Attention Economics – The Bottleneck of Human Thought
The term Attention Economy was coined by Herbert Simon, who was a psychologist and an economist.
He describes attention as being the bottleneck of human thought. It's attention that limits both what we perceive in stimulating environments, and what we can do with it.
Economics is the study of how resources (sometimes rather scarce) are allocated. We recognize that there's a finite - there's only so much money, food, water, time available, so how do we how do we manage that? How do we use what we've got and make that available to as wide an audience as possible? How do we make sure that everyone's got a piece of the pie?
Now let’s move into the world of attention economics.
We live in an era of endless amounts of information that we have instantly at our fingertips. There is no scarcity of information. We don't need to worry about sharing that information. I don't worry that you don't have enough access to information because unlike food, water money or housing (stuff that is tangible and physical, that we can quantify and measure), information data is arguably infinite.
It just goes on and on and on.
So, in that world, how we understand and begin to talk about the economics of data, (the economics of information if you like) is based on how we measure it against attention, and indeed, how we understand attention as being a potential limiting factor to the value of information and data.
Attention is the actual true resource.
We've spent a lot of time over the last three decades talking about information economy, as though information is the valuable commodity, but it's not - it's attention that is the valuable commodity, because attention is limited, and therefore it's valuable, and therefore it's scarce.
Information pollution is a massive issue. How do we function effectively, both as individuals, but also as organizations within the attention economy? It’s a challenge for everyone from your leadership to your staff, to your current members, your future members and to your never been members.
Ultimately, it's a matter of measuring and determining the true end game. The true end game isn't necessarily holding attention, it's leading people down a path to a level of engagement. Whether it's an increase in membership, an increase in retention or maybe it's a higher number of students joining that specialty and choosing that academic course, define what your true measure of impact is, and recognize that the attention economics is a means to that end. Make sure that you're measuring the right things and holding your organization accountable for the right things, because it will take a multitude of strategies to achieve those final end results
The challenges of the attention economy are sophisticated, and they are multifaceted. Therefore, our response has got to be equally sophisticated in recognizing that one size does not fit all - it's got to be far more comprehensive than that.
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Attention economics - the bottleneck of human thought
When he defined the concept of "attention economics" in 1971, Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon wrote that "...a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention...". 50 years later, and in a data-rich world, the overwhelming wealth of information available to us means a dearth of something else, i.e. the scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes - our attention. In this week's episode, and in the first of a series of conversations focused on attention economics, Elisa and Andrew define the concept and begin to explore how membership bodies need to understand, respond to, and flourish within the attention economy.