The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business
(Harvard Business School Press, 2001)
By Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck
Davenport and Beck are not the first writers to notice that society is suffering from a sweeping case of ADD. But they may be the first business-book authors to take their own advice: With its pop-up effects, marginalia, lists, and footnotes, The Attention Economy is a masterful exercise in channeling human bandwidth.
The basic argument: Human attention has become our scarcest and most precious resource. It not only underpins the workings of the economy — it is the economy. And so it follows that understanding and managing this resource has become the new competitive battleground. Businesspeople not only must struggle with dividing up their own attention in the face of overwhelming options (such as whether to read this particular book out of some 60,000 published each year in the United States alone), but also have the tough job of capturing and holding the attention of customers, employees, and shareholders.
Luckily, Davenport and Beck have produced a wide-ranging, forward-looking, low-to-the-ground exploration of everything from new attention metrics to the fascinating psychobiology of attention. Lesson number one: "If you want to get any attention, you've got to give attention."
Sidebar: FC Shortlist
1. Who are the winners in an economy in which the bottleneck isn't production but consumption? The companies that "inhale new customers," argues Fred Wiersema in The New Market Leaders: Who's Winning and How in the Battle for Customers (The Free Press, 2001). That's one of the many take-aways from this study of the top 100 "new market leaders," including Cisco, Solectron, Amgen, Enron, and UPS.
2. Frederick A. Crawford and Ryan Mathews offer an even more jolting, counterintuitive, and immediately useful take on competing in the customer economy in The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best at Everything (Crown Business, 2001). Their concept of "consumer relevancy" and their dissection of the marketing strategies of successful, under-the-radar companies is a vibrant guide for leaders at all levels.
3. In Customers Rule! Why the E-Commerce Honeymoon Is Over and Where Winning Businesses Go From Here (Crown Business, 2001), Roger D. Blackwell and Kristina Stephan show us the way out of the excesses and errors of the e-commerce boom. Their book is a primer on technology-driven retail strategy and the future of shopping.
4. The startup revolution may have fizzled, but the lessons of value creation and industry disruption are more relevant than ever. In TechVenture: New Rules on Profit and Finance From Silicon Valley (Wiley, 2001), famed Kellogg professor Mohanbir Sawhney, along with cowriters Ranjay Gulati, Anthony Paoni, and the students of the Kellogg TechVenture Team, extracts a powerful set of ideas from the last decade of radical change. The first chapter on the nature of value in a networked world is worth the cover price alone.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.