Are you falling down the Attention Chute?


The other day I was in a store buying a phone for my older daughter. At that time my younger daughter, age 5, threw a tantrum. She wanted an iPad mini at any cost. Till that moment, she had no interest in any iPads or any tablets. My wife tried to pull her away promising to buy her favourite donuts but she was adamant. My daughter was in what Robert Cialdini calls the “Attention Chute”. When we focus our attention on something, we don’t see anything else. The attention chute is also known as the focusing illusion . We believe that what we focus on is important, but it may just be an illusion.

Daniel Kahneman

At the store the situation was getting very bad , my daughter was crying now. I had to put my thinking cap and in a moment, I got an idea. I asked the sales guy who finalized the iPhone deal to take my daughter near to the iPad and have a conversation.

“Focus is causal” says Robert Cialdini in his new book, Pre-Suasion. He discusses how we can prime the other person’s response before starting the process of persuading him. My daughter had no interest in iPads or any tablets. She got primed by the attractive display and the attention paid to her older sister by all of us. This made her focus on getting the iPad. As parents, we could have dragged her out of the store kicking and screaming but I decided to change the focus and get the sales guy to talk to her. “Do a favor before asking for a favour,” says Cialdini. I was in fact persuading the sales guy to dissuade her from asking for an iPad!

We were at a distance and so we did not hear what the sales guy was telling her. We could only see her touching and pressing something on the  iPad. Then she came up to us and asked us, “Did the three of you hear what he was telling me?” We said no and that was it. Problem Solved! She was back to normal!

It made me think about what really happened between my daughter and the sales person. She was completely focused on getting the iPad but his intervention flipped her focus. What did he do to incentivize  her attention and motivate her  to change focus? My analysis was that he was at her eye level  and was doing what Gary Chapman had suggested in his book (The five love languages). It is the sense of touch, appreciation , time and service. We saw from a distance their handshakes , his appreciation for  her beauty (I guess) , of-course he gave her time and was doing a great service by explaining the iPad in general.

Gary Chapman

In our professional life too , we get  primed with our old biases, filters and prejudices when executing a job. In these times, what is important is not “to be right” but looking for the “right answers”. This means that we need to be open and accept new ideas from others.

An employee  put in his papers and was ready to leave. At that time, instead of making his manager talk to him a  junior connected with him. That worked because suddenly he knew how much his team shared his worth and expressed his value.The team rallied around and made sure they focus and got him to stay back. This is of course a rarity.  In my view, this manger was sticking to the above metrics on actions and suddenly his exit came as an attention chute for the team.

Are you aware of the attention chutes in your life ? 


Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: