A Manifesto-free Definition of Attention Management

August 17, 2007 at 9:29 am | Posted in Attention Management, interruption science | 7 Comments

In reading through blogs talking about attention management I have realized that there is still a lot of divisiveness on the drivers and meaning of the topic. For example, are we overloaded with messages or do some people just feel that way because they haven’t adjusted their work style to deal with the flow? Is continuous partial attention hamstringing our ability to process information or is it just an occasional defense mechanism that has always existed? Is the proper response to implications of information overload and info-stress “Woe is me” or “Quit your bellyaching and deal with it”?

In the paper I wrote on Enterprise Attention Management (here, but client access only) I wrote that “EAM is a method for improving the effectiveness of an enterprise’s information workers by providing culture, processes, and tools to gain control over the messages sent, received, and discovered by its information workers.”

The debate is over whether we are at a tipping point that necessitates a radical change in approach – an “information intervention” – or just seeing an incremental but manageable increase in information velocity. Those who argue it is an incremental increase often disregard the rest of attention management as the result of unwarranted alarmist thinking.

That’s unfortunate because this emerging field has a lot to offer regardless of whether one believes that we are at a hand-wringing crisis moment or not. Everyone manages what they attend to in some way whether they formally think of it as “attention management” or not. Just as every business has processes that relate to “customer relationship management” whether they know it or not. There is value in auditing attentional technologies and capabilities as a slice that cuts across many IT systems and in adding ratings for attentional capabilities to product evaluations and RFPs.

What is needed, then, is a manifesto-free definition of attention management. One that doesn’t require purchase of a belief system to understand. Here is a draft:

Enterprise Attention Management is the study of the processes and technologies used by information workers to determine which information and messages will be read, allocated time, and acted upon.

To me, this definition works whether you are on the “crisis” or “manageable, incremental increase” side of the fence. Without getting caught up in crisis talk, this definition just leads into my concept of pulling messages forward and pushing messages back, which I believe to be at the heart of the enterprise attention management conceptual architecture.



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  1. […] What I propose is a focus on attention management (specifically what I’ve been writing about as enterprise attention management) that focuses on how enterprises can help information workers to pull the important messages forward and push the less important messages back.  Whether you see information overload as a crisis or just one more thing people are adapting to, improving efficiency is something everyone should be able to get behind.  I blogged about this at https://knowledgeforward.wordpress.com/2007/08/17/a-manifesto-free-definition-of-attention-management…. […]

  2. […] that the same answers to “the information overload problem” (in quotes since I take a different angle on the issue) keep popping up because the same evolutionary maladaptation assumption is used.  Trying a […]

  3. […] Enterprise Attention Management, on the other hand, doesn’t start from a negative assumption like information overload does.  It simply asserts that the amount of information and number of channels is increasing exponentially and the manner in which that proliferation is handled determines whether information abundance or information overload will result.  In short, it’s a management issue. […]

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