Pay Attention to Your Attention
The Hawthorne effect refers to a study in 1924 on the effects of the changes in working conditions (lighting/ cleanliness etc.) on the productivity of a set of factory workers. One potential conclusion from the study was that the biggest impact on productivity was the act of being studied. Productivity slumped whenever the studies concluded.
Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell in Human Givens argue that the giving and receiving of ‘attention’ is a basic human need. They refer to Idries Shah and his studies when they note that ‘many social and commercial transactions are in fact disguised attention situations’. Shah suggested that humanity could benefit enormously by ‘studying the attracting, extending and reception, as well as the interchange, of attention’:
‘If individuals are unaware that what is driving them in certain circumstances is the demanding, extending or exchange of attention, believing they are engaged in something else – such as learning, informing, helping, buying or selling – they are likely to be less efficient in achieving their ends’
So by remaining mindful of the currency of attention in your interactions with others, you can achieve your goals more effectively. Since I read this, it’s had a big impact. Rather than necessarily re-interpreting all situations – I think we are well developed in understanding clear attention needs and giving – it has made me more aware of how to respond better to the clear ‘needy’ situations (mine and others). I have tried not to interpret the interaction as being anything other than need driven. I have found that subtlety unlocks a much better response in me to both my own needs and others. The act of focusing on the ‘attention transaction’ has also has enabled me to better understand what’s really driving my needs. And then do something about them.
Where the whole area gets really exciting is when you consider it within this context of learning. Griffin & Tyrrell argue that it is clear in the attention exchange that we suspend our critical faculty. It is something we have to do if we are consider and absorb new patterns of information:
‘When attention is focused and we grasp what someone is telling us in an uncritical way, we have absorbed a pattern at an unconscious level. Its full meaning and ramifications may not become apparent at once but, once the pattern is in the brain, it will affect future actions and add to the sum total of our knowledge. Knowledge only becomes real in action, when it is experienced. This is how we learn’
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