Attention hours

We often focus on the attention economy as it relates to life online, but it’s a helpful lens for thinking about the rest of our lives too.

Attention hours are a useful thing to count when thinking about how valuable an activity is, and how much time you might be wasting if you do it badly.

Ten hours of your attention preparing an hour’s presentation seems like a lot, but even if you only have twenty people in the room – twenty of the right people – and you do what you set out to do, you’ve just doubled your investment.

Attention hours also help us to see the value that we risk wasting with bad presentations. Even if your audience haven’t paid money to see you, they’re paying attention.

Some questions:

  • What could you achieve with twenty hours of your audience’s work? How about a hundred hours?
  • What could they – could you – buy with one hundred times their average hourly wage?
  • What will you do to make the most of this valuable opportunity? What will make it worth it for them, which will also make it worth it for you?

Hard conversations

…aren’t supposed to be easy.

The person you need to have the conversation with might be a peer, a friend, a long-term colleague.

The conversations are uncomfortable in the planning, in the preparation and in the aftermath – often because they highlight your own weaknesses or lay you open to charges of hypocrisy or favouritism, however hard you’ve tried.

But avoiding the conversation will put an even bigger strain on you, your team and your organisation – and possibly beyond. Your reputation, your work and your impact will suffer.

In short: this is your job, and you have to have the conversation.

Have it as close as possible to when you discovered the problem. Prepare, speak clearly and directly, and don’t run away from the uncomfortable feeling of calling someone out or confronting something that’s wrong. Instead hold onto that feeling as a sign that you’re doing you job.

Do your job.

What’s the Metaverse?

Here’s more on the Metaverse: from Matthew Ball (again) on the BBC’s Beyond Today.

The first half of the program has some good stuff on Fortnite’s business model and how it’s more than simply a game… the second half gets into the question of what the Metaverse is in principle, and how close (or far away) we might be from seeing it in (virtual) reality.

Recommend.

No shortage of money

There is no money shortage.

It might not be where you’d like it, and there might not be people lining up to give it to you for whatever you think it would be well used for… but there’s plenty of money.

Whose money?

It’s usually best if the money comes directly from the people you’re serving – call them customers, clients, partners, or even beneficiaries. This gives you one set of people to focus on*, one main audience to talk with and listen to, one set of incentives driving what you do: meeting their needs and serving them better.

Changing the market

It may be – especially if you’re running a non-profit – that the direct consumers of what you offer don’t have the money to buy it in its current form. In this case you have a few options:

  • Do a better job of convincing your users of the value that you offer
  • Find ways to make it cheaper – strip your product down to the smallest possible offering that makes a difference to your customers, and sell that.
  • Work out the scale at which your original product becomes cheap enough for your target clients to buy. Then sell to people who can afford it now, and gradually move down the market as the product gets better and cheaper.
  • Develop a two-tier business model where one set of customers pays a high price for your product (possibly for a premium version) , covering enough costs to enable you to subsidise it for another set of customers. This subsidy can be direct (you sell the same product to beneficiaries for a lower price) or indirect (the premium product covers enough of your running costs that you can afford to sell a lower-spec product for a lower price. In the case of direct subsidies it can be difficult to draw clear lines about who gets a discount, and who pays full price.
  • Look for the other side of a two-sided market – this means that one set of customers is in some sense ‘buying’ the other set: donors ‘buy’ impact and transformation; advertisers ‘buy’ access to the attention of customers (see Google and Facebook); corporate-social responsibility departments ‘buy’ reputation and visibility. If the sound of this makes you uneasy, good – we need to be clear-eyed about this, even in the world of well-intentioned charity.



*Okay, your product might several distinct groups of people – but they’re all ‘customers’

Canon: fences and trampolines

I’ve just spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at the first Jakarta International Literary Festival. I sat in on two Symposiums*: The Southern Common Themes Dilemma, moderated by Nukila Aman and featuring Legodile Seganabeng, Sharlene Teo, Intan Paramaditha, and Nukila Aman; and The Need for a Southern Canon, moderated by Stephanos Stephanides and featuring Ramon Guillermo, Hilmar Farid and Adania Shibli.

The atmosphere was friendly and inclusive, even if the themes were challenging, and the presentations were rich and thought-provoking.

Whose canon?

The idea of canon – the body of texts regarded as ‘core’ or ‘important’ – was central to the discussion:

  • Is a Southern Canon (in opposition to the Western one) even possible?
  • If possible, is it desirable?
  • Who shapes the canon?
  • Who gains from the canon, and who loses out?
  • What does a canon enable?
  • What are its dangers, and who might it exclude?

Who sets up the library of world literature?

Intan Paramaditha

Canon as emergent network

Ramon Guillermo shared some interesting research about networks of production and reception of South-East Asian literature between major cities, and I think this idea is fruitful with respect to the canon itself: canon as a dynamic network of texts and readers. Books gain prominence (‘become more canonical’) in the network through connection to readers and other books. Readers and writers draw themselves into the conversation by latching onto books, pulling themselves in and re-configuring the network as they go by drawing new connections between books and readers – often by the simple act of saying “you should read this – it’s great.”

No-one makes the canon. We can take a snapshot of it in time, but we can’t freeze it or control it (though people have tried, even succeeded – for a while).

Canon as fence

From the edge of the network, the canon looks like a fence. Connections – or rather, connections involving you – are few and tentative. It’s hard to be heard. There may even be influential voices talking over you, directing attention elsewhere, unpicking your connections.

There isn’t a way to ‘fix’ these voices – the very fact of their being so wrong from where we’re standing means that they don’t matter. The answer to being on the edge of the network is to strengthen the parts of the network that matter to you – your conversations, your books… talk to the people who get it, and not worry about the rest. If your contribution resonates – if it speaks to enough books and people in the net – it will route itself around points of resistance (like packet-switched data), tie you closer into the network and – either quickly, or slowly (it may be that someone else makes the connections for you after you’ve died in obscurity) – you’ll find yourself somewhere in the canon.** Other people may not like you being there, but that’s fine – it’s not for them (and they’re probably not for you).

It’s not for you.

Seth Godin***

Canon as trampoline

If the canon is simply the most visible part of the network of readers and books (and writers), its existence is inevitable for as long as we read and talk about books.

Stephanos Stephanides suggested that the advantage of a canon is that it gives us something to point at – a way of seeing the network, of drawing attention to how it operates that allows us to critique and deconstruct it.

He’s right: this is canon as trampoline, a net(of)work we jump on and push against, launching ourselves to places we wouldn’t – couldn’t – go in its absence. The harder we jump – diving head-first into what we love, stomping two-footed on what we object to – the further we fly.

Foundation. Launchpad. Cannon.

*The plural for this may be symposia, but it sounds ridiculous

**It’s worth remembering, though, that the canon excludes almost everyone – including most of those at the center

***Seth Godin has a lot of good stuff to say about getting books and ideas into the world.

Horse to water

If a horse is thirsty, if they know that water will help, and if they trust you, then all you need to say is “There’s water over there,” and the rest will take care of itself.

Nothing is as important as whether people want the change you’re working for, and whether they trust that you can help it happen.

Eyes. Sawdust. Planks.

 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”

Jesus of Nazareth – The Gospel of Matthew

Some ancient wisdom about the mechanics of criticism and disagreement:

  1. You’re far more aware of the shortcomings of others than you are of our own. (We spot specks a mile away, despite our blindness to our ridiculous planks).
  2. Our own shortcomings make it much harder for us to help to handle the shortcomings we see in others. (They distort our perspective, and also make us far less credible sources of help)
  3. The crucial insight I’ve been reminded of this week is that in most disagreements these mechanics of distorted-perspective work in both directions at the same time. That is, at the same time as we are prone to assume the worst and blow the shortcomings of others out of proportion, they are doing exactly the same thing to ours. We think we’re doing well by allowing for the distortion, but don’t appreciate that there’s often a double-distortion that we need to account for.

A series of questions to help think through disagreements:

  1. What do I think the problem is?
  2. How do I feel about my-idea-of-the-problem and why?
  3. Do these two things seem in alignment, or do my feelings suggest that I’ve got a different problem lurking below the surface?
  4. What does my colleague say the problem is?
  5. How do they feel about it and why?
  6. Ask question 3, but for them.

Example:

A colleague recently asked for a small extra allowance for a particular type of overtime. My logical and (to my mind) internally consistent solution was worth significantly more than they were asking – but they repeatedly stated their preference for the smaller allowance. I thought that they were really interested in the financial value of the payment – and was effectively offering more. It turned out (as I currently understand it), they were interested in feeling recognised and valued – and the smaller extra payment with the right frame spoke to this feeling in a way that my solution didn’t.

I saw “This person is always asking for more money.” They saw “This person doesn’t appreciate me.” We might both have been right – but neither of us had things in proportion.

Sawdust. Plank.

Quick emails

There are two types of quick emails.

There’s kind where you can handle it in five or ten minutes and…

  • the job’s finished;
  • someone else can get on with their job, so you avoid becoming a bottleneck;
  • you can help someone out by being on-the-ball and courteous with a quick and efficient reply;
  • you can hand it over to someone else who can deal with it and forget about it.

In these cases, if you’ve already opened your email it’s probably worth just finishing the job. You’re already distracted from whatever else you were doing, and you’ll save far more time and energy by reducing mental overhead (you won’t be carrying another ‘to do’ on your growing list) and emotional friction (you’ll avoid feeling bad about yourself or the people you’re holding up) than you’ll spend on the task itself.

The other type aren’t quick emails. Often they’re asking for the quick summary of a long thought process that you haven’t worked through. I think the best way to deal with these is to work consistently to keep your house in order, to spend time on those thought processes, to do them well enough – and perhaps document them well enough – that you won’t have to revisit and revise them the next time someone asks you the same question.

New axes (play your own game)

As in “axis”, plural – sorry if you’re disappointed.

We can’t win at everything.

The good news is that you’re in charge of what you’re competing on.

Kids find this hard to learn, but it’s true: if you’re not racing, you can’t be beaten.

We do well when we remember this when we’re tempted to compare our cars and homes, families and relationships, careers and organisations with others’.

It’s so easy to slip into playing someone else’s game – for example, by starting to compete on “bank balance” with someone who runs their life to maximise for money, or on “shiny office” with an organisation that’s maximising for ostentation, or on “Objective score” with someone who’s maximising for test results.

This always feels bad. But worse, it can fool you into taking your eye off the the things that really matter and forget the game you’re really playing – which inevitably means starting to play it badly.

Think hard – think very hard – about what matters most, about the games (there are always games within games within games) you want to play, and what axes you’ll measure success on. You’ll certainly need to remind yourself of these from time to time, and it will be helpful to remind your team and customers too.

You’ll almost always lose on other people’s axes… which might turn out not to be as bad as winning a game that’s not for you. On the right axes, you might end up delighted even if you lose.

Play. Your. Own. Game.

BYOG

Be Your Own Guru

The next time you want to ask someone a question, first ask yourself these two questions:

  • Why is this important to me?
  • What am I going to do with the answer?

If you don’t have satisfying answers to those to questions, don’t ask.

If you do have satisfying answers, a third question is:

  • Why aren’t I working out my own answer to this question?

And then:

  • What smaller questions can I ask to help answer this big one?

It’s great to use subject experts, mentors and gurus to add to your stock of knowledge and contribute to a work in progress.

But often we use them to save us the work of thinking for ourselves, or worse, because we don’t really intend to do anything with their answers.