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Today's Attention Economy: How to Stand Out in a Crowd

How to get your boss (or the cute guy you have a crush on) to stop and take notice.

| October 12th, 2011
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Stand Out in a Crowd

Grabbing someone’s attention isn’t easy these days. We’re drowning in stimulation (sights, smells, sounds) everywhere we turn and are bombarded by nearly 3,000 marketing messages daily, not to mention constant cell phone texts and Facebook updates.

So getting someone to stop and take notice has turned into a valuable, scarce commodity. In fact, some experts believe that attention is the new form of currency. It makes sense—you only have so much to go around so you want to be wise about where and how you spend it.

The theory behind all of this is called the economy of attention. “The argument is that there’s so much information and stimulation in the world that what has become scarce is the ability to attend to all of it,” explains Tom Davenport, who holds the president’s chair of information technology and management at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and is author of "The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business."

“Increasingly, people have to get better at allocating their attention to the things that really matter to them and getting attention for themselves. Because if you don’t get any attention, you’re unlikely to get all of the other things that go with monetary success, including sex and love.”

So it begs the question: In a world where attention is so precious and limited, how can you stand out in a crowd? Can you use tactics to help get your boss to notice you at work or if you’re single, catch the eye of that cute guy you keep seeing in your building?

In short, yes. But it’s not just about getting any sort of attention. As Davenport notes, “what gets attention is not necessarily what holds attention over time.” Meaning, if you walk into a restaurant naked, there’s no doubt you’d get a ton of attention—just not the right kind (unless you’re into that).

Of course, when it comes to attention, it helps to be attractive. “Beauty has always attracted attention,” says Davenport. “Whatever people do to enhance their visual appeal gets more attention. Sex appeal is also attention-getting. But again, be careful that you don’t go over that line, attracting negative attention. It’s about the right clothing and dress for the occasion and setting.”

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