It’s All About Attention: Why Trusting Your Intuition Matters in a Noisy World

Starting a journey to explore how innovators do the Unthinkable

We live in the noisiest era in history — a time when consumers (that’s all of us) have won the war for our own attention. We have so much choice facing us in every imaginable form, medium, screen, etc., that we have all the power over media and marketers. If we don’t like something, we can easily find a replacement. In fact, with every second that passes, that amount of choice increases to the tune of 17 new web pages per second. So anyone hoping to reach us — to reach the consumer — must first start by becoming the object of our CHOOSING.

As a result, the name of the game today is attention. Can you acquire it? Can you retain it? Can you convert it?

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle preventing most businesses from gaining attention is, well, the ability to do anything genuinely worth someone’s attention. Why would I read, watch, or listen to Brand X when just a few pixels or clicks away are all my favorite people and sources for entertainment and education? Like any big problem, there’s no one silver bullet solution, but there IS one single form of thinking that needs to change if companies today want a hope and a prayer:

You need to question conventional thinking and trust your own intuition. This is what leads to unique insights — insights that acquire, retain, and convert attention because they’re genuinely WORTHY.

After all, conventional thinking doesn’t stand out or gain attention. It’s stuck in the past. It’s delivered some pretty solid results for us, but it was created years ago. And following someone else’s thinking (usually in the form of a list article you found and followed) only creates sameness, not the originality needed to stand out.

No, we don’t need yet another “best practice.” We need you to go craft your own. And we DEFINITELY don’t need another “guru.” We need you to gather up lots of gurus’ thinking, plus lots of articles, podcasts, books, videos, hobbies, side projects, and lots of experiences both personal and professional…synthesize them together…and then go decide for yourself.

Yes, in the noisiest era we’ve ever faced, YOU matter more than ever, because YOU are the only differentiating factor.

But what’s all this “intuition” stuff? Isn’t that a bunch of malarkey?

Easy there, Joe Biden — because it very well might be the key to gaining attention and producing anything differentiated enough to get results.

Albert Einstein — not one often associated with fluffy nonsense — called intuition our most valuable, most underused ability. To him, it was “a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance of something.” So perhaps intuition is a form of first-principle thinking — an ability to grasp something conceptually, not just technically or at face value. This allows you to then build back up your own line of thinking from the most basest of truths about a situation (the “truthiest” of truths, for you Colbert fans).

Research psychologist Gary Klein, who spends his life studying human decision-making, calls intuition “the pattern-matching process that quickly suggests feasible courses of action.” We might chalk it up to a feeling, but our subconscious brain (still very much our brain and our doing) is making connections quickly, drawing from all kinds of experiences and beliefs.

But let’s distill it for our world in business: Intuition is your ability to draw unique insights from a combination of your personal experiences.

THAT is why we need to trust our intuition. We need to be regimented and open to the experiences and knowledge that hone it, so we can better prepare to draw unique insights when presented with a given situation.

That ability is what enables the craft-driven creator on your team — perhaps that’s you — to quickly and easily propose a big idea. They instantly know that yet another How-To article might not succeed as much as an epic new story she just pitched. But where did she come up with it? It looked effortless. It was her intuition, not some kind of conventional approach or well-trodden best practice.

Intuition is how brands like Marriott or Red Bull knew to build internal media production houses, despite the old playbook pointing to more banners or TV spots. It’s how Finn Dowling at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley can write a single blog post about a dog, written on some lousy blogging tech with barely any time or money or readership … and still reach 7 million people in a week. (Backstory here.)

It’s how every person in every story we tell on my podcast, Unthinkable, can stand out and gain attention in a noisy world.

They somehow honed their intuition, empowering themselves to pull out a unique insight that we all deem, well, unthinkable. HOW?! That’s what I’m burning to know.

How’d we arrive at this noisy world, where attention is the end game and intuition the means to it?

As I head into Northeastern University this week to teach a couple classes, I find myself continually referencing this same series of facts: We live in the noisiest era ever; consumers have won the battle for their time; attention is the goal; and creative intuition is the means to that end.

That is the backdrop for everything happening in media and marketing. Period. It’s why content marketing matters and actually works. It’s why Snapchat is currently thumping Twitter as a consumer app and network. It’s why Uber’s biggest opportunity aside from self-driving cars very well might be mid-ride experiences, like upselling related Uber products through the app or in-car ads — they have our attention after all.

But this all took years and years to form — this attention scarcity, this consumer-first world. In fact, you can retrace those years and all the seminal events in marketing and media in a massive slide deck explaining the history of marketing and media which my team created back when I was at HubSpot. (Shoutout to the author, Shannon Johnson, who as of this writing, is now a content whiz over at Amazon.)

It’s all about attention.

Why am I so passionate about this? Because this means the time of the craft-driven creator is now. Optimization and incremental growth tactics are already becoming increasingly automated and commoditized across companies thanks to technology and the listification of every tactic. But makers who love to make, who know how to execute those original ideas, who empathize with an audience to reach them and resonate, and who can derive unique insights from past experiences through their finely honed intuition — WE NEED MORE OF THEM.

…except, if I have anything to say about it, “them” will really mean “YOU.”

My mission with Unthinkable is simple, but hard: Help more people reject conventional thinking and trust their intuition. That is THE skill, THE path to success in a noisy world. It seems completely unthinkable to say or do, hence the name. What would possess Radiolab to make radio sound the way it does after years doing it one way? What would make Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos buy a traditional publisher like the Washington Post? How could Drift’s CEO David Cancel tell his marketers to remove every lead-gen form on the website?

It looks unthinkable to us. To them, however, it feels obvious. Why? What creates that gap? And how do we make sure we’re honing our intuition to better trust it too … so we can be on the side of unique, innovative, creative insights?

I don’t have the answers. But I’m excited to continue the journey and tell the stories of those who might.

Want to join us and hear the progress we’ve made so far?

Subscribe and listen to Unthinkable. But mostly, share examples and questions and ideas. Who in your world or who that you admire has done something that, at first, seemed totally illogical and crazy that, eventually, proved to be incredibly insightful and creatively great?

This week’s episode: “In on the Secret” with a surprising story about making art and a deep reflection on building things online from Frank Warren, creator of Post Secret.

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