01 April 2018

Partial Attention Syndrome

"Marketing is a contest for people's attention."

--Seth Godin 

In the second installment of our three-part series on "persuasion" we look at the necessity of having someones attention since you can’t persuade without it.

Getting and holding attention is difficult with smart technologies consuming more of our time.   Consulting firm Activate, Inc. estimates people spend 12 hours a day on average consuming tech and media, including moments when they're multitasking.      

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(C) Social Media 4
While attention is a precondition of persuasion, it's not the only one.  Perhaps more important is having a message or proposition of interest to the audience. Combining attention with a legitimate message gives a speaker, sales representative, teacher or parent at least a chance to persuade.

Overtaken by short-lived images in movies and commercials, and long-winded talks with no substance, we're drawn to that which stands out.  When it comes to creating content, simplicity and truthfulness are attractive qualities to receptive minds.

A new kind of addiction

Technology-enabled addiction to information was given a name by Linda Stone, a former Apple and Microsoft executive who in 1998 referred to this condition as "continuous partial attention."  

Ms. Stone observed that drinking from a fire hose of information created "an artificial sense of constant crisis."   She noted that since these crises are generally someplace else, "We are everywhere except where we actually are physically."  

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(C) Broadly Vice
What does it mean when leadership itself is afflicted with continuous partial attention?  How does one think deeply and act clearly without having moments where the mind is free of addictive behavior?  

Constantly checking ones mobile devices during important meetings doesn't seem like a safe way to steer a corporation.   

Preoccupied pilots

On October 21, 2009, distracted by their duties, two Northwest Airlines pilots overshot their destination by 150 miles on a flight from San Diego, California to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Northwest flight 188 was out of radio contact with flight controllers for 77 minutes that day.

The flight, with 144 passengers and three flight attendants, landed safely at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport but not before causing a great deal of concern in the air and on the ground.

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(C) Airliners Gallery
Captain Timothy Cheney and First Officer Richard Cole, both with spotless records, testified that they were "glued to their laptops, puzzling over a new flight scheduling system."  What should have taken ten minutes extended so long that U.S. controllers asked them to execute "confidence turns" to prove that the pilots, not hijackers, were in charge of the plane.

An FAA investigation later stated that the pilots suffered from a loss of "situational awareness" which contributed to the overflight and co-pilot Cole setting the radio frequency to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada instead of Minneapolis.   

The Airbus A-320 has a mechanism for sending text messages to planes in flight.  Unfortunately, there's no chime or aural alarm, thus the pilots were not aware of communication, initiated by the Federal Aviation Administration, to reach them.

Distractions are ever-present, and potentially fatal.

The goldfish myth

Do you recall reading about a study published by Microsoft Canada showing the human attention span dwindling from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013?  That finding was compared to the average attention span of a goldfish which was thought to be nine seconds.  

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(C) Fish Keeping Magazine
This information was reported by TIME Magazine, USA Today and the New York Times. Reference was made to the Microsoft study in a StrategistBlog post. 

The Consumer Insights team at Microsoft Canada surveyed 2,000 Canadians and studied the brain activity of 112 individuals as they went through daily routines.  This idea of a shortened human attention span, a "fact" popularized by the report, does not come from Microsoft research.   That goldfish tidbit was actually sourced by Statistic Brain.  Upon further examination the finding does not hold up well under scrutiny.  

Dr. Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at Open University, told Simon Maybin of BBC World Service, that when it comes to listening, "It's very much task dependent.  How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is...and what the individual brings to that situation," concludes Dr. Briggs.

Spending almost a half a century studying fish behavior, Professor Felicity Huntingford stated that goldfish don't have short attention spans or memories, and there's no reliable evidence human spans are shrinking.  
Chance favors preparation

Dr. Robert Cialdini, featured in the March StrategistBlog post, "A Short Course in Persuasion," offers this advice ...

"The most important part of any argument is preparing the audience to be convinced by it."

Dr. Cialdini's research shows that the secret to persuasion doesn't lie in the message itself but in the moment before the message is delivered.    

Therefore when it comes to changing minds or behavior, and regardless of a delivery platform, it's the responsibility of a speaker to gain attention, not the audience to automatically give it.

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(C) dixit.es

If you're trying to persuade others to do something out of the ordinary, think about "preparing the audience" as a way of capturing attention; creating empathy; meeting expectations; and motivating for response.   

In a partial attention environment, the successful persuader understands it's preparation above all. 


(C) Bredholt & Co.



01 March 2018

A Short Course in Persuasion

"There is no expedient to which a person will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking."

--Dr. Robert Cialdini

In the first of a series of posts on the topic of "persuasion," we look at Dr. Cialdini's ideas and research findings.  They're the result of a lifetime of study while serving as professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and as visiting professor at Stanford University. 

Quotable quotes

Recently Farnam Street newsletter offered quotes from Dr. Cialdini on persuasion. Here are four that caught our attention ...

"We seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don't."

"Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent are initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer."

"In part, the answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present next."

"As the stimuli saturating our lives continue to grow more intricate and variable, we will have to depend increasingly on our shortcuts to handle them all."

A path to successful persuasion

Here are Dr. Cialdini's six "Principles of Persuasion:"

No. 1: Reciprocity

Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first.

No. 2: Scarcity

People want more of those things they can have less of.

No. 3: Authority

This is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.

No. 4: Consistency

People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done.

No. 5: Liking

People prefer to say "yes" to those that they like.

No. 6: Consensus

Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.

Learn more about the six principles.

His book, "Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion," which has sold more than three million copies, may be purchased here.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 February 2018

Stratagem Horribilis

"Effective strategists are not people who abstract themselves from the daily detail but quite the opposite: they are the ones who immerse themselves in it, while being able to abstract the strategic messages from it."

--Henry Mintzberg

The Battle of Passchendaele

The disturbance at the infamous World War I battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres), conducted between July and November 1917, was not the wind but the rain, Northeastern France's heaviest rainfall in 30 years. It was sunny when the plans were made at corps headquarters; as a result, 275,000 British troops fell. 1

According to historians the goal of British commander, Sir Douglas Haig, was to destroy German submarine bases on the Belgium northeast coast. Going through British-held Ypres was the chosen route. 

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Sir Douglas Haig
Commander in Chief, British Armies
World War I
(C) The Long, Long Trail UK

The critics argued that the planning of Passchendaele, in the fields of Flanders, was carried out in almost total ignorance of the conditions under which the battle had to be fought.  No senior officer from the Operations Branch of the General Headquarters, it was claimed, ever set foot (or eyes) on the Passchendaele battlefield during the four months that the battle was in progress. 2

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Battle of Passchendaele Map
(C) NZ History

Daily reports on the condition of the battlefield were first ignored, then ordered discontinued.  Only after the battle did the Army chief of staff learn that he had been directing men to advance through a sea of mud. 3

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Scene from the Passchendaele battlefield
(C) Library and Archives of Canada

The "great plan" was implemented despite the effect of the steady, drenching rain on the battlefield--despite the fact that the guns clogged, that soldiers carrying heavy ammunition slipped off their paths into muddy shell holes and drowned, that the guns could not be moved forward and the wounded could not be brought backward. 4

In the book, "A Short History of World War I," it says: "Still the attack went on; they slept between sheets at corps headquarters and lamented that the infantry did not show more offensive spirit." 

"A staff officer ... came up to see the battlefield after it was all quiet again.  He gazed out over the sea of mud, then said half to himself, 'My God, did we send men to advance in that?' after which he broke down weeping and his escort led him away."5   
Canadians to the Front 

A Canadian Corps of 100,000 strong was ordered to the Passchendaele front, east of Ypres, in mid-October 1917, to relieve New Zealand and Australian troops.

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The Flag of Canada

Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the Canadian Corps, objected to the battle, fearing a great number of soldiers would lose their lives due to the physical conditions of the terrain.  
Under orders, Currie began getting his troops ready to fight knowing deliberate preparations, especially for artillery and engineers, was the key to advancing over the damaged landscape.  

Nearly 16,000 Canadian soldiers fell in battle between mid-October and mid-November that year while capturing the targeted ridge. 6

Passchendaele Battle Summary 

105:   Number of days battle lasted

275,000:  Casualties under British command (average 2,100 per day)

220,000:  Casualties under German command

90,000:  Number of bodies never identified (42,000 not recovered)

4.25 million:  Estimated number of shells fired 

Casualties and Munitions 7

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Tyne Cot Cemetery--Memorial to the Missing
Largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world.
West Flanders, Belgium

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

--Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

1. Henry Mintzberg 
2. M. D. Feld
3. Ibid
4. J. L. Stokesbury
5. Ibid
6. Canadian Museum of War 
7. The Telegraph


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 January 2018

Saying "Goodbye" to Clichés

"And now we welcome the new year.  Full of things that have never been."

--Rainer Maria Rilke

What would you like to do in 2018?  Find a new job?  Exercise more?  Travel to far away places?   

How about saying goodbye to "clichés" ("Thrown under the bus") and their poor relative, "buzzwords?" ("pivot") 

It wouldn't be easy since we're creatures of habit.  But with practice it might be possible ("only time will tell").  And those around you would be grateful.   As one source noted, "Moving away from these dreaded terms means people would hear fewer phrases or opinions which are overused, and betray a lack of original thought." ("Buy in")

Management consultants and publishers may contribute to the problem when offering simplistic solutions to complex problems.  ("Boiling the ocean")

What's a cliché?  

According to yourdictionary.com a cliché can be categorized in one of two ways:

An overused expression.  Something that's said a lot and has become so common, it's no longer even noticed in conversation.   The website offers phrases such as "to this day" or "next thing I knew" as examples.   Or,

An idea with a different meaning from its literal meaning.  "Sweaty palms" or "twinkling eyes" have real and imagined meanings.

In our study "outdated" is a word used to describe tiresome clichés like "read between the lines." Even true sayings ("all that glitters is not gold") lose their appeal by over-using.  

Origin of the word  

The word cliché has French ancestry.  It comes from the clicking (clicher, to click) of printing presses.  It was printer's jargon for "stereotype" or a word or phrase that gets repeated often.  How often may be the problem.

We've moved past "with all due respect."  Or, "you know what I mean." Those phrases are not useful to anyone wanting to have an intelligent conversation.   

Where to begin?

Here are two lists:

One is a subjective look at ten present-day clichés which show up with great frequency in business, politics, and repeated in the media.  Sometimes this terminology spills over into everyday conversations. 

The other is a list of buzzwords found in recruiters LinkedIn profiles.       

Ten clichés to leave behind

1.  At the end of the day

2.  It is what it is

3.  Going forward

4.  Low hanging fruit

5.  Thinking outside the box

6.  Best practices

7.  Team player

8.  I don't have the bandwidth

9.  Getting everyone on the same page

10. Game changer

Buzzwords to avoid on a LinkedIn resume'  

1.  Specialized

2.  Leadership

3.  Experienced

4.  Focused

5.  Strategic

6.  Passionate

7.  Excellent

8.  Expert

9.  Generalist

10.  Successful

Being different

There may be times when it's appropriate to insert a cliché into a conversation such as, "I lost track of time."  However it's not a good habit as clichés and buzzwords tend to diminish your credibility.  

As an original your expressions of thought should be, too.  Rather than appearing interchangeable with colleagues by using the latest jargon, consider the benefits of being clear and concise when choosing your words.    

We admire those traits in others, and they'll be admired in you as well.  


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 December 2017

The Stewardship of Time

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life."


The first precision timepieces, invented by Dutchman Christaan Huygens in 1657, made visible the ancient Egyptian idea of a 24-hour day.  Those with access to pendulum clocks and spiral-hairspring watches could begin keeping track of how they spent their time.   

Nearly four centuries later the remarkable Apple Series 3 watch allows its users to know what time it is, stay connected, make calls, and receive texts--without being near an iPhone.  


Think on these things

If the present moment is all we have for sure, what then is the essence of time? How are you spending--how should you be spending--this irreplaceable gift?  

Consider the following ...

  • What are you doing right now that you could drop and it wouldn't make any difference?
  • Are you taking time to be alone with your thoughts?  Those are not lost moments but time well spent--necessary to maintain your equilibrium. 
  • In the coming year, what's the single most important investment of time you can make in yourself?  Your family?  Your co-workers and direct reports?  

When it comes to the measurement of time it's not just how you spend it, it's also what you save.  Remember the maxim, "In all things keep something in reserve."

Therefore in managing oneself perhaps the ultimate in personal or professional success is not wearing the latest analog or digital timepiece, but having peace of mind.  


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 November 2017

Shaping Public Opinion

"You are not entitled to your opinion.  You are entitled to your informed opinion.  No one is entitled to be ignorant."

--Harlon Ellison

Where do you get your news?  How much do those sources influence your opinions on public policy, presidential leadership, or the country's overall direction? 

There are four major platforms that distribute news to U.S. adults.  The list below shows each platform and percentage of adults who often get their news from those sources: 

News Sources for Adults





Source:  Pew Research Center 

According to Pew Research, "TV's staying power over print is buttressed by the fact that Americans who prefer to watch news still choose TV, while most of those who prefer to read the news have migrated online."

The digital platform continues gaining strength.  The portion of Americans who ever get news on a mobile device has gone up from 54% in 2013 to 72% in 2016, says the same Pew study.

Here's another dimension to the online consumer--they're more likely to get news from professional outlets than from friends, family--but just as likely to think each provides relevant news.  

How we decide

Nearly 140 million Americans or 60.2% of the voting eligible population cast a ballot in November's 2016 elections.

One year from now those registered will have an opportunity to vote on political leadership and address their concerns about relevant issues at the ballot box.  With that in mind let's look at how public opinion has historically been shaped and formed. 

Twenty-five years ago pollster Daniel Yankelovich wrote in FORTUNE Magazine about how people decide.  His thesis: "That views evolve from the unstable and flip-flopping to the mature and solid."   

Does that idea hold a quarter century later?

In the past the public has gone through different stages of thought when confronted with public policy changes such as health care, immigration or tax reform.  Here are stages from public opinion to public judgment which Yankelovich found in his own studies:

Stages of Public Opinion

Stage 1:   People begin to become aware of an issue.

Stage 2:   They develop a sense of urgency about it.

Stage 3:   They start to explore choices with the issues.

Stage 4:   Resistance to facing costs. 

Stage 5:   People weigh the pros and cons of alternatives.

Stage 6:   They take a stand intellectually.

Stage 7:   They make a responsible judgment morally and emotionally.

Thinking differently?

Is it still possible for a voting public to go through seven stages of decision-making?  Is "breaking news" short-circuiting processes of careful thought?  Does the media change anyone's mind today or are most minds made up, including those of self-described independents?  

How do you decide?

In a recent article in USA Today it was reported that 75% of those surveyed called "incivility" a national crisis and 59% said they have quit paying attention to national politics for that very reason.

Voter disengagement makes it more difficult for politicians to know which stage a particular issue has reached.  

Mr. Yankelovich makes this observation:  "Leaders attempting to communicate with the public without this information (knowing the stage) risk gridlock and frustration.   Why?  Because to communicate with the populace, a leader has to know where people are coming from, where they stand in their thinking now, and where they are headed."

At the same time there's a significant role for elected officials (presidents, governors, mayors) to offer clear and compelling arguments for the direction they wish to go.    

Public policies need purpose, timeliness and clarity to succeed.  Simple policy themes, speaking to a common good, are critical in order for the electorate to decide what or whom to support, as the ultimate poll is taken on election day. 

Wisdom is scarce

The Internet--Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter--provides easy access to reporting and commentary, along with targeted advertisements.  (Facebook alone delivers 517 million ad impressions per hour.)   How are voters supposed to make informed judgments based on those sources of political news and opinions? 

Discernment is certainly needed when relying on media outlets that tend to be long on clicks and short on credibility.  

A survey from American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds media's popularity at the bottom along with Washington politicians.  With 2,014 adults surveyed, only 6% expressed "a lot of confidence" in the press while the U.S. Congress is at 7% according to Gallup tracking data.

When it comes to deciding, there may be some truth to an idea, proposed by 18th century philosopher Joseph de Maistre, that "every nation gets the government it deserves."


(C) Bredholt &  Co.

01 October 2017

Interrupted or Disrupted?

"Disruption is a process. not an event, and innovations can only be disruptive relative to something else."

--Clayton M. Christensen

There are different kinds of interruptions in our lives.  Some involve personal and family matters.

Others are work-related as when colleagues step into cubicles to ask a question, or just chat.  "The average American worker has 50 interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work," said W. Edward Demings, a statistician and best-selling author.    

What about the time a colleague was interrupted as they were speaking? 

Overtaken by a corporate ADD, managements have been known to interrupt their strategies, and plans to get there, after reading a book, or going to a seminar, or having a new member join the team.  

Most of the time an interruption is something we initiate and therefore control its frequency. 

Defining our terms

What about disruptions?  They're largely external to the business. 

Most are familiar with the book, The Innovator's Dilemma, published in 1997.   The main idea is that "disruptive innovation is one that transforms a complicated, expensive product into one that is easier to use or is more affordable than the one most readily available," according to its author, Dr. Christensen who is quoted above.

That type of disruption makes it possible for a wider population to have access to products (Warby Parker--eyeglasses) and services (Spotify--music) previously reserved for certain market segments based on cost. (Innosight)

Another definition which quickens the pace of destructive forces is called "big-bang disruption."  As the theory goes that kind of disruptive behavior doesn't come from competitors in the same industry or even from companies with a remotely similar business model.  (Downes and Nunes:  Big Bang Disruption)

And switching from one product to another was a matter of weeks, not months or years.  To illustrate their point the authors highlight free navigation apps, preloaded on smartphones, doing a quick number on TomTom, Garmin, and Magellan.

Navigating disruptions

In an economy as large as the U.S., with an estimated 2016 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $18.5 trillion, there's room for several disruptive theories.  Regardless of which idea you subscribe to, if any, what are ways incumbents can survive, or even thrive by becoming a disruptor?

ome thoughts:

1. Beware mortal threats.  External markets and customers continually send out signals as to shifting interests.  However, those caution flags, which can become red flags, are only helpful if someone pays attention, interprets the signals properly, and passes on the intelligence. 

Is anyone listening?

The caveat is that consumers didn't know they wanted a minivan, a PC, or an iPhone until the products were placed in front of them.    

Being part of an inner circle is a disadvantage when it comes to minimizing disruptions.  Those positions are generally too far removed from the changing tastes of ordinary people.  

If there's any good news it's that the pace of major disruptions, from appearance to impact, is slower than conventional wisdom suggests.  Big-bang disruption not withstanding.  (Leinwood and Mainardi). 

Nonetheless, the arrival of a disruptive force (Netflix waiving late fees against Blockbuster),  aimed in your direction (digital cameras providing instant gratification), potentially becomes a mortal threat (Facebook leveraging its platform to compete with SMS Messaging).  

2. Stay close to current users.  No business should take its customers for granted.  Customers today can be former customers tomorrow.  That's why building relationships carries greater weight than mastering a particular kind of social media.    

The taxi industry had only to explore their customers' wants and needs to limit the damage inflicted by Uber and Lyft.  Apparently no one in the surface transportation business bothered to look in the direction of convenience.    

Consider Amazon's philosophy: "Pay attention to competitors but obsess over customers."

3. Get close to potential users.  Current customers are one source of growth but have their limits.  Screened carefully, potential users are another way to grow profitably.  

What do you know about potential customers?  Their thinking?  Their practices?  Their current suppliers?  What are they dissatisfied with where they currently buy?   When is the last time anyone on the management team held a series of in-depth conversations with prospects and circulated those findings?      

4. Keep improving.   Corporations may contribute to their own disruption by holding on to the status quo.  Being good at manufacturing or services can be detrimental to the health of an enterprise as success is taken for granted. 

The current business model may need to change to take on new types of competition.  

How to improve the execution of current strategy?  That's a dedicated meeting waiting to happen.    

5. Don't panic.  What good does it do to hit the panic button when you see disruption coming?  

In September, there were numerous meteorologists in Florida helping us through Hurricane Irma. Working long hours, they offered spaghetti maps and cones, provided tips on safety, but just as important kept encouraging everyone to stay calm.  

Brian Shields, WFTV (ABC), Orlando, repeatedly said, "We're going to be okay."  Without  diminishing Hurricane Irma's potential threat, Brian was a source of emotional strength.  

When it comes to being disrupted, be realistic, but don't panic.

What else to learn?

If you're not capable of disrupting then look for holes in existing markets where competition is scarce.  "Non-disruptive creation," promoted by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, may be a third option as it's not always necessary to beat the current competition. 

Sometimes the way forward is finding new markets like The Honest Company.  After the birth of her first child, actress Jessica Alba, couldn't find high-quality, eco-friendly baby products, so she started a company, now with a $1 billion valuation, to produce them. 

Create your future and not let others do it for you.  

Hear this

It comes from Anshu Sharma, a venture capitalist.  In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Sharma offered:

"In terms of who wins in a given market, the fundamental question is and has always been, who understands the user better?"


(C) Bredholt & Co.