How Do You Invest Your Most Valuable Asset – Your Attention?

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I’m probably paying a bit too much attention to hockey right now.

When people here in Australia ask me about sports, I often say “I’m the only person in the world whose two favourite sports are cricket and ice hockey.” I have to call hockey ice hockey because around here hockey means field hockey.

Anyway, hockey was the first sport I learned how to play when I was growing up in Alaska, and it’s still my favourite.

But at the moment, I might be paying it too much attention. It’s an escape I fall back on when I feel a bit too much stress.

But it’s important to remember that attention is an asset – it’s something we invest. Elizabeth Gilbert nails it in Eat, Pray, Love:

There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under my jurisdiction. There are certain lottery tickets I can buy, thereby increasing my odds of finding contentment. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I eat and read and study. I can choose how I’m going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life—whether I will see them as curses or opportunities (and on the occasions when I can’t rise to the most optimistic viewpoint, because I’m feeling too damn sorry for myself, I can choose to keep trying to change my outlook). I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts.

Our thoughts, our attention.

I love the word attend. Its the base of attention, and it derives from the latin ‘attendere,’ which meant ‘to stretch’ and it eventually turned into the middle English ‘attend,’ which meant ‘apply one’s mind or energies to.’

Here’s a question then: are the things we attend to worthy of the application of our minds and energies? Do they stretch us?

This blog started when I actually took those questions seriously. At the time, I was really good at fantasy hockey. And I also had semi-regularly written a movie review blog, and a few other online things. I asked myself – what would happen if I took the time I’m investing in knowing that it would be smart to trade Chris Drury for Jarome Iginla, and instead investigated communicating online what I know and am learning about innovation?

As Gilbert says, we have choice. Do our choices reflect our values and passions? (Monica Byrne found a surprising answer to that when she looked at who wrote the books she reads)

Here’s a picture of the laptop I’m using to write this:

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It’s an obscure art joke. But it’s also a signal – one that asks “who is in my tribe?”

It just shows how our investments of attention add up to who we are, and what we can do. They drive the ideas we can have. Nilofer Merchant says:

No original ‘big idea’ ever starts out that way. It’s starts out with one person seeing something only they see.

We make choices about how we invest attention constantly, and, mostly, unconsciously. There’s value in thinking about this more consciously. And I’m not talking about efficiency. This isn’t about making more efficient use of time. It’s about making our investments more purpose-driven.

What would happen if we were a bit more deliberate with our investment of attention?

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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