Attention blindness and the social business

by eskokilpi

Cathy N. Davidson has studied the way we make sense and think. Her claim is that we often end with problems when we tackle important issues together. This happens “not because the other side is wrong but because both sides are right in what they see, but neither can see what the other does”. In normal daily conditions, it may be that we don’t even know that other perspectives other than our own exist. We believe we see the whole picture from our point of view and have all the facts. Focus however means selection and selection means blind spots leading to (attention) blindness. We have a partial view that we take as the full picture.

This is one of the reasons why people in companies are often stuck in narrow, repetitive and negative patterns that provide them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences.

The opportunity provided by social tools lies in the widening and deepening of communication, leading to new voices taking part and new conversations that cross organizational units and stale process charts.

According to Cathy Davidson, attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain. Attention blindness is also the fundamental structuring principle of our organizations and our political system. We see and understand things selectively.

Knowing in the brain is a set of neural connections that correspond to our patterns of communication. The challenge is to see the filters and linkages as communication patterns that either keep us stuck or open up new possibilities.

The opportunity lies in the fact that as we don’t all select the same things, we don’t all miss the same things. If we can pool our insights we can thrive in the complex world we live in. In this way of thinking, we leave behind the notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other.

From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing.

Our attention is a result of the filters we use. These filters can be a mix of habits, company processes, organizational charts or tools. Increasingly these filters are social. They are the people we recognize as experts. Our most valuable guides to useful bits of insight are trusted people whose activities we can follow in real time to help us enrich our views.

Management research has focused on the leadership attributes of an individual. Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.

Leading and following when seen as a relationship, not as attributes of individuals, have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, also decide. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in an area, which is temporally meaningful for them.

People recognize as the leader someone who inspires, energizes and empowers them.

Another huge difference from traditional management is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one boss. Thus, an individual always has many “leaders” that she follows. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one leader. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.

We are now at the very beginning of understanding leadership in the new contextual, temporal framework. The relational processes of leading and following should be seen as temporary, responsive activity streams, not only on the Internet but also inside companies. They are manifested as internal (Twitter) feeds, (Facebook) updates and blog posts from the people you associate with.

Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative and effective action.

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Thank you Cathy N. Davidson and Doug Griffin