What Has Your Attention?
The Change Leader Weekly
To Ponder: What Has Your Attention?
Ever heard of the Great Book Scare?
It's a timely example of the impact of misguided attention. And it (almost) killed off public libraries in the early 20th century.
In 1895, Jessie Allan, a popular and well respected librarian in Nebraska died of tuberculosis. Any other time, and other other place, no one would have taken a second moment to consider it.
But this was different.
Late in the 19th century there emerged an idea that was slowly gaining traction: the idea that ‘books could carry disease’. Allan’s death was the nail in the coffin; the grim poster child of ‘disease carrying books’.
The news quickly spread via the media, as did the fear.
And so began the Great Book Scare.
Medical experts from all across the world were consulted. Their advice of “well, it is possible she could have caught it from the book” further reinforced the panic. After all - who knows what sickness the person who borrowed the book before you had?! Concern was so high that the UK amended its Public Health Act in 1907 to include fines for lending or returning library books when you had an infectious disease. Libraries worldwide were expected to disinfect their books using a number of complex chemical solutions.
Needless to say, library patronage took a nosedive.
Eventually reason took hold around 1914 when it became clear that the stats just weren’t supporting the theory. However, the idea lingered for a further 30 years, with medical professionals in the 1940s continuing to debate the merits of books carrying disease.
And that's the thing. Attention is powerful. Attention creates action.
Everyday we are all following the latest COVID19 numbers across the country. For good reason. Our lives are affected by the ongoing lockdowns, vaccination rates, and variants of this nasty family of viruses.
It has our attention.
Certainly COVID19 deserves our attention (although - perhaps not 24 hours a day. No one needs to live with that kind of constant anxiety).
Yet, how often are we consciously deciding where our attention lies? And even more powerfully - where the attention of your organisation should be.
So, change leader,
How are you leveraging the power of attention?
To Action: Learning-Journeys
I talked about the exponential nature of learning a few weeks ago. Today - let’s look at how to actually keep your team’s attention during a learning session. After all - I’m sure I’m not the only one who instinctively yawns when invited to yet another lessons learned session on ‘what went well’ and ‘what didn’t’.
The problem with these types of sessions is that:
1) Most people aren’t comfortable sharing their reflections in one arbitrary session at the end of a project when most of the time nothing they say is going to make a difference, and
2) There’s normally an overwhelmingly one-sided perception of a project’s success, whether that be positive or negative.
Here’s how to have a different conversation.
Tell a group story. Create a Learning Journey.
The theory here is simple. We humans have communicated through story for as long as we have been human. Tap into this tradition by collaboratively telling the story of your change effort over the last week, month or quarter. Rather than trying to remember what went well - create an interactive, evolving plotline. To do so, create a shared space for your team with a simple straight line. Then as the month progresses, encourage your team to tell the story of your project on your interactive plotline. As an example, maybe you are 10 days into the month and your plotline is shaping up like the following.
I’m sure you can see the power of this. No more pulling lessons from people like you would pull teeth. This plotline tells the story of your change initiative. Its highs, its lows.
Ultimately, as you progress you will be identifying lessons as you are experiencing them.
To Reflect: Protecting Change Momentum At Home
As I type this, most of the country is either in lockdown or has closed borders with those that are. Some of those in lockdown have now clocked over 200 days over the last 18 months, others are in their 9th week straight with no end in sight.
Maintaining momentum in these conditions is hard. High Change Momentum is found at the intersection of Hope and Energy - both of which are impacted by these difficult set of circumstances.
Yet it’s not impossible. Only yesterday I was speaking to a director of a superstar project in Victoria who maintained team momentum internationally despite the regular lockdown disruptions. A large part of this success was immense clarity of the change he was leading and in-built processes that protected both the hope and energy of his teams.
So, this week, take a mental stocktake.
How’s the hope and energy within your change team’s looking?
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The Antidote to Overzealous Bureaucracy
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Have a fabulous weekend. See you next week.