Learning Curve: Permanent Partial Attention

Feel like your employees are distracted? Here's how to get their full attention.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

What is it?

Oi, you! Yes, you. Put that BlackBerry down and pay attention. It can take extreme measures to get people to listen to you these days, as an ever-expanding array of gadgets and media channels shove mere live conversation aside. Managers are having to deal with a workforce struggling with permanent partial attention (PPA). Devices are left on during meetings and conference calls, bleeping away, offering more interesting or exciting information than the items on the official agenda. The task for managers is learning to cope with colleagues who are physically present but just not quite all there.

Where did it come from?

Life was simpler offline. Memos took days to circulate and the post caused further delay. Even the telephone was originally a luxury item available only to the most senior executives. But with new technology the world got noisier and more distracting. The ping from manual typewriters had its own music. Now, the office is home to a cacophony of bleeps, chirrups and ring tones all day long. It takes concentration of rare intensity to shut out the distractions and focus on a single task.

Where is it going?

To hell in a handcart. Consider how many different messages or alerts employees might be receiving at their desks every day. Not just emails, texts and voicemails, but tweets, Facebook messages, LinkedIn updates and so on. Good heavens, someone might even phone up. To deal with PPA, it will be necessary to embrace the digital age and understand all these new media. Join in. Find out what the fuss is about. And then pick your moment (and your channel) very carefully when you have a message to get across that requires everybody's undivided attention.

Gradient: What did you say? Oh, steep, man, steep.

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