At a recent Richmond Group meeting, a guest speaker referred to the often-quoted reduction in people’s attention span – perhaps now down to a few seconds. If this is true, I should stop now!
Attention or distraction
But it doesn’t take much observation to see that this cannot be correct. Nor is it something that can sensibly be attached only to millennials. You can see people of all ages focusing on their mobile phones for many minutes or hours – playing games or using social media. And, anecdotally, binge-watching box sets on Netflix is a common occurrence. Both require long periods of concentration.
So, it is not a decreasing span of attention that is a cause for concern, it is the massive increase in distractions. And much of this comes from the technology we tie ourselves to. Social media, games, alerts, emails, provide a continuous stream of distractions.
Sources of information
Much of what I do is “teaching” small groups in the consulting and technology sector. The age profile is very much skewed to those in their 20s and 30s. Most disturbing is to find out from where they get their knowledge of current affairs. Virtually no-one listens to the radio (except music stations) and only very few read newspapers. TV has been largely replaced by streaming to tablets or mobiles. So, it is social media with its insidious filtering which provides their superficial echo-chamber newsfeed.
Another fallacy is that younger generations are better able to multi-task. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_multitasking debunks this myth along with any suggestion that multi-tasking is a good idea since error rates increase massively and cognitive performance declines swiftly.
What I conclude is that we should seek out calm and non-distracting environments if we are to help solve business and world problems. Quiet focus and concentration can enable rational conclusions to be drawn. Distraction plays to the emotions.
So, let us stop bemoaning the short span of attention and instead try to minimise the distractions.
By Gareth Bunn, Member, The Richmond Group of independent consultants, 22/07/2019