posted 10 Jun 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 9
Book review: The Attention Economy
Mikko Arevuo reviews The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business by Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck.
TITLE: The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business
AUTHORS: Thomas H. Davenport & John C. Beck
PUBLISHER: Harvard Business School Press, 2001
Tom Davenport and John Beck of Accenture Consulting have written an interesting book on the new currency of attention. We all need to compete for the attention of others to get our point across, and as such the attention of your information recipient is worth its weight in gold.
The Attention Economy is fairly US centric in its outlook, as the examples used emanate from the authors’ own work in the States. Nevertheless, the principles the authors refer to are universal. Davenport and Beck refer to the trillions of documents that circulate in US offices annually and to the fact that internet traffic doubles every one hundred days. They further state that approximately two hundred messages hit managers’ desktop on a daily basis. Against the background of this amount of information traffic, they welcome us to the ‘attention economy’ and the problems related to it.
Attention, the means of dealing with today’s level of information traffic, is the new currency, the authors maintain. To capture one’s attention and hold it has become a major task for any communicator, who must compete against others who also seek the attention of information-flooded employees, consumers and other stakeholders.
Davenport and Beck outline four perspectives on attention management that they feel are critical to understanding attention management’s impact on business:
- Measuring and allocating attention;
- Understanding and leveraging its psychological dimensions;
- Mastering new streamlining technologies;
- Adapting lessons from traditional attention industries such as advertising.
The authors seek to cast light on business areas such as e-commerce, organisational leadership, information management and strategy.
It has taken me a long time to review this book, as many of the concepts it contained were fairly alien to me. I was fortunate to be born in the city of Tampere, Finland, twenty kilometres from the town of Nokia, the namesake of the world-leading manufacturer of mobile telephones. In fact, most of Nokia’s telephone R&D takes place at the University of Technology at Tampere. Allow me to give you an example to illustrate a point about communications culture that did not exist prior to the invention of the mobile telephone.
The example is a follows: two men decide to go out for a beer. One goes to his local pub, the other one to his own local. They talk on their mobiles, and both have a great time. In the morning they tell their friends what a wonderful conversation they had the night before.
This, of course, is an oversimplification about how technology enables communication, but there is some truth in it. Americans are great communicators, as are the Spanish, Italians and the French. Northern Europeans are rather introverted, and communication does not come easy to many of us. In fact, e-mail and mobile telephones have been a liberating, communication-enabling technology for us. It is well known fact that we all have communications preferences and biases based on our socio-cultural bases. Hofstede write extensively on this topic, yet no reference is made to his pioneering cross-cultural studies in this book, which is a shame.
Having said that, the book has some good examples of people who have to deal with the new currency of attention. It also makes suggestions about how to structure one’s own communication to compete for the attention of your would-be audience.
Davenport is an esteemed business scholar and thinker. His book, Working Knowledge, co-authored with Larry Prusak, is one of the seminal books on knowledge management, along with the work of the likes of Tom Stewart and Nonaka/Takeuchi. I must confess to not knowing a great deal about Beck, but he is a senior research fellow at the Accenture Institute for Change and a visiting professor at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA.
The book is easy read and caters for the professional practitioner market. I was surprised that I did not find it at Heathrow airport recently, as it has all the qualities of becoming a paperback bestseller. The book would more than pass the time during your next transatlantic flight.
In terms of the academic readership, I will probably recommend the book as additional reading for my MBA knowledge-management unit. However, it is decidedly light on theory.
The book is certainly provocative. The ‘attention economy’ is real, at least for some of us, and the book goes to great lengths to propose models with which we can deal with the associated problems. While there will no doubt be more to come on this subject, The Attention Economy is a good start.
Mikko Arevuo is managing director of Delta Strategies Ltd and a visiting scholar at London South Bank University Business School. He can be contacted at email@example.com