Attention Deficit / Outcome Surfeit

With so much to read, so many meetings, connections, emails and so on, it is a wonder today’s knowledge workers are able to live productive work lives. There are incursions from our private and digitally-social lives that add to the noise while also offering promise — tools like Twitter, Plurk, Facebook and even YouTube threaten to both liberate our thinking from the structures of the enterprise and sink our productivity.

As Marci Alboher says:

Distracted? And how. Beeped and pinged, interrupted and inundated, overloaded and hurried – that’s how we live today. We prize knowledge work — work that relies on our intellectual abilities — and yet increasingly feel that we have no time to think. For all our connectivity, we often catch little more than snippets and glimpses of one another.

With the average knowledge worker switching tasks every three minutes, returning to the original task half an hour later, it is clear that we are facing an attention deficit.

However, this does not necessarily take into account the leaps in productivity offered by this new mode of working. Anne Zelenka talks about the clash of working cultures and expectations brought on by the Web 2.0 world, characterising this change as the difference between "bursty" and "busy":

The busyness economy works on face time, incremental improvement, strategic long-term planning, return on investment, and hierarchical control. The burst economy, enabled by the Web, works on innovation, flat knowledge networks, and discontinuous productivity.

Clearly businesses contain a variety of people. I most productively work in the bursty model, though I can also operate in the busy mode. My guess is that we need a mix of both. But rather than characterising "bursty" types as having low attention, my view is that it is not about attending to tasks, but achieving outcomes. Don’t look at the HOW of things, look at the RESULTS.

For a comical view on those suffering from Web 2.0 distractions, take a look at Twitterwhore.