We usually pay attention, it's just not always to what matters. It depends on what vies for our attention and our priorities and of course how well we balance those two. For example, having a smartphone nearby takes a toll on our thinking. In a recent study, 800 people were asked to complete a particular cognitive task. Individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed the best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks. This has a wide range of implications, which you can read in the HBR article here. One conclusion is that it is best to separate ourselves from our phone when accomplishing a task that requires deeper thought.
Paying attention also means looking for things that may not be obvious. In an interview with Larry Fink, founder of BlackRock, McKinsey highlights the importance of 'diversity of mind', by resisting group think and looking for outlyers. Fink says:" People who are engineers like to be around other engineers. People with a background in political theory are generally around other people in political theory. People who have an affinity with one political party or another are generally friends with people in that political party. There are so many places where you see congregations of people around ideals, around education, around race. We have to break that down. Firms fail when you have groupthink. You generally have groupthink when you have replicants all around you. The most important component of good management, good leadership, and good stewardship is making sure that you have diversity of mind." In other words, paying attention to differences, not just to 'same' and 'agreement'. For the full interview, click here.
Travel broadens the mind, but is it a cure for the mind? We tend to overestimate the pleasure from new experiences and underestimate the power of finding meaning in current ones. While travel is a fantastic way to gain insight into unfamiliar cultures and illuminating ways of life, it is not a cure for discontentment of the mind. Click here for a great (partly comic) article about paying attention to 'now'.
As much as we must pay attention to what we know, philosopher and physicist Feynman developed a simple technique to explore what we don't know. He always had a notebook with him titled "Things I don't know". His technique is simple: identify the subject, teach it to a child (keep it simple and brief), identify your knowledge gaps and research, and then tell the story. For more on paying attention to what we don't know, read the full article.
Finally, click here to listen to the full interview between Farnham Street and Margaret Hefferman about culture, collaboration and competition. A key message in it is to fight against wilful blindness, a tendency to ignore what is important because it is inconvenient. Examples are conflict avoidance, competitive threats, difficult options, in-fighting or lack of buy-in. Paying attention to those tendencies is critical in organisations and relationships.