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Can I 'hack' your attention please?

BY GINA SPARROW | 5 min read

What is a critical business skill you may not have heard about? 2-minute comments!

If the average human attention span begins to wane after about 5 minutes of listening, it will serve you to learn how to communicate your messages in roughly 2-minute comments. (Of course, we can hold our attention for longer — 6 minutes for a PechaKucha, 18 minutes for a Ted Talk, 2 hours for a movie, and roughly 15 hours for a Netflix binge…)

But, in general, if a message does not include cognitive hooks like danger, sexuality, or humor, then the listener’s attention will wander within a couple of minutes.

Can I 'hack' your attention please?

As an entrepreneur, it’s best to accept this cognitive benchmark. Sure, you can hack people’s attention, using various methods refined by teachers, entertainers, and marketers but, in your day to day interactions, it’s best to keep this 2-minute rule in mind.

You may have spent some time crafting a 1-minute message or, “elevator pitch” as we often think of it, hoping to get through to an investor or venture capitalist. Now, imagine if you used that clarity and economy of language in every statement throughout your day!

Take this article for example. Using an elevator pitch formula, I’ll encapsulate this article into two sentences:

“Teachers, researchers, and marketers have found that people tune out verbal information after a couple of minutes. Because of this, it is beneficial to practice the art of communicating in clear statements, ideally less than two minutes long.”

This is not to say that you limit all your human communications to brief, rapid-fire statements. Romantic partners, children, and good friends might start looking at you a little funny. Instead, think of this two-minute guideline as a tool for more effective dialogue, overall. Despite your occasional desire to rant or lecture, it’s important to realize that your message will be better received if you chunk it up into segments. Heck, if it’s really a hit, you’ll have officially piqued your audience’s curiosity. Instead of tuning you out, your listener will probably be thoroughly intrigued!

Attracting Attention Retention

Say that 5 times fast! 

According to the National Training Laboratories, people retain less than 10% of what they hear in a lecture, but when engaged in discussion, that number jumps to almost 50%! Appreciating this, you can use the 2-minute rule to help yourself avoid lecturing while improving your ability to engage others in a two-way discussion. 

Even better: If you understand that people’s retention rate exceeds 90% when they are given the opportunity to teach, you can use the 2-minute rule to facilitate other people in the act of teaching you. In doing this, you invert the ineffective communication method of lecture and create a mutually beneficial learning experience, improving the attention and retention of all people involved. It’s a win-win!

But while this may be the most powerful tool of a good leader, it’s not the only one. 

Let’s go a little deeper, shall we?

A 90% retention rate pretty well beats >10%!


Simply: Good entrepreneurs are good teachers, and the best teachers, are those who empower students to teach as they learn.

Ask 20 executives to define the qualities of a great leader, and you’ll get 20 different answers. As the world changes overnight with rapid development of technology, how could any advice hold true for long?

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Oh, the Humanity

The book Becoming Brilliant emphasize the importance of becoming good at that which computers cannot do. Hard to argue with that! The book is aimed at readers asking how to best raise successful children, for the future they will live in. Yet the insights gleaned are critical to anyone looking to stay at the top of their game into the future.

Authors Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek promote the importance of “The 6 C’s.” These are indispensable skills of human leadership for a tech-dominated future landscape.

  1. Collaboration
    No more getting ahead by going it alone. As team projects become easier and more intuitive with the aid of internet tech, this one is obvious. The ability to recognize value in others and bridge your own talents to a group effort is invaluable.
  2. Communication
    The most notorious and obvious trait of all, but its importance can’t be overstated. Communication is everything — if for no other reason than that it facilitates all other traits on this list. You may have all the answers, but if you can’t express them well, what’s it worth?
  3. Content
    What’s your value? What are you made of? This one is tough, and you have to really earn it. Your content, like the pages of a book, defines what you have to offer. Why should people follow you, after all? Show them, and in no uncertain terms, by the content of your character, your brain, your vision.
  4. Critical Thinking
    Whoa now, does this one make your head hurt? Making sense of an infinitely complex world isn’t easy work (and no one is perfect by any means.) Still, as a leader, nothing breeds confidence in your crew like a razor-sharp intellect. Can you problem-solve? Great. Can you forecast the next thing to go wrong (or right)? Even better. Whether you’re a quick learner, a voracious reader, a relentless perfection-seeker, or a deep contemplator, nurture your tendencies for big, heavy thinking.
  5. Creative Innovation
    Ah, yes, the HeroX favorite. Human kind’s greatest gift is the ability to imagine something that doesn’t exist. Corny sounding? Maybe. True? Painfully so, yes. Creativity and problem solving are the Yin and Yang of success. If you don’t have it on tap, you better find a teammate who does. Neglecting to do so is to choose to fall behind in the long game.
  6. Confidence
    The thing that gives these five traits punch is the gumption to present yourself to the world. The ability to take a swing, knowing you might miss, but doing it all with an enviable swagger — that’s confidence. It doesn’t happen overnight, and nobody’s born with it. Without, we would never try, fail, or try again. Without it, our ideas never see the light of day.

Just starting out? Look over the matrix above. It’s clear where the path shifts for each trait. Individual experiences grow into a partnership framework, and then ultimately larger collaboration.

When you cross-reference them, the 6Cs create a clear roadmap for becoming brilliant. Which begs the question: what is it, exactly?


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Defining Brilliance

Brilliance is a nice word, that’s for sure. But on closer examination, the 6 C’s do not polarize “hard skills” against “soft skills” on the road to being brilliant. Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek attempt to emphasize the essential integration of skills like math, emotional intelligence, and collaborative creativity. The 6Cs frame up a set of skills that are, well, unique to humans. These skills also happen to be “hard” for computers (if possible at all.) While the automation of data-crunching surpassed human ability long ago, we’re only just now seeing technology with “human” traits.


“As technology advances, we shouldn’t focus on beating computers at what they do — we’ll lose that contest. Instead, we must develop our most essential human abilities and teach our kids to value…the richness of interpersonal experience. They will be the most valuable people in our world because of it.” 

-Geoff Colven, Humans are Underrated

In the long run, it is up to people to become better at tasks inaccessible to robots. In 2016, we’re beginning to see the fruits of machine learning. We’re accustomed to accessing vast quantities of stored information and sending it all over the world. As we move forward, it’s critical that we develop ourselves in a complimentary way. We need technology, and we need to steer clear of any attempt to compete with it.

“The true winners of the next generation will be those who can sift through mountains of information and cull just what they need.”

While “sifting through information” may seem like a thinly-veiled way of saying “rely on Google.” No, that is not what Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek are saying. They are suggesting the intentional practice and development of social/emotive skills in concert with academics. This strategy will allow better navigation of excess, divergent, and conflicting information. In the end, let your humanity guide your leadership.

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