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Paying Attention

by David Brock on October 18th, 2015

Perhaps it’s because it’s early Fall (for us in the Northern Hemisphere), but a couple of things have happened this weekend that have caused me to stop and reflect–actually to pay attention.

I have just rediscovered “Vinyl.”  What I mean, is that I’ve rediscovered physical record albums and the pleasure of listening to music.  Some of you might be thinking this will become a discussion about the vastly improved quality and sound.  It’s what Neil Young is trying with Pono, or Jay Z with Tidal.  With Vinyl, the quality of the music is better–but in truth, I struggle to detect the difference.

My discovery with Vinyl is really about rediscovering music and listening to it.  Listening to Vinyl is a very different experience than hearing something from ITunes, Spotify, Pandora, or something else.  Listening to Vinyl forces you to be engaged in the music.  You have to put the record on the turntable, you have to move the needle and place it on the record.  A typical side lasts about 20 minutes, you have to flip the record to the “B” side and go through the process again.  Vinyl forces you to be physically involved and pay attention.

But there’s more.  Since Vinyl is a physical object, there’s the stuff that surrounds it.  The album cover and artwork, the liner and liner notes.  Since I had to deal with these to get the record, I took a moment to study the art work and to read the notes.  I learned a little bit more about the music I was listening to, about the artist, even the lyrics.  The physical involvement of Vinyl was forcing me to pay more attention to the music and to be more engaged in the experience.

There’s still more.  I got back into Vinyl at the encouragement of my friend, Sev Johnson, one of the founders of Vinyl Me Please.  It’s a fantastic idea, focused on getting people more involved with the music they listen to.  I’d just received a new album from them.  I didn’t choose it, they chose it for me.  It was music from artists I never hear of, but I really enjoyed listening to the album and reading the liner notes about the music.

I’m a big fan of Spotify.  I listen to music from Spotify a lot, when I’m on a plane my headphones are on, I listen to music.  Sometimes, though rarely, in the office I listen to music.  Spotify has this interesting capability, “Discover Weekly.”  It analyzes the music I listen to, every week it presents a new playlist based on the music I listen to.  A lot of old, forgotten favorites, every once in a while a something new.  Discover Weekly requires no effort, I just select the play list and go into autopilot mode.  I hear the music, but I’m not really listening to it.  If you asked me what I’d heard, I might be able to name a few pieces, but more likely I’d say “some great metal, or jazz, or classic rock.”

Two completely different music experiences.  The physical experience of Vinyl forced me to pay attention and listen.  The experience in Spotify was so easy–I had to do nothing except select a playlist that had been assembled for me and play it.  By  chance, the experience with Vinyl forced me to listen to something new, not just following the patterns of what I always had listened to.

This morning in a reflective mood, I look at how we seem to spend our time.  We spend our days in self imposed “cocoons.” We sit at our desks, staring at screens, possibly not hearing what’s going on around us because we have our headphones on.  We walk on errands, again oblivious to what’s going on because we have our headphones on and are staring at texts on our screens.  Even when I’m out bicycling, as I pass someone, I try say, “Hi,” but they don’t hear me–they’re lost in whatever is coming over their headphones.

We stop paying attention.

Technology conspires to help us–and it does, but only if we are paying attention.

We’re overwhelmed with information and data, but we have tools that filter and parse the information we “need.”  But there’s a huge amount of loss in this.  We may lose context.  We may lose meaning.  We may lose engagement.  We may be stuck in the same patterns–missing the disruption or the opportunity to disrupt.

For example, I may download a white paper.  It triggers a person to call, “We noticed you downloaded a white paper, what’s your interest in our solutions?”

A more sophisticated company might see a pattern in my downloads, assign a score to me, sending a message, “Dave has downloaded a lot of stuff recently, it’s on sales management, his frequency of downloads and reading our blogs has increase, he might be getting ready to buy–call him.”  And I get the same call, “What’s your interest in our solutions, can I understand your needs?”

Too often these tools are simply enabling us to see and hear, but not observe and listen.  They alert us to things that we should notice, but because we aren’t paying attention, we’ve missed them  (I think of all the gizmos in my car–lane departure warning, frontal collision warning, blindspot detection, parking assistant, daytime pedestrian protection, speed limit detection).  Alarms prompt us that something is happening, that we need to pay attention, increasingly, they take action relieving us of the responsibility for paying attention.  Again, my car relieves me of the responsibility of paying attention to my high beams, it manages them without me paying attention.

Like so many things, these tools are a double edged sword, they may enable us do observe, listen, and understand things we haven’t been able to do before.  Perhaps it frees us to pay attention to the things we should pay attention to, managing everything else.  At the same time, they may dull us, we stop paying attention, we stop paying attention to the things we need to pay attention to, we stop being skeptical, we stop being curious, we stop thinking.

Paying attention is important, it provides a richer and deeper experience in everything we do–as a result it makes us better and more effective.

Start paying attention.

For starters, pull out those headphones while you are walking, running errands, or even sitting in and airport.  Watch, observe, hear, and listen to what’s going on.

Put way your smartphone, tablet, computer in meetings.  Listen, observe, engage, pay attention.

And maybe, try Vinyl!


  1. You know it is funny, I’m a music guy. I’ve been buying music since I was a kid in the 70’s-80’s. Started with albums, then on to cassettes for portability. Then on to CDs for quality. Obviously digital is the greatest portable delivery of all formats currently, however it is a different experience. Well many years later (over last two years) I got back into vinyl.

    Now I pretty much only listen to vinyl because I do most listening at home. Not sure about quality in sound, but certainly a whole experience of it’s own. I truly enjoy the physical aspect of this format. Honestly, I do listen and appreciate the music more.

    I thought this was a good analogy for sales too. I like how you pointed out how we often respond to leads… “What’s your interest in our solutions?”

    The funny thing is that this statement shows we aren’t LISTENING or ASKING about their needs, we are starting to push OUR AGENDA and OUR PRODUCTS/SERVICES. This is not consultative, nor is it benefitual to the prospect. Why do they want to LISTEN to us if we don’t engage them, build raport, ask about themselves, or where they are at, or what their biggest challenges are?

    Again, it’s about savoring the moment, paying attention, being in the moment, connecting with the person (or music). When we do this it is truly a different experience.

    Great article!

    • Dale, thanks so much for the fantastic comment. It’s a great amplification of what I was trying to convey in the article. Regards, Dave

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