Please pay your complete attention to attention

Hello December!

It is a good feeling to step into December. It has the ability to carry hope and light. 

December, like every year, is the month of looking back and at the same time looking forward. December, unlike every other month, has stayed focused on what it brings to us. This year, every month derailed our line of focus. Our attention shifted from what we called a regular life to keeping ourselves safe. It shifted from growing at the workplace to simply being able to deliver work from home. It shifted from parties, vacations to online celebrations and condolences. It took effort to keep the attention on the broader picture. It took the attention away from our own attention. 

December, brings the entire year in focus. We have the ability to review our highs and lows, love and loss, innovations and misses. In business, we saw new launches, we saw new adoption of old launches, we saw technology becoming seamless. The attention shifted from offline to online. It opened up a whole new world. And sometimes, an unwanted world. 

In China, a company in the business of live streaming is based on fake attention, actually true attention but of fake people, not people, but bots. On a live streaming platform, influencers showcase real time videos of doing activities like cooking, make up, singing for fans and viewers can send them cash gifts or purchase products featured in the videos directly from the stream. 

YY live is a live streaming venture of JOYY, a China based social media firm listed on Nasdaq. Last week, JOYY reported a 36% year-on-year increase in revenue, 390 million global average monthly active users (MAUs) across all platforms, and 92 million average MAUs on its live-streaming services. But a report by Muddy Waters Research, an online research publication that produces due diligence-based reports on publicly traded securities, accused YY Live of extensive fraud, the fraud of using bots instead of people as audience. 

Muddy Waters made a statement that it had been investigating YY Live for a year and stated that “YY Live is about 90% fraudulent.” They said, “it was clear to us from early on that YY Live was almost entirely fake. YY Live is an ecosystem of mirages. Its supposedly high-earning performers in reality take home only a fraction of their reported totals. The purportedly independent channel owners are largely controlled by YY in order to facilitate continuous sham transactions. The legions of benefactor fans are almost entirely bots operating from YY’s internal network (~50% of YY Live gift volume), bots operating from external bot farms, and performers roundtripping gifts to themselves. We conclude that YY Live is ~90% fraudulent.” 

The allegations are unusual in accusing the platform of creating its own fake users. “Technological complexity and minimal human oversight means the ‘attention economy’ is full of virtual eyeballs,” says the Economist.

Back at home, according to the Mumbai Police, rapper Badshah confessed during questioning to having bought fake views for one of his music videos, in a bid to break a world record. He has denied the allegations.

All this attention grabbing attempts means there is a world of people fighting for our attention. Which in turn means, we are left with scattered, divided attention for everybody, including for ourself. 

This December, as we look back in review and look forward in hope, let us keep our focus on one thing in the attention economy- focus on our own attention. In today’s Habits for Thinking, please focus your complete attention to attention.

Satya Nadella spoke at the Future of Work conference last month and made a point. “People are saying, ‘data is the new oil,’ but I fully agree with you that attention is the new oil,” he said. “Data is plentiful. Attention is scarce, and we’ll never get more of it. Thinking about how we focus that correctly, I think, is one of our most significant opportunities.”

Attention is the cognitive process that makes us respond to stimuli around us. Attention is not merely staying focused on the task at hand but is also how to process other information in the brain. Daniel Goleman, author, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” explores the power of attention. “Attention works much like a muscle,” he writes, “use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows. Just like the muscles in our bodies, attention can become fatigued. Common symptoms of attention fatigue are lowered effectiveness, increased distractedness, and irritability. These symptoms also indicate depletion in the energy required to sustain neural functioning.”

There are three types of attention that each of us are required to pay attention to: 

  1. Attention to your own thoughts 

Inner focus or attention to our thoughts, is our understanding of our emotional needs, our values, how we make choices and take decisions.The more we understand our values and motivations, the more capacity we have to direct our own attention instead of having it scattered. It also helps us to direct our attention to what truly matters to us most. 

  1. Attention to your work process

There are two areas of attention that one must understand at work. Firstly, the ability to function in a focused manner without any distractions, secondly to have a relaxed attention towards work to avoid tunnel vision. Yes, relaxed attention means that you should not be so focussed in your work that you miss out on the opportunity arising from another direction.  This is especially critical during critical thinking. 

Mails, messages, social media notifications, calls, meetings, agendas are all distractions to a continuous flow of attention. Cal Newport leaves a critical message in his book, Deep Work, “Overcoming your desire for distraction is what we need.”

  1. Attention to your social being

We are a sum of people in our lives. Typically, a mother pays more attention to a child’s needs as her cognitive process is more tuned in with the child, than the father. With training and effort, father pays attention to details too. Parenting is just an example where we are naturally responsible to pay attention. As humans, we have social needs – to work with teams, to enjoy with friends, to be responsible about the family and it is imperative that our mind stays attentive to our own social needs. When we are distracted some of our social attention takes a back seat. While chasing a goal at the workplace, we may miss paying attention to reasons behind a colleague’s poor performance, this may further reduce the entire team’s productivity. Practicing empathy is one way to pay attention to social needs. 

Attention is needed in different styles in different situations. For example, a focussed and sustained attention is needed while doing a  single work for a longer duration of time. The power to disengage our attention from one thing and move it to another is also essential for our well-being. 

What is therefore important is to pay attention to different attention needs. If we do not control how our attention muscles are grown, some bot may start controlling us too. 

And yes, this December, as I am thankful for many learnings throughout the year, I am eternally grateful for your attention. 

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