You’ve got 8 seconds to get my attention!

“The average attention of a “millenial” is 8 seconds”.

Who said so?  Well, a “millenial” of course!  Not just any “millenial”.  This attention-grabbing claim was made by an impressive young man who was a presenter at a conference I attended this week in London.  Billed as a ‘disruptor’, (credit: Ilias Vartholomaios, Co-Founder of Owiwi) he spoke about the realities that those of us who identify with the 20th Century (I’m one) will have to come to terms with as we live out the remainder of our lives in the 21st.

Young people born after 1995 have not yet become part of the mainstream workforce. He informed us that, by the time they reach the age of 21 they will have spent (on average) 10,000 hours playing online games. As a comparator, that is pretty much the same amount of time an average US student will spend in high school between fifth grade and graduation, assuming a perfect attendance record.

So what?  Well, we already know that what young people want from work, what they aspire to, and how they choose to communicate is changing rapidly.  Email is becoming obsolete as the tool of choice for anyone younger than a baby-boomer, physical presence is already the exception when it comes to communication in the workplace, and with ‘futuristic’ technologies such as 3-D printing, driverless cars and drone delivery all now very much with us, tomorrow’s workplace of today’s children will be an alien landscape for anyone from last century attempting to navigate it.

But what does this have to do with the 8 seconds claim?  The millennials are the biggest generation yet, with 2.5 billion worldwide and growing. They have grown up with social networks embedded in technology. They touch and swipe as naturally as they breathe. They have infinite choices of entertainment and stimulation at the end of their fingertips. Soon, it will not even require this level of manual effort. Voice, eye movements and even embedded circuitry in the form of bio-networks will be common-place.

This is a population who will form 50% of the workforce worldwide by 2020 and 75% by 2030.

And they want, indeed demand, a different experience from work.

  • They are used to, and expect, constant (even instantaneous) feedback.
  • They demand their experiences to be personalised.
  • They have high expectations (answers must be out there and available on the net)
  • They will learn in short bursts, so micro-learning will become the norm.
  • They will be career multi-taskers. Not inspired by company loyalty like their ancestors.
  • They will not work ‘for’ organisations, but work ‘with’ organisations.
  • They want to make a difference and are more inspired by purpose than salary.

Having bought all of that, I am still troubled by the 8 seconds claim!  Attention is at the core of learning. It is fundamental to the process of problem-solving and decision-making. It is necessary to focus minds on what is most important and to prioritise where energy is best directed.

Technology is advancing exponentially, but the way that we humans think, reflect, imagine, ruminate and generally process information is not keeping pace. I have no doubt that the way we use technology is, and will continue to, impact our neurobiology, but biological evolution progresses at a conspicuously slower pace than technological revolution.

The key to effective learning and personal growth is, at its core, mastering one’s own internal focus of attention.  Similarly, the vital component of truly effective communication lies with attention. Without the ability to name what is most important, what is at stake, and what the opportunities and/or consequences of any given action might be, conversations fail.

The world that our millenial population will inherit and run, will face the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced.  Climate change, energy and water shortages, global conflicts and refugee crises.  Technology can assist us in solving these problems, but it will be down to humans to focus on what is most important, to name what is at stake, to communicate in such a way that grabs people’s attention (for longer than 8 seconds), and to make good decisions that matter for everyone.

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If you would like to discover more about the importance of attention for effective communication in your workplace please get in touch. Simply submit some basic details through the Contact Us page. I will be delighted to discuss further with you.

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