Real Time and Attention

Searching for Attention in Real Time A couple of years ago we had an interblog conversation about free. Remember those? With links and all that. It was about relevance — right place, right time.

Attention is very much about being relevant. Signal, on the other hand, is also about permission. Two sides of the same coin.

Get only one right, and you're not connecting.

I'd like to pick up the thread in that post that talked about media. As I wrote almost two years ago, the digital age has transformed how things are made, distributed, and sold in such a way that there are no set rules anymore.

Normally these cycles take a while to work their way into the business lifespan.

However, we live in a time where the very tools that were going to set us free have accelerated the pace of change not just on our time and attention, but on the nature of the very things that used to consume or employ our time and attention.

Media companies are now wrestling with this issue. Individuals are wrestling with it, too.

My take on the whole media conversation is that things are reversed now. With more and more channels or ways to get the word out, that is not the problem anymore — it's not scarce.

Instead, the scarcity and value is in getting people to care.

You should put more money up front — in figuring out your motivation, or strategy, planning, and putting thought into designing the organization and business to deliver against that. Identifying the people who want that in the process, and figuring out the best co-creation work to make that connection happen.

Creative in not the big idea as much. It's a series of ideas that have connective tissue built right into them to be in real time. You can start by goofing off with something fun, and gain permission for another kind of conversation, one that leads to a deeper connection.

It was Seth Godin that reminded me about this conversation with his post on asymmetrical mass favors. I get requests all the time from people who want hundreds of hours of free consultation with well meaning questions.

Godin's example about spamming 10,000 or a hundred thousand people with your resume or plea for help is a home run in the psychology of favors. “It can’t hurt to ask,” is almost never true in the context of an already uneven exchange. He is right, it's taking.

Somehow, I'm thinking the same twisted logic is at play when it comes to approaching professionals like me who have blogs and are sharing hundreds of hours of experience and learning freely with the community.

Because one's feeling is "I am giving my attention now," there is an expectation that favor will be returned by answering a question in real time, even when not in any kind of relational mode, like commenting, or building a dialogue with the writer over time.

And I'm not even talking about a simple "what did you have for breakfast" question, there's Twitter for that. I'm talking about audience research methodology kind of questions, business strategy kind of questions, which you would never dream of answering yourself for free. Or asking a professional to their face, in an office setting.

Yet, they are posed under the "it can't hurt to ask" scenario, when mutual permission and relevance have not been established.

As Godin wrote, the internet is making things that look like favors (but are actually asymmetrical takings) more and more common. It's putting pressure on people who are usually open to a favor to do the difficult thing and just say no.

There's plenty that is free here, the rest is called billable time. Real time and attention are getting mixed up with permission — and that applies to both individual and businesses — and making those requests asymmetrical takings.

What's your take? Would you expect to just pop an email to someone and get a few hours of free consultation with you?


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