and venture capital. The company generated revenues of $9.75 billion for the fiscal year ended August 31, 2000 and $5.71 billion for the six months ended February 28, 2001. Its home page is